Mashpee, MA - The Massachusetts tribe whose ancestors shared a Thanksgiving meal with the Pilgrims nearly 400 years ago is reclaiming its long-lost language, one schoolchild at a time.
“Weesowee mahkusunash,” says teacher Siobhan Brown, using the Wampanoag phrase for “yellow shoes” as she reads to a preschool class from Sandra Boynton’s popular children’s book “Blue Hat, Green Hat.”
The Mukayuhsak Weekuw — or “Children’s House ” — is an immersion school launched by the Cape Cod-based Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, whose ancestors hosted a harvest celebration with the Pilgrims in 1621 that helped form the basis for the country’s Thanksgiving tradition.
The 19 children from Wampanoag households that Brown and other teachers instruct are being taught exclusively in Wopanaotooaok, a language that had not been spoken for at least a century until the tribe started an effort to reclaim it more than two decades ago.
The language brought to the English lexicon words like pumpkin (spelled pohpukun in Wopanaotooaok), moccasin (mahkus), skunk (sukok), powwow (pawaw) and Massachusetts (masachoosut), but, like hundreds of other native tongues, fell victim to the erosion of indigenous culture through centuries of colonialism.