Wampanoag Massasoit Returned to Original Burial Site

Published May 14, 2017

Hundreds of tribal members attend ceremony to mark occasion

WARREN, RHODE ISLAND – For centuries, the remains of the Wampanoag Massasoit 8sâmeeqan (pronounced oosa-meek-kwan) had been scattered far and wide.

Saturady afternoon, the re-internment of the Wampanoag leader who signed the first treaty with the Mayflower’s Puritan pilgrims in 1621 was commemorated at his original burial site in Burrs Hill Park overlooking Narragansett Bay.

“Today is a very special, spiritual day. It’s somber and yet we celebrate being able to bring his remains back to Burrs Hill,” Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell said at today’s ceremony, which was attended by over 150 tribe members and officials from the Town of Warren.

The ceremony included traditional drumming and songs, somber reflections and food.

Chairman Cedric Cromwell

Our great sachem 8sâmeeqan was the leader throughout these lands. So it was important that he was re-interred here, where he lived,” Cromwell said.

The 20 year quest to track down the scattered remains (and artifacts) of 8sâmeeqan has been led by Ramona Peters, Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Director for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe; Repatriation Officers, Edith Andrews of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Kenneth Alves of the Assonet Band of Wampanoag, and John Peters Jr. of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.

“8sâmeeqan is a significant figure in our shared history,” Peters said. “He stands at the crossroad between the indigenous people of this land and the origins of what would eventually become the United States of America.”

“In the 17th century, when the Wampanoag first encountered the early settlers, 8sâmeeqan had a vision of how we could all live together. There was 50 years of peace between the English and Wampanoag until he died in 1665. That was 10 years before the King’s Phillips War, which changed the whole course of history in this country,” Peters said.

A citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe – one of two federally-acknowledged tribes who trace their roots to the confederation of Wampanoag tribes that stretched from Gloucester Bay across southeastern Massachusetts to Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island – Peters is also the coordinator of the Wampanoag Repatriation Confederation.

Over the past two decades, the confederation has been focused on finding the remains of 8sâmeeqan, which had been removed from his original Burr Hill Park burial site in 1851 to make way for railroad construction. Through painstaking historical detective work, the Confederation was able to recoup the remains of the Massasoit through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act with the cooperation of the seven museums which had 8sâmeeqan’s remains in their archives for many years.

Over the years, the Confederation has successfully repatriated the grave contents of 42 burials with 658 funerary objects removed from the burial ground on a hill at the edge of 8sâmeeqan’s village of Sowams, known today as the Town of Warren.

Yesterday’s ceremony was a held a day after tribal leaders re-interred 8sâmeeqan’s remains in his original burial site. The grave was sealed and covered with a large rock engraved with 8sâmeeqan’s signature and an inscription celebrating his vision of peace with the early settlers.

Near the conclusion of the ceremony, Ramona Peters took a few moments to acknowledge the help the town provided with the repatriation efforts.

“I am very grateful for the town officials who are present. We found this town to be incredibly warm and generous,” Peters said. “It was about 15 years ago that (the Town of Warren) gave us a $15,000 grant to helps us. In the future when Wampanoag people come here to make offerings and say prayers may they always be respectful of the people of Warren and the land they have here.”

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