I went to a family reunion & naming ceremony this month to meet a family I’ve not met before and to find a new name that would reconnect me to my great grandfather’s family. We stood on land continuously occupied by the Wampanoag tribe of Massachusetts for more than 300 years and we recognized each other. Because of the land.
I’m an earth sign and my heart has always been stirred by a dramatic rock formation or the feel of my hands in cool soil…not that these occur often for a city gal. I’ve got rocks from every place I’ve ever visited and the smell of a field of marsh grass makes my heart beat fast…even when I’m sneezing.
The land near North Watuppa Pond in Fall River is under dispute…as land always is…but in those few hours members of the Perry Clan of the Wampanoag Indians occupied a space that made us whole. We came from around the country--almost full blood and mixed with many tribes and other ethnic groups--to sit on the land that had been ruled by Massasoit.
And in the sitting we remembered each other as a people who’ve known an earlier time before we were only mascots for sports teams or invisible. The sun beat down on an old, almost dead tree, its light soaking into the tree roots and into our roots. Unwilted by summer heat we shared the magic of culture--beads, wampum, food, buckskins, dread-locking, and braiding. Culture is something that survives along with the land itself despite the brutality of colonialism.
The land welcomed us and our stories. Under a tent with children laughing hysterically in a little, plastic pool in the grass I listened to Tall Oak’s story of sitting with my mother as she passed away and could feel the line connecting her with me and with them. It traveled through the air of the past into the ground like an electrical current and back up through us like the sun on our roots. Our interconnection was as strongly affirmed as that of the earth and water and air and fire.
Naming is such a mystical thing, it both announces who we are and shapes who we might be. Adding a name is not a small matter; it brings new worlds to you, new considerations and perspectives and new responsibilities. But the gift of a name is that it connects us with others, with the past and with the land. A circle of naming is a joyous celebration of all these things.
It is also a reminder that land can not belong to people; people belong to the land. And we belonged.
The barbecue chicken and baked beans were great too!