Being one of only a handful of Mashpee Wampanoag students hasn’t always been an easy road for Doug Pocknett Jr. to travel, reports The Boston Globe.
“It’s like wearing a moccasin and a sneaker sometimes,” he said. “But at the same time, it gives me strength and sets me apart.”
In kindergarten he was teased for his long braid. But 12 years later, he was asked by Mashpee High School Principal Jane Day to kick off his graduation ceremony June 8 with a traditional blessing.
“It’s an honor for them to ask Doug to say a prayer in his own language,” Allyson Pocknett, Doug’s mother, said. “And it’s fulfilling to see the shift in attitude. It’s satisfying.”
Doug read a Wampanoag travel blessing in Wôpanàak, a language that was nearly extinct in the mid-1800s. He is the first student from the school to fulfill his language requirement by studying the Native language.
Doug studied under Jessie Little Doe Baird, who is also a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and founded the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project to revive the language in 1993. According to The Boston Globe she is quite proud of her student.
“When he started, he struggled with it a lot,” Baird said. “But he really stuck with it… He was just not going to be stopped or deterred.”
Doug’s blessing to the graduating class meant a lot to Baird.
“To go from having no speakers for 150 years to having a young person stand up and give a prayer in honor of all the students in our language—it’s very emotional.”
The travel blessing Doug chose says, “Let us travel to a place of knowledge. Let us travel to a place of respect that we do not hurt another, but are respected by those around us.”
And when the same students who had once teased him stood up and applauded him, he said, “spiritually, it meant a whole lot.”
Doug’s next step will be studying communications and film at Cape Code Community College in West Barnstable, Massachusetts. He also hopes to teach his language to others.
“He’s a young man of tremendous character,” Day said. “He’s soft-spoken, but he has a real quiet strength.”
The way this school district in Mashpee, Massachusetts has embraced its tribal neighbors stands in stark contrast to others reported recently. Take for instance the Poarch Band of Creek Indian student’s diploma being withheld until she pays a $1,000 fine for wearing an eagle feather on her graduation cap in Atmore, Alabama. (Related story: “Poarch Creek Student Fined for Wearing Eagle Feather at Graduation”)
“I’m really proud of the Mashpee school system,” Baird told The Boston Globe. “Not only are children allowed to wear ceremonial clothing and speak their language, they are celebrated—not just allowed or tolerated. That’s a big difference, and it gives me a lot of hope for [the] relationship between the tribe and the school system.”