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HCC presents: ‘How Indian tribes were forced to change their culture’

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image Annawon Weeden, Native American educator, tells the story of many tribes both before and after the Europeans came to what is now the United States. Photo Penny Fletcher

“Everything that was a part of our culture, everything we believed, we were told was wrong,” he said.

By PENNY FLETCHER
 
Annawon Weeden spends his life telling the story of the many American Indian tribes that inhabited the land that later became known as the United States of America.

His cousin Kristine Thomas, PhD, who teaches biology and physiology at the South County campus of Hillsborough Community College, was approached by the campus president Allen Witt and asked if she could book him to give presentations there.

Jan. 14, he did.

First, Weeden performed in classrooms in front of students, teachers and faculty. Then that evening, there was a public presentation made at HCC for anyone in the community who wished to attend.

He started the presentation in the traditional dress of his tribes and gradually removed items explaining the symbolism of what each one meant.

“The braid,” he said, unbraiding his long black hair, “is the symbol of the three parts of us. The body, the mind and the spirit.”

With the elimination of each piece of jewelry, fur or ceremonial dress, he told its story, and also of how the tribes were captured and sent away.

“Many were moved to parts of the country where they couldn’t survive,” he said. “And while they were bringing in African slaves, they were sending Indians to the islands.” Some of the places they went were Bermuda, Jamaica and other neighboring islands in that region.

Weeden is descended from a mixture of tribes. His mother was from the Wampanoag, whose home was Mashpee, Mass., while his father was Narragansett and Pequot from Rhode Island.        

When not traveling, telling the story as his father did, he lives in Mashpee, which he said is still the home of many descendants.

Starting at a young age, Weeden began public performances that recounted the major events in the history of the tribes as more and more people from other lands took over their country.

“His passion and desire to preserve the culture is evident in his work,” said Witt, who participated in the program.

When not traveling and giving presentations, Weeden works at the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass., where visitors are given a close-up view of how both Indians and former Europeans lived when they began to share the country.

There, it’s easy to experience the 17th century, be in a grist mill, and watch the Indians in a presentation of life called Children of the Dawn.

Weeden is also the Outreach Educator at the Boston Children’s Museum and its Native Program Specialist. He has been in many movies and documentaries, but has also refused parts that were later taken by famous actors.

“I will not be a part of anything that does not convey the truth,” he said to about 40 people at the evening presentation.

The documentary We Shall Remain is one PBS special in which he is proud to have taken part.

During his presentation at HCC, he used dates written on paper to show the effect on the native tribes, beginning with 1602 when those who met the new people began to feel they were being made to change.

“Everything that was a part of our culture, everything we believed, we were told was wrong,” he said.

“Then in 1675, our people were taken from our homes.”

His ancestors were fortunate, he said, because his family was purchased by a kind slave master.

“John Weedon was treated kindly, but he was a slave and was forced to cut his hair,” he explained, unbraiding his, and pinning it atop his head so it did not look long anymore.

At that point he also pulled on men’s trousers and a long-sleeved white business shirt.

He laid his furs and jewelry and feathers on the floor.

“We were not allowed to do anything that was within our culture,” he said. “Later we heard that some African slaves were being freed. We were happy for them, but we were not freed.

“This was our land for 12,000 years, and I only want to keep our story, and our culture alive,” he said.

At that point, he lifted the somber mood by showing a drum and how the drumbeat symbolized the heartbeat of Mother Earth.

“Music and dance are key to our culture,” he said.

Before the end of the presentation, he had participants, including Witt, dance an Indian Circle dance of Thanksgiving.

To find out more about Weedon, visit www.mcnaa.org, the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness and Plimoth Plantation at www.pli moth.org.

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