Native Peoples in Boston

Although exactly how long the ancestors of Native Americans have been living in this area is a question of dispute, it is generally agreed that this history goes back at least 12,000 years. This timeline begins when the Native Americans first began having contact with European settlers in what is now known as Greater Boston. It attempts to represent a sampling of major public events in the history of Native American Traditions, but due to the independent and private nature of many Native American practices, their sense of “religion” pervading all aspects of life, and a large number of Native Americans who practice Christianity, this timeline is necessarily incomplete and may not adequately portray Native American history in Greater Boston.


1616   European traders introduce yellow fever to the tens of thousands of Native Americans that occupy what is now Massachusetts. These tribes include the Pawtucket (or Penacook), the Massachusett, the Pokantoket (or Wampanoag), and several other smaller bands including the Nipmuck and Pocumtuck. To the south, in what is now Rhode Island and Connecticut, are bands of Pequot-Mohegans, Narragansetts, Western and Eastern Niantic, Quirpi, Tunxis, and Podunk Indians.

1632    John Eliot arrives from Cambridge, England and begins learning the language of the Wampanoag (Wopanatoak), a dialect of Algonquian, in order to convert Native Americans to Christianity. He will go on to launch a mission, translate the Bible into Wampanoag, and establish fourteen “Indian Praying Towns” for Native converts. By 1684, only four will remain: Natick, Ponkapoag area (the area of the Blue Hills Reservation), Wamesit (Lowell), and Chabanakongkomun (Worcester County).

1650    90 percent of Native Americans living in New England at the time of the European settlement have died as a result of European diseases (based on modern historical estimates).

Harvard University’s Charter of 1650 pledges the institution to “the education of English and Indian youth.”

 1655    Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck of the Wampanoag Tribe becomes the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.

1663    The King James version of the Bible is printed in Cambridge in Wampanoag, translated by John Eliot, becoming the first entire Bible (both Old and New Testaments) printed in the “New World.”

1675    Growing ill-treatment by the settlers and their continued encroachment on the land leads “King Philip” (as the colonists referred to Metacom, the son of Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoags) to join with all the Indians from the Merrimac River to the Thames to force out the settlers. In the two years the war ensues, Philip and the leading chiefs are killed and the Wampanoags and Narragansetts are practically exterminated. Most of the survivors flee west to the interior and many of those who surrendered are sold into slavery.

1869    Massachusetts passes the Enfranchisement Act, which extends citizenship to Native Americans living in the Commonwealth.

1962    Hassanamisco Indian Museum is established in Grafton to “perpetuate the arts, crafts, and way of life of New England’s Indigenous Peoples, particularly that of the Nipmuc Indian, and to preserve and protect the unique character of the historic structure known as the Homestead and the artifacts housed within.” The museum is located on the Hassanamisco Indian Reservation, the third smallest reservation in the United States, and is operated by the Hassanamisco Nipmuc Tribal Council.

1970    The American Indian Program (AIP) is established at Harvard University to strengthen the Native American community at Harvard and address Native American issues.

Native Americans gather at noon on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth on Thanksgiving to commemorate what they call a “National Day of Mourning,” as a reminder of the Native American genocide and cultural oppression. The event is organized by the United American Indians of New England (UAINE), a Native-led organization that promotes Native American awareness, fights racism, and works towards the freedom of Leonard Peltier and other political prisoners.

The Nipmuck Tribal Council of Chaubunagungamaug holds its first annual Pow Wow at their reservation in Webster, which is open to the public.

1972    The Wampanoag Tribal Council of Gay Head, Inc., on Martha’s Vineyard, is formed to preserve Wampanoag history and culture. One of its main goals is the return of tribal lands to the Wampanoag people and to achieve federal recognition as a tribe.

1974    The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs (MCIA) is created by the Massachusetts legislature to “assist Native American individuals, tribes and organizations in their relationship with state and local government agencies and to advise the Commonwealth in matters pertaining to Native Americans.”

