Mashpee Wampanoag farmers market to promote tribe self-sufficiency

2022-06-10 22:28:11 By : Ms. Susan Sheh

MASHPEE — For thousands of years, tribal communities have interplanted corn, beans, and squash — a "three sisters" system of planting, said Winnie Johnson-Graham. 

"It's an agricultural tradition, a process that helps plants thrive and survive," said Johnson-Graham, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. "A strategy that benefits all three together."

In that same spirit, Johnson-Graham, along with other members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Community Development Corporation, created Three Sisters Farmers & Crafts Market — an outdoor selling venue — which will kick off Saturday, June 25 at the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Government Center on Great Neck Road South. 

"One of our missions at the CDC is to promote economic security and community development of the Tribe and our members," said Johnson-Graham. "This market is part of a plan of action that helps foster that mission."

The market, which will run on alternating Saturdays through Aug. 20, will include tribal and non-Native vendors, who will sell fresh fruits and vegetables. The market will also feature local and regional artisans selling a spectrum of hand-made crafts and goods. 

While there will be tribal vendors selling traditional beadwork and Native art, Selena Hendricks, secretary of the Community Development Corporation, said the market is open to any local or regional vendors. 

"You don't need to be from a tribal community to participate," she said. "We have space for 100 vendors so we are looking to attract locals and bring farmers and artisans together."

If vendors are unable to sell at the first market, Hendricks encourages them to apply for later market dates and said it's a great way for tribal vendors to ready themselves for powwow season.

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"If they miss the first one, there’s four more after that," she said. "As the summer continues, we hope we can build something successful and the market can grow as time goes on."

The venue, which will be outside on the Mashpee Wampanoag powwow grounds, will also feature the sale of fish and shellfish, said Johnson-Graham, and fresh-off-the-grill fish and clam cakes. Non-Native vendors can sell almost anything else at the market, but only tribal vendors will be able to carry seafood.

It's an opportunity for tribal members to exercise their hunting and fishing rights, which in turn, encourages shared, cultural and traditional practices surrounding tribal food sovereignty, said Johnson-Graham.

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"We have tribal members who have been fishing for lobsters, clams and stripers for their whole lives," she said. "We wanted to make room for them at the market and allow them to feel comfortable on their own land to sell their goods."

At a young age, Johnson-Graham said she would "head down to the Bay" with her mother to fish for quahogs, clams, little necks and mussels.  In other instances, throughout the winter, she remembers her uncles coming back from fishing — arms filled with sustenance — and streams of icicles hanging from the hair on their faces. 

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"They would have to cut the ice to get to the fish and the water would just freeze right on their beards. This was our way of life," she said. "Over time, we've been harassed for practicing our hunting and fishing rights. This (market) is a way to honor all of our people who committed themselves to these traditions."

The Corporation was initiated in 2012, and the market is one of several initiatives towards tribal self-sufficiency, said Hendricks. Not only are Corporation members exploring solar initiatives, and partnerships, the group is also hosting free business training with Sister Sky Incorporated to help tribal members grow their entrepreneurial dreams into actual businesses.

"The goal is to develop business opportunities and to bring a profit into the tribe outside of the tribal council and outside of gaming," Hendricks said. "We are focusing on other community and business development avenues."

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Johnson-Graham agreed, saying spurring economic development  helps members but also the community as a whole. 

"We don't want to depend on investor dollars," she said. "We want our future tribal members to be able to utilize their skills and trades so we can strengthen the whole tribe and our community together."

Since the Corporation's inception, Johnson-Graham said organizers have invested much time and energy into research and feasibility studies for a handful of projects

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"We are at the beginning stages of developing businesses," she said. "We are putting our thoughts and research into action to help our future generations." 

For Hendricks, the market is only the beginning.

"This is a big step for us to create sustenance for our tribal people, especially those who have struggled throughout the pandemic," she said. "This is a way to come together and build each other up."