Over 400 years ago, in 1621, Pilgrims gathered for a communal meal with the native inhabitants of Massachusetts who today are known as indigenous people or Native Americans. While the Thanksgiving feast tradition reigns strong, November has a lesser-known, yet significantly important celebration of indigenous people, Native American Heritage Month.
What is Native American Heritage month?
November is about celebrating and honoring these early American ancestors who were naturally at the forefront of American history. If you look around you’ll actually start to recognize just how rooted Native American history is in Massachusetts. From the state itself being named after the Massachusett tribe to many, and we mean many towns, streets, rivers, and more like Wampanoag, Ponkapoag, Naumkeag, Nantucket, and Narraganset all earning their names from the indigenous.
Below are some fun events and historic sites in and around the city to learn more about Native American influence and history in Massachusetts.
1. Head south of Boston to Plimoth Plantation and learn about the Wampanoag
Wampanoag, which translates to “People of the First Light,” celebrates the Native American homelands by the water in Southeastern Mass, The Cape, and the Islands. The living history museum, associated with the Smithsonian, at Plimoth Plantation highlights the stories of the Wampanoag, demonstrating everything from dwelling quarters to how people dressed and lived.
Find Plimoth Plantation at 137 Warren Ave., Plymouth, MA
2. Check out Ute tribe member, Cyrus E. Dallin’s, infamous sculpture at the MFA
A completely free excursion, this iconic statue resides on the front grounds of the MFA. The Bronze sculpture stands tall along Huntington Avenue with a Sioux-chief riding on horseback. The sculpture was created by Cyrus E. Dallin, a member of the Native American Ute tribe, who created over 260 sculptures and statues in his lifetime including the Paul Revere Statue in the North End.
There’s, even more, to see in the MFA’s Art of the Americas wing.
Find the Museum of Fine Arts at 465 Huntington Ave., Boston, MA
3. Head to Harvard’s Peabody Museum and explore the Hall of the North American Indian
Not to be confused with Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum, Harvard’s own Peabody Museum in Cambridge is almost entirely devoted to American Indian history. Considering there was once a Harvard Indian College, there’s a plethora of art honoring artists and creators of Native American descent and you’ll find everything from Lakota sketches to items from the Battle of Little Big Horn.
Find the Peabody Museum at 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge, MA
4. Take a trip through the scenic Mohawk Trail
One of the most breathtaking drives in Massachusetts, the Mohawk Trail, is one of the country’s most famous American Indian trails. Mohawk trail served as a trade route connecting Atlantic Indian tribes with the Iroquois of Upstate New York and even Canada.
After a series of failed conquer attempts by various kings, the state of Massachusetts officially declared the 63-mile trail a scenic tourist route, which actually was groundbreaking in the time of 1914. This made the Mohawk Trail America’s very first scenic tourist route. There are dozens of highway markers and cultural attractions along the route to immerse yourself in Native American history.
Find the Mohawk Trail on Route 2 and Route 2A
5. Visit the Natick History Museum
You might be well aware of the Natick Mall, but did you know that the word itself, Natick, is the name of a famous Native American tribe that translates to “place of the hills.” This town in Massachusetts is known as the first “praying town” as many of the Native Americans here were converts. You can learn more about the Natick tribe at the Natick History Museum, make sure to reserve your visit to this museum which is only open by appointment.
Find it at 58 Eliot Street, Natick, MA