Primary sources offer gateways to the past and to cultural understanding.
The historical record of American colonization is rife with misconceptions of colonists and the indigenous peoples they encountered. A hands-on, primary source teacher education program convened by the Massachusetts Archaeological Society called We, the Peoples, sought to remedy the gap in understanding with support from Mass Humanities.
We, the Peoples connected indigenous peoples of southeastern New England with non-indigenous scholars, educators, and program participants. The goal was to provide a more comprehensive understanding of historical events and the impacts of early American events on Native Americans through primary sources, which could later be incorporated into classroom curricula. Over the course of nine workshop sessions, the program utilized artifacts from the Robbins Museum, and focused on the interpretation of primary sources and dialogue with Native American speakers. Teachers drew from these analyses and conversations to design their own curricula.
The theme of encountering the past enabled a better understanding of the lenses through which history is viewed. Native prophecies; deeds, land transactions, and colonial records; Indian writing and Bible notations; present-day Native authors; and a case study of the Pequot War all served to broaden teachers’ understandings of indigenous cultures and their relationship to colonists.
“Engaging educators in an exploration of primary source documents allows them to see varied perspectives on early encounters of Natives and colonizers and to explore how perceptions were shaped and misconceptions formed,” lead scholar and Native American descendant Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson of Bridgewater State College’s Department of English explained to South Coast Today. “Through programs such as the We, the Peoples initiative, educators can gain knowledge and work to provide more accuracy in their curricula.” The program’s ambition was to create a learning experience for students that follows them from elementary through high school.
Donna Mitchell, Wampanoag storyteller, museum docent, and Native American liaison for the project, echoed this sentiment. “The We, the Peoples grant represents an opportunity for the various Indigenous peoples of southeastern New England — and, indeed, the Northeast — to begin a dialogue with non-Indigenous scholars, educators, and program participants willing to put forth our stories, histories, and traditions, aspects or our cultures that have been denied in the past or told only by others,” Ms. Mitchell explained. “Having this opportunity to collaborate and to tell our own stories is a positive step forward in educating students to understand, acknowledge, and honor the histories of the Indigenous Peoples of our region.”