Dartmouth Wampanoag members decry upcoming forum, claim they were not invited

Mar 7, 2022

Ahead of the Equality and Diversity Subcommittee’s March 8 tribal forum, Dartmouth members of the federally recognized Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah are speaking out against the meeting, claiming that none of them were invited to provide their perspective.

A total of 22 tribal members wrote to the School Committee on Monday to express their concerns over the alleged snub.

School officials, meanwhile, say the tribe was invited.

The forum, set for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. will feature presenters from the Mashpee Wampanoag, Wampanoag of Gay Head Aquinnah, the state-recognized Pocasset tribe, and the North American Indian Center of Boston.

According to the letter, Wampanoag members from Dartmouth — including two current high school students — were “not invited to be ‘presenters’ at the March 8th ‘tribal’ forum located in the high school library.”

“How tragic would it be to our Dartmouth High students who are tribal members who are being stripped of their representative identity without ever having been consulted?” the letter read.

School Committee and Equality and Diversity Subcommittee Chair Dr. Shannon Jenkins refuted the claims, saying that school officials had sent emails to Tribal Chair Cheryl Andrews-Maltais and her assistant inviting them to participate on the panel.

“She was welcome to bring whoever she wants,” Jenkins said. 

Representing the Aquinnah Wampanoag individually at the forum will be Aquinnah Cultural Center Program Director Brad Lopes, who recently started a Change.org petition to “​​Ban Native Mascots and End Dartmouth Mascot Support,” will represent the Aquinnah Wampanoag at the forum. Lopes. a New Bedford native and current Maine resident, reached out to Jenkins to share his perspective. 

“No other person as of last week has contacted me to speak on behalf of the Aquinnah Wampanoag,” Jenkins said.

No public comment will be permitted during the meeting, but will be the focus of the subcommittee’s forum expected to be held later this month.

Any members of the public attending the meeting will be required to view it via livestream inside the high school auditorium.

“We agree that all people should have an opportunity to voice their opinions,” the letter from the Dartmouth Wampanoag members read.

According to Jenkins, the School Department told her last week that the meeting could not be moved to the auditorium because necessary equipment is located in the media center and can’t be relocated. 

The letter writers also claimed that "certain School Committee members have intentionally downplayed our federal recognition status,” something Jenkins said was “simply false.”

“I have not downplayed it — I’ve simply said we would not listen to only federally recognized tribes,” she said. “There are other people who have a stake in this.”

Other tribes, like the federally recognized Mashpee Wampanoag, want to see the logo removed. They are currently backing a bill in the State Senate to ban the use of Native American symbols and mascots in all Massachusetts public schools.

The state-recognized Pocasset tribe, which members say lays claim to what is now Dartmouth, have also voiced their opposition to the logo.

The Dartmouth members of the Wampanoag Aquinnah tribe also reiterated their support for keeping the high school’s name and logo, writing that it’s “not disrespectful, disparaging or derogatory in any manner.”

“Over generations, many of the undersigned students thrived (and continue to) while attending Dartmouth schools, representing our town across the state and nation in various capacities through scholastics, sports and the music program,” the letter reads. “The Dartmouth Indian, its symbolism, history, and the pride behind it has united our families and generations of Dartmouth residents alike.”

The authors of the letter added that while not all tribes or tribal members agree on whether to maintain indigenous imagery or names in contemporary culture, the issues “related to the Indians name and symbol are local, special and unique to Dartmouth” and should “ultimately be resolved by Dartmouth’s residents and alumni.”

“The Dartmouth Indians name and symbol is unifying, respectful and pays homage to our indigenous history,” it read “It should be reaffirmed, honored and celebrated.”

A copy of the letter signed by Wampanoag tribe members from Dartmouth is attached to this story.