Fearing a lack of indigenous members, School Committee vows to rework indigenous culture committee

Jul 17, 2023

The School Committee delayed the creation of the Indigenous People, History and Culture Committee at its July 17 meeting, citing concerns about the lack of indigenous people as likely voting members. 

Per the town charter, voting members of a committee must be residents within the town. Not only does that make it less likely that members of the new committee would be indigenous, but it also means a representative from the Wampanoag tribe would not be a voting member. 

“There’s no guarantee now that anyone is from an indigenous tribe [on the committee],” said School Committee member Shannon Jenkins. “It’s encouraged, but it's not required.”

Having a representative from the tribe is important, Jenkins said, as one or two indigenous members can’t be expected to speak for the tribe at large, which is an official government entity. 

While the committee was always going to invite indigenous representatives as non-voting members, Jenkins said “that’s not a partnership.”

“I feel like we should take the time to build a structure that’s right,” Jenkins said. “I think we should do it right in full partnership with our tribal members.”

The updated committee rules may even require an amendment to the town charter or special permission from the state, Jenkins said, but the School Committee should work to figure it out. 

“If we're going to form a committee entitled ‘Indigenous People History and Culture Committee,’ then there certainly should be indigenous people,” said member Christopher Oliver. 

The rest of the School Committee agreed and decided to send the issue back to the Select Board. They vowed to send two members to a future Select Board meeting to explain the issue. 

The Indigenous People, History and Culture Committee has been in the works since May 2022. The new committee would be charged with finding new ways to honor the culture and history of local Native Americans. 

The committee was created in the wake of three years of debate over the High School’s logo, which culminated in the School Committee voting to affirm the logo in April 2022, despite a dissenting vote from Jenkins. The vote included the stipulation, however, that the town would find more ways to call attention to Native American culture and history.