Directed by: Anne Makepeace
Anne Makepeace’s extraordinary film documents the origin and continued efforts of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project. The indigenous Wampanoag Nation of southeastern Massachusetts is noted for aiding the Pilgrims after their arrival in the so-called “New World” four centuries ago. That foreign invasion ultimately resulted in the rapid decline of their once-thriving culture. The tribes lost their lands and became subject to the laws of the dominant culture, and soon their language began to recede as the native-speaker population dwindled in the years following the American Revolution.
Centuries later, after dreaming that her ancestors were attempting to communicate with her in a language she didn’t understand, Jessie Little Doe Baird was struck with the realization that that language was Wampanoag, and that it had to be restored. Under her direction, the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project was established in 1993 to spearhead the daunting, yet essential task of restoring the dormant language from existing seventeenth-century texts.
Now, 150 years after the last known native speaker died, a new generation of speakers is emerging from this program and speaking Wampanoag, renewing it as a living language. Their strides have rescued a language on the verge of extinction and provided significant insight into the values, history, and complex cultural traditions of the community it represents. This accomplishment reflects the first time a Native American language with no living speakers has been restored as a means to celebrate and communicate with the past while forging a robust future for the Wampanoag people.