Letter to the Editor: One Hometown, Two Communities
2013 November 28
Submitted by Cheyenne Fox Tree McGrath
The town of Bedford is mainly known for its historical ties to the United States’ legendary beginning. In fact, it is hailed as the first US flag to have flown during the American Revolution. But what most people are not aware of is Bedford’s Native American past and how deeply embedded the history of the first peoples is rooted in the land. It is important for me to introduce myself as a member of the Arawak nation, the indigenous tribe Christopher Columbus encountered when he landed in the New World. My parents chose the town of Bedford as an ideal place to raise a family because this land is surging with Native American presence. This land is where my ancestors were buried, where oral traditions were created and have stayed strong for centuries. The food and animals that are indigenous to this region appear in our creation stories and thus, are familiar to me. With a unique ethnic connection to my hometown, I am not only an ordinary Bedford citizen but also a part of the legacy of this land.
When I moved to Bedford, Massachusetts at the age of five, I could not begin to imagine what an integral part of my life my community would become. It is a very special upbringing to see a whole township raise its young and I had the opportunity to experience that kindness. As a small municipality, Bedford is very focused on fostering a close-knit feeling amongst its inhabitants. Town-wide events, such as ‘Bedford Day’ and ‘Concerts on the Common,’ are attended by all. School-natured events such as the ‘Senior Prom Stroll’ always draw the majority of the town whether or not they have any kids participating. Such camaraderie is distinctive especially given the social climate of our times where community building is not necessarily reinforced in all cities and townships. That kind of intimacy stays with you and helps you grow as a person. It has made me not fearful of trusting strangers because I genuinely understand what the word ‘neighbor’ means.
Simultaneously, as I was being raised in a communal social structure, I was being brought up as a Native American. The common proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” was the way I was raised. Everyone in my Native American community was kin to me, whether biological or not, and had a hand in educating me. Despite Bedford’s colonial history, the sentiment toward expelling Native American culture is not found in present-day Bedford. There are annual powwows (Native American people’s way of meeting together) held in Bedford and Native Americans of all tribes living in Massachusetts flock to this area to renew their friendships and create bonds that ensure our continuity into the future. The Native American definition of community taught me the importance of giving back to my community and also taught me the value of staying active and connected with my heritage. In comparing my two communities, that of my fellow “townies” and the Native American populace that live in Bedford, it is evident that what both communities prescribe as the number one priority in creating togetherness is teaching everyone to count on the community’s members as friends rather than strangers.
This idea of friendship resonates with my life in such a personal way, it is hard to recount in this essay but I do so with the intent of showing just how much my hometown has molded me into the person I am today. The greatest lesson I have been taught by my environment is a lesson of love. Last February, my childhood home burned down to the ground. While no one in my immediate family was hurt, my entire house was gutted and we lost everything. Overnight, my family of six, had to basically to start over. We would have not been able to survive this difficult time were it not for the people of Bedford.
Within an hour of the fire happening, people were calling us asking what they could do to help. A high school friend set up a fundraising drive and in less than 24 hours, my town collectively reached the fundraising goal of $5,000. Beyond donating money, people in Bedford donated furniture, toiletries, sheets, clothes, and other various items that were necessary to helping us live. Members of the Native American community volunteered their time and energy to help salvage and move what we could out of our house into storage. Although all the tangible items and assistance were crucial and eased our pain, I will never forget the outpour of emotional support. All of this goodwill helped motivate me through a challenging academic semester and despite all my tribulations, I managed to make the Dean’s List. What this experience has taught me about our environments is that an environment built upon love will always carry you through times of hardship.
I am grateful for having the two communities I associate with represented in my hometown and I see myself as a reflection of their greatest strengths. Bedford has shown me the beauty of coexistence, where everyone lives in harmony and with the sincere intent to better serve their neighbor no matter their background. While I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the way the rest of the country does because of its strong association with and misrepresentation and stereotyping of Native Americans, I do honor it in the Native American tradition of ‘The First Thanksgiving,’ that is, being thankful for the sun, water, plants, animals, friends, and family.