“We Still Live Here” : Documentary about the Wampanoag

The standard Thanksgiving narrative in the U.S. is that when the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock, it was the Wampanoag of Southern Massachusetts who met them and helped the settlers survive. Yet beyond that dominant Thanksgiving narrative, few know much about the Wampanoag (h/t to Minal via FB and Colorlines). There is a new film“We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân” target=”_blank”, that documents the incredible effort of the Wampanoag cultural revival through language. Beginning in the 1990s, the Mashpee, Aquinnah, Assonet, and Herring Pond Wompanoag communities initiated the Wopanaak Language Reclamation Project after uncovering a trove of documents from the sixteenth century. The documents were written in their native language, which hasn’t been spoken in over a century and a half. Here’s a short clip (4:15) from the film:

Watch A Language Is Not Just Words on PBS. See more from INDEPENDENT LENS.

The story begins in 1994 when Jessie Little Doe, an intrepid, 30-something Wampanoag social worker, began having recurring dreams: familiar-looking people from another time addressing her in an incomprehensible language. Jessie was perplexed and a little annoyed — why couldn’t they speak English? Later, she realized they were speaking Wampanoag, a language no one had used for more than a century.

These events sent her and members of the Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag communities on an odyssey that would uncover hundreds of documents written in their ancestral language, lead Jessie to a earn herself a masters degree in linguistics at MIT, and result in something that had never been done before – bringing a language alive again in an American Indian community after many generations with no native speakers. With commitment, study groups, classes, and communitywide effort, many are approaching fluency. Jessie’s young daughter Mae is the first native speaker in more than a hundred years.

How Diverse is the Dominant US Culture?



Often when I am talking about how the dominant culture in the U.S. is white-centered, shaped, and maintained, someone usually pipes up with a comment about the “diverse” array of foods that are now central to our “highly diverse” general culture.

They like to cite Chinese food, Japanese food, Middle Eastern food, Asian-Indian food, Mexican food, and so on, to try to make the point that whites of European origin no longer dominate U.S. culture, and thus that the U.S. is a truly “diverse” culture. There is certainly some truth to this reality of diverse foods and some other cultural features, such as music, but the typical comments miss very important points.

One of these is how adulterated much of this “diverse food” really is. I have been reading former FDA Commisioner (and MD) David Kessler’s relatively new book, The End of Overeating, and at one point he makes this very important point:

Bottled teriyaki sauce … combines soy sauce and rice wine to mimic Japanese flavorings, putting an American spin on a classic Japanese cooking technique. The amount of added sugar makes it far sweeter than anything found in Japan. We’ve also invented new approaches to sushi classics—for example, mayonnaise-topped tempura shrimp now comes wrapped in rice as a sushi roll. . . . The dish we call ‘General Tso’s chicken’ is loaded with sugar, much to the consternation of the Taiwanese chef who created it. . . . Traditional Chinese cuisine also makes use of a lot more vegetables than are included in our versions.

Many other international foods are similarly adulterated with high fat, high sugar and/or high salt.. Kessler discusses throughout his book how U.S. food corporations have aggressively added sugar, fat, and salt to—and otherwise significantly altered–many food items from across the world. So, Chinese food is not really Chinese food, and Mexican food is not exactly Mexican food. And so on.

Working for top corporate executives in the food industry, who are aggressively seeking so much added profit that people are often harmed, thousands of U.S. workers are constantly redesigning the world’s foods to fit what Kessler calls “American desires.” Once again, as we often ask here, just who are the Americans who have disproportionate power to redesign the world’s foods — and then to successfully manipulate via advertising, the media and other avenues U.S. (and then overseas) consumers to eat them (and, increasingly, become obese)?

I have not seen any demographic data on these top food industry executives lately, but I’ll bet they are mostly white, male, and upper middle class and middle class. And the Us food culture is not as international and diverse as it is often made out to be.