Families reflect on history of Thanksgiving at fall festival

Nov 20, 2022

There was hospitality and history aplenty at Cushman School Saturday, as families packed its cafeteria for the first annual Fall Festival put on by the DeMello/Cushman Parent Teacher Organization.

PTO president Meredith Wilkinson said the idea came about as a way to have kids connect beyond the Halloween events held in town the previous month.

“This way we could spread out the activities,” she said. “Plus it’s good to focus on this time of thankfulness and gratitude.” 

Planning officially began in October, resulting in an afternoon which saw hundreds of kids and parents enjoy some fall fun amid slightly chilly weather.

Though they had a relatively short timeline to set up such a festival, Wilkinson thanked her team of parents for making it so things could go off without a hitch.

“My only worry was if we had enough stuff for everybody,” Wilkinson said with a laugh. “This was such an unexpected turnout.”

Festival activities included making thank you cards, pipe cleaner crafts, and cookie decoration, which was a clear favorite of Quinn School student Zachary Garney.

“You also got to eat them,” he said, adding that it was “good.”

There were also cornhole sets and warm drinks available outside the school, with many kids happily using the nearby playground equipment.

The biggest draw of the afternoon (aside from a never ending face-paint line) was a cultural presentation conducted by members of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe.

Part of the presentation included a display of instruments, clothes, and toys tribal members would use, such as traditional corn husk dolls, which do not come with a face.

“We never put a face on the doll because we want the kids to imagine it for themselves,” explained Mashpee tribal member Alana Helme. “It’s certainly different from a Barbie.”

Curious kids were very much encouraged to ask the present members of the tribe about what was displayed, with Helme’s 9-year-old cousin ​​Billie Gonsavles happily explaining things to her peers.

Tribal members also did a series of traditional dances, starting off with the “mosquito dance,” which is done to keep that nuisance of a bug away. 

Kids also joined in on a “round dance,” happily linking arms together in a circle, and capped things off with a traditional Wampanoag song and dance which took them around the cafeteria.

“This way everyone can be involved,” Helme said. “And that’s what this is all about — bringing people together.”

Wilkinson said she was very grateful for how accommodating tribal members were in wanting to come out to Dartmouth.

Helme, who was recently the tribal princess, said going from town to town representing her nation is nothing new. 

“I’ve pretty much done it my whole life,” she said.

Still, Helme said it’s always an honor to showcase the traditions of her ancestors.

“It shows other kids that we’re still here,” she said. “We’re not gone after the Thanksgiving story.”