400th Commission delivers inclusionary message

PLYMOUTH – The term is commemoration, not anniversary or birthday or celebration. Plymouth, Massachusetts 400th Commission Chairman Dusty Rhodes delivered this announcement at a press conference at the Massachusetts State House Tuesday, setting a tone of inclusion for an event that marks the landing of Mayflower, the founding of a European colony and a mutual aid relationship between English colonists and the Wampanoag Nation.

The “real, unfiltered,” history of the nation’s beginnings will be told and retold, Rhodes said, as events are held across the state to honor 1620 as a watershed year for America.

Many believe referring to the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Pilgrim Separatists in America should not be referred to as a celebration or anniversary because these positive descripters belie the Native peoples’ experience with the European colonists, which, while it may have had initial positive impacts, in time essentially wiped out much of the Native culture and, indeed, people in America.

The event unveiled a myriad of these events, including a Maritime Salute, Wampanoag Ancestral Walk, Embarkation Festival, and indigenous history conference and many more. (See related list).

Officials, legislators, dignitaries and others flanked those seated in the State House Library, filling the green and gold room as photographers snatched shots of the speakers, Gov. Charlie Baker in particular, all of whom expressed gratitude for support of this monumental occasion that has been steadily swelling.

“I want to thank you all for contributing to this initiative,” Baker said. “I can tell you that the commonwealth will have your back as you move forward.”

Former Senate President Therese Murray, of Plymouth, paid homage to the late Rev. Peter Gomes, noting that he wrote the language that formed the state commission.

“We lost him and we lost his push for us,” she said. “But we got it back. A lot of people in Plymouth stayed on this.”

Murray thanked U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, for his efforts to bring $14 million in federal funds to Plymouth in order to dredge the harbor, a long overdue project that will allow for larger ships and vessels to visit the Plymouth waterfront. State Rep. Vinny deMacedo, R-Plymouth, expressed his gratitude for this funding, which will enlarge and enhance tourism and economic growth in the downtown and waterfront areas of Plymouth.

Like Rhodes, Murray stressed the importance of telling the whole and complex story of the Mayflower landing and what that meant for the Native peoples as well as for the Europeans.

“Without the two coming together, the Pilgrims would never have made it past that first winter without the help of the Wampanoag people,” Murray said. “It’s the story of the first immigrants. As we reflect on the past, we will also embrace what this anniversary means today – a nation built by immigrants and the importance of putting aside differences for the common good.”

Plymouth 400 Inc. President Michele Pecoraro also highlighted the importance of telling the whole story of the Pilgrim and Wampanoag experience, and not just the European side of it, as she has been stating for years.

“The Native people and the English settlers left historic footprints throughout Massachusetts, from Provincetown to Mashpee, from Aquinnah to Plymouth, and right on into Boston,” Pecoraro said. “You will see that historical accuracy and cultural inclusivity are hallmarks of this 2020 commemoration.”

Pecoraro introduced the audience to Michael St. Peter, president and general manager of NBC Boston, NECN and Telemundo Boston – stations that are now broadcast media partners that will help promote the commemoration.

“Our role at this table is to be an electronic megaphone to spread the word on the spectacular series of events planned,” St. Peter said.

Massachusetts Bureau of Indian Affairs Executive Director John “Jim” Peters spoke philosophically about the coming together of Native Wampanoag people and Europeans, as America transitioned from a Native to a European nation.

“This 400 year commemoration...is an exciting opportunity to reflect on the convergence of two different human cultures – one that respected all living things evolving in harmony with our mother earth and a belief that everyone had a say, and the other escaping religious persecution subject to debt service and the colonial charter,” Peters said.

Peters struck a hopeful note on the impact this 400th Commemoration will have on generations to come. In his own words:

“This commemoration is a rare opportunity to embrace our shared history – the good, the bad – to listen to each other’s accounts, maybe even to walk in each other’s moccasins so we can look in each other’s eyes, and, with all honesty, we can say that we’re all the same, that we can make change to help mold a new legacy for our future generations.”

Follow Emily Clark on Twitter @emilyOCM.