Monday, May 4, 2015

Aquinnah Cultural Trail and Aquinnah Cultural Center

Name: Aquinnah Cultural Trail, including the Aquinnah Cultural Center
Tribe: Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah)
Location: Martha's Vineyard (Noepe), Aquinnah Cultural Center: 35 Aquinnah Circle, Aquinnah, Massachusetts, 02535
Visiting Info: Aquinnah Cultural Center is open Wed., Fri., Sat., 11 am - 4 pm, Admission $3-$5.
Contact: Website, telephone 508-645-7900

When most people think of Martha's Vineyard, they imagine rich people in boat shoes and khaki pants embroidered with whales eating lobster dinners by the sea. But the Wampanoag people who live on the island they call Noepe have a different experience to offer visitors. The tribe's website lists special places of interest on a self-guided tour around the island called Wampanoag Way: an Aquinnah Cultural Trail.

The Trail's wide variety of destinations range from the Aquinnah Cliffs, which are the home of Moshup the Giant (from Wampanoag oral history) and a sacred place for the tribe and protected National Historic Landmark, to the Gay Head Community Baptist Church which is on the National Registry of Historic Places, to the shipwreck of "The City of Columbus" at Devil's Bridge, to the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, to the tribally-owned Alley's General Store in West Tisbury.

The points of interest provide a picture of the tribe's history on the island, cultivating cranberries and cattle, fishing for herring and eels, and whaling. The website tells the stories of many of the island's place names, such as Tashmoo the swift runner, namesake of Tashmoo's Overlook and Lake, the love story of Katama and Mattakesset, and the tale of Moshup throwing a crab into the sea to make the island of Noman's Land which became the home of the sachem Tequenoman. The Trail also depicts the tribe's interactions with English and American settlers and missionaries over the past four centuries, including their harboring of escaped slaves and Quakers at Vineyard Haven.

The Wampanoag people of Massachusetts belong to two federally recognized tribes (and several other state-recognized bands and tribes): the Mashpee Wampanoag on the Cape Cod mainland and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) on the island.

Gay Head was the name of the town on the southwest end of Martha's Vineyard until 1997 when the community there, which is home to most of the tribe, voted to change it to its traditional name of Aquinnah. The two place names continue to overlap, although it seems like Aquinnah is slowly taking over.

One of the stops on the Trail is the Aquinnah Cultural Center. The Center is located on the Aquinnah Cliffs in the Edwin Vanderhoop homestead, which was built in the 1890's and restored in 2006. The Center offers tours of the home and its collections. They also host cultural events through the summer months (June-August), including the Annual Feast and Fundraiser and a yearly Native American Artisan's Festival. The Aquinnah Lighthouse is nearby, and the Cultural Center offers a combo admission price.

Transportation to the island and around it is a challenge and the accommodations are expensive, especially in the summer. Ferries carry passengers and cars to the island year-round from several ports up the New England coast, but bringing your own car is pricey and there are fewer tickets. The ferries land on the northeast side of the island, away from Aquinnah, but there is a bus service around the island, taxis, and car and bike rentals. If you go in summer, you will need to get a rental reservation early as they book up fast.

Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah
Aquinnah Cultural Center on Facebook article from 2010, "Martha's Vineyard: Homeland of the Wampanoags"
Boston Globe article from June 21, 2014, "The List: Native American-owned businesses on Martha's Vineyard."
Martha's Vineyard Magazine article from July 1, 2013, "Cultural Outpost" (list of native-owned businesses)

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