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Mashpee Wampanoag are Reviving A Long-Lost Language

Local tribe learning to speak the words of their ancestors

Courtesy Photo

“We’re not optimistic that Massachusetts has gotten to the point where it’s progressive enough to understand what we’re trying to accomplish,” she says. The alternative would be a private school, which would depend largely on funding, and the tribe is looking at the Montessori model and others.

Asked to identify the most difficult part of the last 22 years, Baird hesitates. Funding is always a challenge, she says, and her current position as vice chairwoman of the tribe means she has less time to spend working directly with the language department, but none of it has been really difficult. “We’ve always known that whatever’s supposed to happen will happen.”

The most rewarding part? There’s no hesitation at all as she names her husband, Jason Baird, an Aquinnah Wampanoag, who was once her student, and their daughter, Mae, 11, who is the first native speaker of the language in a century.

Mark Forest, executive director of the Delahunt Group, a consulting firm that specializes in government affairs, works with the tribe as a consultant on public policy matters and also serves as a trustee of the proposed charter school. A Yarmouth resident, Forest believes reclaiming the Wampanoag language “is critical in repairing cultural loss and enabling this community to recapture its history.” And the success of that effort, he says, will lead to a better Cape Cod.

“I think it’s important as a community that we learn more about the Wampanoag people, their struggles and their persistence,” Forest says. “They are very much part of our community, a part we don’t understand very well . . . The more we learn about them, the more we learn about ourselves.”

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