Chatham Light Coast Guard Station

Wampanoag Heritage and the Monomoyick People of Monomoit

The Chatham Historical Society and Atwood Museum were built on the ancestral lands of the Monomoyick people. Like many indigenous people, the original residents of Chatham had no natural immunity to diseases brought by Europeans. Their population rapidly decreased from interactions with colonists which pushed those remaining further up Cape. Many Monomoyick joined the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag.

The Chatham Historical Society seeks to honor the culture of the Wampanoag people. We seek to uplift the voices and perspectives of descendants of these ancestral lands.

On the museum’s grounds, you can visit the wetu. Wetuash were traditional Wampanoag dwellings. This Winter-style wetu was built by tribal members David and Attaquin Weeden during 2020. The frame is made from cedar saplings dug into the ground and bounded together to create a lattice structure. The tree bark is durable enough to endure Cape Cod’s changing weather. “I don’t think there’s been a wetu, or a wigwam, in Chatham for at least 250 or 300 years,” although Weeden also explains that “our culture is never lost”. He declares that “building the wetu was a way to reconnect with tribal history in Chatham.”

Before Chatham was colonized in the 17th century and incorporated into the Plymouth Colony in 1712, the original name for the area was Monomoit. The Monomoyick lived by the sea in the summer and inland during the winter. Fishing, hunting and farming provided the community with sustenance. They organized their community around their relationships with nature: the land, sea, and abundant wildlife.

By 1620 the Wampanoag communities across Cape Cod were stricken with illnesses due to contact with white colonizers bringing viral contagions. Epidemic outbreaks over the 17th century took the lives of nearly 90 percent of the indigenous population.

Today, there is a thriving culture among the Mashpee, Aquinnah and Herring Pond Wampanoag tribes. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, known as the People of the First Light, has inhabited present day Massachusetts and Eastern Rhode Island for more than 12,000 years. The Mashpee Wampanoag were re-acknowledged as a federally recognized tribe back in 2007. The United States federal government formally recognized the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) in April of 1987. In 1993, a joint collaboration between the Mashpee, Aquinnah, Assonet & Herring Pond Wampanoag communities led to the birth of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project (WLRP) under the direction of Jessie Little Doe Baird. The project brings back a language which lay dormant for a 150 years.

In Martha’s Vineyard (Noepe), you can visit the Aquinnah Cultural Center. The Center is a Wampanoag History Museum led by director NaDaizja Bolling. It provides both cultural education and tribal engagement. They host many cultural events which are open to the public. Today, you can also visit the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum, a cultural center in the town of Mashpee in Barnstable County.