Last week my son turned 3-years-old and my daughter 3-months-old. My children are the 14th generation descendants of the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower and I’ve been thinking a lot about our history. What legacy did my ancestors leave? How did they shape our present world?
In some ways that legacy is captured in a quote by Mr. Frank James of the Aquinnah Wampanoag:
“History wants us to believe that the Indian was a savage, illiterate uncivilized animal. A history that was written to expose us as an unorganized and undisciplined entity”.
In 1970 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts invited Mr. Frank James to make a speech as part of a 350-year celebration of the Pilgrim’s arrival. Mr. James was many things to many people including a fisherman, teacher, musician, and founder of the United American Indians of New England (UAINE). Because his speech was based in history, rather than the mythology version of Thanksgiving event planners preferred, they uninvited him. To protest the silencing, he gathered supporters and gave his uncensored speech at Cole’s Hill overlooking Plymouth Harbor.
Reading Mr. James’ words, I can see a linkage to what I’ve heard from fishermen (folks like my family) over the years. I hear fishermen from coast to coast express anger that they’ve been deemed greedy, ignorant, pillagers of the ocean whose time has passed. I hear fishermen express hopelessness each time another outside investment firm buys massive amounts of fishing rights. I’ve personally witnessed fishermen getting silenced by those in power when their mics were turned off during public hearings. And every day I watch a global food system that invisibilizes and marginalizes our food producers.
Ultimately, I believe the problems that non-indigenous, white folks like myself see in our fishing communities today are manifestations of what began when my ancestors arrived 400 years ago. This means that in order to tackle today’s problems in earnest, we must learn from the past and center our solutions around those who’ve been longest impacted by these problems. Otherwise, we’re bound to continue repeating the history with the brunt of the impact shouldered by black, indigenous, and people of color.
As a father, my commitment to my family is to apply these lessons to our lives so we can take part in building a more equitable future for all. This is also the commitment we are making at NAMA: to learn from the wisdom of the past to forge a different path ahead. That’s what our work is all about, and I invite you to join us in this learning to address the challenges facing our fishing communities in the future.
NAMA's National Program Coordinator