Colonial House Picture of the colony
Meet the Colonists Behind the Scenes Interactive History Media Gallery
Behind the Scenes
Introduction Interview with the Executive Producer Colonial Life, Then and Now

The Native American Story
A Historian Awakens 1628
Religion on the Colony
The Longest Day
Building the Colony
Candid Camera
The Training
By Kari Lia Wallerstein
Photo of chicken coop

'm sure everyone on the project can remember one day that was absolutely relentless. The one that springs to my mind was the first day the Wampanoag, a Native American tribe from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, came to visit Colonial House.

By September 2003 we had been working with the Wampanoag for several months and eagerly anticipated their upcoming visit. We had met with some of their members at Plimoth Plantation and were moved by their fierce determination to tell the history of their people. After a number of meetings with Ramona Peters and Linda Coombs, two tribal elders, we knew they would make a huge impact on the series.

The idea was simple. The Wampanoag were to be a visiting clan crossing the land in hopes of trade, as often happened in the early 17th century, and temporarily set up camp for two days. The colony had no idea they were coming, as travellers moved through territories unannounced. Our participants had already received several visits from the Passamaquoddy -- the local Native Americans who owned the land we built our site on. As different tribes could have diverse experiences of colonization, the Wampanoag presented an opportunity to have another indigenous voice in the series, and they were prepared to directly challenge the participants' conceptions about the horrors of colonization.

We knew this would be crucial to the series, but we also recognized this would not be an easy task to broach for both parties: For the Wampanoag, we were asking them to revisit an extremely painful period of history; for the colonists, we knew such a caring group might feel the shame of their ancestors.

Despite meticulous planning, the night of the group's arrival was plagued with difficulty. The seven-hour drive north from the Cape is long enough, but road work had turned it into a 13-hour journey! The group didn't get in until the wee hours of the night and, consequently, they had hardly slept. Nonetheless, all 12 clan members were surprisingly bright and chipper the next morning at breakfast. Excitement was in the air and the Wampanoag were ready to go.

The weather, however, seemed to have other plans. The forecast for "a slight chance of rain" turned into a torrential downpour. We hoped the storm would pass as everyone donned their regalia, but there was no sign of it letting up. Wampanoag traditional clothing is mostly made out of deerskin (and therefore is not waterproof), and the expensive bear and beaver pelts they were carrying were likely to get soaked and possibly ruined. Moreover, the camera crew were concerned about their equipment shutting down if it became waterlogged. Despite all of this, the Wampanoag were eager to get to the site and set up camp, and we couldn't help being encouraged by their enthusiasm.

The Colonial House location resided on nearly 1,000 acres of beautiful, undisturbed land. The Wampanoag would have to cross a significant expanse of the area in the pouring rain, through soggy terrain, on foot, to get to the designated site. We waited for the rain to subside and began our march. Almost as if on cue, the rain came pouring down once again. The clan carried on nonetheless in stoic silence. By the time we reached the site where the Wampanoag would set up camp (not too far from the colony) everything was drenched -- especially the camera and sound equipment. It wasn't long until one crew was forced to go back and dry out their kit. Luckily, we had a second crew, which carried on filming.

While we dealt with technical troubles, the Wampanoag, with Ramona and Linda leading the group, amazingly carried on building their camp and organizing the clan. Within an hour they had a roaring fire, a shelter for their belongings, and a spit to roast their traditional food, all made out of items they had found in the forest. The three teenage girls of the group, Lauren, Danyelle, and Brailyn, went out to gather wild edible plants and blueberries while two of the men, Stewart and Matt, scouted the area. Needless to say, we admired their diligence.

From afar, many in the clan took turns throughout the day observing the colony. Seeing a 17th-century functioning village brought strong reactions and emotions. Many in the group felt angry. They wondered what kind of people would go back in time to play out a period that lead to the genocide of a nation of peoples. Had the Colonial House participants even thought of that? They recounted how many of them were currently losing hold of their homes in expensive and ever-popular Cape Cod, even though their families had lived there for millennia. Some were sick of always being told they had to stop being angry -- they questioned how they could not be angry when so much was still being lost, and no one seemed to care about their plight even 400 years after the devastation had begun.

It was at this stage that Ramona called a council, and all the clan gathered around the fire to thrash out their emotions. The discussion carried on into the evening, and everyone had a chance to share their views. While not everyone agreed, we were impressed by how carefully they listened to each other. Once everyone had a chance to speak, they began softly singing traditional songs. It was a magical moment -- there was something in the music that had healing power for everyone, and a calm descended over the camp.

Due to the rain and high emotions, the clan decided to call it a day and go back to their hotels without having made contact with the colonists. The Wampanoag elders -- Ramona, Linda, Nancy Eldridge, Alice Lopez, and Jim Peters -- had another council meeting that evening out of concern for the huge and unexpected emotional drain the day had on the group. Some weren't sure if it was a good idea to return the next day, but others felt it was essential to face any fears or anger head on.

When I arrived at their hotel early the next morning, the meeting had resumed from the night before. After a brief debate, everyone decided to return, and luckily for us, the sun was shining.

Thankfully, the day went better than we possibly imagined. The Wampanoag met the colonists and together they discussed the complex horrors of living through colonization. The participants listened, asked questions, entered into some debate, and eventually invited the Wampanoags to spend some time in the village. It was a monumental exchange of ideas.

We knew from the start that bringing ourselves face to face with history was never going to be easy, but we were determined to "teach" about the conflicts of the era rather than ignore them. Although it was extremely trying for the project's participants, the Native Americans, and the production team, I hope our courage in the face of difficulty will help give an insight into how this tragedy might have evolved, as well as what we can do now to ease the pain of history.

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