By Ryan O’Connell
Arts & Features Editor
Kristen Wyman, a member of the Nipmuc tribe and environmental conservationist and consultant, spoke about the history of the Nipmuc tribe, the difficulties imposed on them by colonial constructs, and a land restoration project in Millis Nov. 17.
Wyman spoke about the treatment of Native Americans during King Philip's War in the 1600s, and said there was a lot of paranoia among the English that “even the friendly Indians” would scout against them.
She said this resulted in the forced removal of Indigenous people to Deer Island in the winter, where only a few survived, and they were forced to stay there under penalty of death.
Wyman shared how she learned a lot about her culture during her undergraduate studies at UMass Boston, and it was the only school she applied to because of their Native student organization.
She added she credits her family and her education for her success.
“Much of the work I do is also an honor to her, just knowing I’m her daughter, and I too hope my daughter will grow to carry on our traditions and continue to teach and organize and keep our culture alive,” she said.
Wyman spoke about the intentional disruption settlement caused to Native communities, and listed the “idea of allotment,” the pressure to become nuclear families, and the division of land into individual parcels as some of the colonial constructs responsible for damaging the “common collective.”
She added rematriation represented a push back against the separation of Native communities the patriarchy introduced.
“Patriarchy is this idea of power and dominance and controlling, and when we bring in rematriation and matriarchy, it’s really about seeing each and every one of us for the gifts and the purposes that we have in this life,” she said.
She discussed food sovereignty, then agricology, a system of farming meant to combat capitalist exploitation of the Earth and to counteract the idea of food being treated as a commodity.
“In the process of trying to ‘massify’ your crop, or to make it so that you’re feeding everybody, you’re losing that relationality,” she said.
Wyman added around 70% of our food comes from “peasants” who are working in “oftentimes really bad conditions,” and suffer exploitation from their employers. Many of them are fighting transnational corporations to keep them off their land, she said.
She said the conditions for many of these workers are non-organic, with exposure to pesticides and toxins. She added harvesting your own food helps to recognize your humanity and relationship to the Earth.
Wyman said she went into graduate school with the goal of integrating Indigenous knowledge into resource management, such as the park system, because she felt the program didn’t accurately represent what Native Americans had used the land for.
“They didn’t talk about how our people were probably - before Boston was filled in, that was all marshland - those were where my grandmas and aunties were going to get berries - that medicine to feed us and keep us healthy,” she said.
Wyman then circled back to the forced relocation of Native Americans to Deer Island, and how even after some of them returned, the land they were given - split into parcels - needed to be sold to pay off a medical bill or free a relative from what was likely an unjust arrest.
She said even now more traditional landowners, like farmers, are bullied into selling their land, such as an elderly farmer she knows who is frequently hounded by land developers looking to get rich.
Wyman spoke about the destruction large companies can cause to the land and the communities located on it, and said land restoration projects, like the 64-acre farm in Millis recently purchased, are how they’re combatting corporate greed.
“What we’re trying to do is reclaim as much as possible,” she said. “It means something … to take that power back and bring the ancestors home.”