1976    Boston Indian Council (BIC) is established.

1976   Margaret “Little Fawn” Tremblay and her husband Chief “One Bear” Tremblay of the Chippewa Tribe establish the Order of Preservation of Indian Culture (T.O.P.I.C) to raise awareness of Native Americans in New England and preserve Indian culture. The Order holds its first annual Pow Wow at the historic Prowse Farm in Canton.

 1987  The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head becomes a federally recognized tribe through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), becoming the only tribe in Massachusetts to receive federal recognition. Other tribes in the state will continue to seek this status.

 1989   Burne Stanley-Peters and her husband Cjegkitoonuppa (Slow Turtle) of the Mashpee Wampanoags establish the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness (MCNAA), Inc. in Boston. Their mission is “to develop and implement programs that serve the cultural and spiritual needs of Massachusetts Native Americans; to financially assist needy Native American residents with food, heating costs, and college related expenses; to increase public understanding, awareness, and appreciation about Native  Americans; and to preserve the cultural, spiritual, and traditional ways of the Native American.”

1990    The Federal Census records more than 12,000 Native Americans living in Massachusetts, including over five thousand Native Americans living in metropolitan Boston.

Harvard’s American Indian Program (AIP) is reorganized under the Provost as the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP), with the mission of “bringing together Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students and interested individuals from the Harvard community for the purpose of advancing the well-being of indigenous peoples through self-determination, academic achievement, and community service.”

1991    The North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB) is introduced in place of the Boston Indian Council (BIC). NAICOB’s Community Health Program will grow to “address the needs of the 6,000 Native Americans and Alaskan Natives that live within the forty-mile radius of their offices in Boston,” and the Employment and Training Department will provide services to Native Americans throughout the state.

1995    The Tribal leaders of the Chappaquiddick Tribe of the Wampanoag Indian Nation form a non-profit organization based in Andover to handle the Tribe’s political, economic, and cultural interests. Their mission of cultural preservation is carried out through “programs in tribal history, practice of sacred customs and traditions, embracing the Wampanoag language, and repatriation and protection of ancestral burial sites.”

1996    Cjegkitoonuppa (Slow Turtle), or John Peters, passes his peace pipe to his son, Jim Peters, at the annual Chappaquiddick Tribal Gathering.

1997    Cjegkitoonuppa (Slow Turtle), of the Mashpee Wampanoags dies. His obituary is featured in the New York Times, among other newspapers. As a respected elder in his community, he counseled, led ceremonies, gave advice, and kept alive the sacred ways of his tradition.

Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe, Inc. is founded with the purpose of “rediscovering and developing their native heritage” and to “raise public funds to support the historical, cultural, and humanitarian needs of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe.”

2003   Hundreds of Native Americans from across New England gather at the Watuppa Wampanoag Reservation to celebrate the life of Clinton Neakeahamuck (Lightning Foot) Wixon. Wixon organized many Pow Wows and demonstrations throughout the state and was known throughout the region as perhaps the last fluent speaker of the native Wampanoag language.

2004    Members of the Chappaquiddick Tribe along with other Native Americans from New England march in the procession at the dedication of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

2009   Thousands march at Coles Hill Plymouth for the 40th National Day of Mourning.

The Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag Tribes oppose the Cape Wind project, a multimillion-dollar proposal to build an offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound. The Tribes claim the proposed 130 wind turbines would disturb areas used for cultural and religious practices, including their spiritual sun greetings and submerged ancestral burial grounds.

2010    The Mashpee Wampanoag hold their 89th annual Pow Wow in Mashpee.

The Nipmuck Indian Council of Chaubunagungamaug hosts its 30th annual Pow Wow at Lake Siog Park in Holland.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar approves the Cape Wind project and signs the nation’s first lease for a wind farm in the Outer Continental Shelf off the coast of Nantucket. The Pocasset Wampanoag Chairman George Spring Buffalo supports the project, citing its production of energy “in harmony with nature,” but the issue remains contested. The Aquinnah and Mashpee tribes continue to oppose the project.