Ancestral land to be returned to Nipmuc tribe at public ceremony in Petersham

  • Left to right — Professor Ray Mann, UMass/Amherst Architecture Dept.; Fred Freeman, Chair, Nipmuk Cultural Preservation, Inc.; Dr. Larry Buell, Founder, UofWild.

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 9/10/2019 9:55:13 PM
Modified: 9/12/2019 10:32:57 AM

PETERSHAM – Anyone with even a passing interest in the history of New England can’t help but be aware of just how badly Native Americans were treated following the arrival of white Europeans – mainly English – on the land that makes up the six-state region. Countless numbers were killed and most of their tribal lands confiscated.

A small step toward addressing some of the injustices suffered by area Native Americans – specifically, in this case, the Nipmuc tribe – will take place on Saturday, Sept. 21 in Petersham. University of the Wild founder Dr. Larry Buell says a public “Ceremony of Acknowledgement” of the return of the Nipmuc’s ancestral land will take place at 4 p.m. The event, says a press release from Buell, “will include a brief history of the land and its stories, acknowledgements by the Nipmucs, remarks by local leaders, and time for a gift-giving and ceremony to mark the historic occasion.” The public is encouraged to attend.

Buell said he gave the tribe a 2½-acre tract in 2016. In June of this year, the tribe paid Buell $107,000 to purchase an additional 18 ½ acres.

“What they – the Nipmucs – are going to do,” said Buell, “is they will prepare a center, where they will concentrate on teaching their young people in particular. The youth face enormous challenges with drug addiction and suicide like many in our society. Right now, they’re an urban population, just outside of Worcester. There are about 500 documented Nipmucs in and around the Worcester area.”

Buell also founded an “Earth-based community” called Earthlands in eastern Petersham. The property contains indigenous stone structures called the “Underground Chambers,” or “Indian Caves.”

In 2016, Buell deeded the 2½-acre parcel to Nipmuk Cultural Preservation, Inc., the non-profit arm of the tribe. The tract abuts the “Underground Chambers.” The larger parcel was transferred by Buell to the Nipmuk Cultural Preservation on June 14.

Buell explained that all of the land in Petersham which has been given or sold to the tribe was traditional Nipmuc land.

“It’s called Nichewaug,” said Buell, “the Nichewaug section of Petersham. The name means ‘land between the fresh waters.’ In 1754, when we became a town, the people wanted to name it Nichewaug, but the colonial leaders didn’t want that so they named it after Lord Petersham in Petersham, England.”

The Sept. 21 event will take place at the University of the Wild, located at 39 Glasheen Rd., Petersham.

Fred Feeman, Chair and founding member of Nipmuk Cultural Preservation, Inc., is quoted in the release announcing the upcoming ceremony as saying, “The original land within the Quabbin/Nichewaug bioregion in Petersham will allow our Nation to have a place, for teaching, interacting with the greater community, and provide a space for tribal members to heal. In the future we will construct an environmentally-friendly cultural and education center for teaching and represent the aesthetics of Nipmuc culture.”

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