Amid the still evident destruction of the June tornadoes that struck parts of Massachusetts as well as significant recent flooding from tropical storm Lee, the Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck Indian Council held its 31st Annual Pau Wau at Lake Siog State Park in Holland, MA, on September 10 and 11.
The backdrop of the sacred Pau Wau circle looked upon a lake so flooded that the picnic tables were nowhere to be seen and canoeists maneuvered among the tops of steel barbecue grills.
Ever dedicated to the northeast pow wow circuit, Northern Coup Drum, Walking Bear Drum and Thundering White Buffalo Drum sang and drummed to emcee David Tall Pine White’s bidding. Dancers of several nations filled the sacred circle and danced to the cheers of a hundred onlookers. Nipmuck, Taino, Abenaki, Mohegan, Mohawk, Cherokee, and others danced together during inter-tribals, yet demonstrated their unique styles. In spite of this being a non-competitive pau wau, no one held back—everyone danced, and the audience felt it.
Ken Kind Warrior White stated in the event brochure that “This will be our sixth year at this beautiful location; Lake Siog is an historical landmark of Nipmuck history.”
Located in south central Massachusetts, Lake Siog was part of the Tantiusque “Purchase” of 1644. According to historian Dennis Connole in The Indians of the Nipmuck Country in Southern New England, “Contained in the deed is a key statement that is proof positive that the Indian leaders never meant to make outright sales of large tracts of land to the whites.” Governor John Winthrop forced the “deed” through because he “coveted the land for its (graphite) deposit. Graphite ore has been known to contain a profitable portion of silver, which may have been Winthrop’s main interest,” Connole wrote.
Singer, dancer and Nipmuck cultural educator Larry Spotted Crow Mann explains Winthrop’s impacts in his new book Tales from the Whispering Basket. His short story Mattawamp is “based on the actual Nipmuck Chief and hero whose life culminated in the events of King Phillip’s War. When Nipmucks were being sold into slavery by the Commonwealth’s governor, being systematically murdered, having their land stolen, and forced into Christian Praying Towns, Mattawamp fought back.”
In an interview earlier this summer with Indian Country Today Media Network, White explained that many Nipmuck people who are now elders were forcibly taken from their homes and that individual healing is of paramount importance to moving forward. He related that a recent ceremony offered them great healing. It took place when a soccer field, a fragment of public land that was once Nipmuck territory, was re-named Pegan Field (after the Nipmuck Pegan Band) with a stone memorial.
At Lake Siog, a naming ceremony, usually private, was shared with the public. A woman who was taken from her family as a child was given a new name, as were her children. We watched as elders approved of the names. Nipmuck Tom Silver Fox then walked the new person, often crying, around the circle. He shouted out the name, which resonated loudly from the flooded area, to the witnesses. The crowd shouted the new names back in strong, echoing unison, healing everyone present.