Wampanoag Tribe members share their culture with Marblehead preschoolers

Drumming and chanting rang through Temple Sinai’s vegetable garden Friday morning as children joined hands with members of the Wampanoag Tribe for a celebratory harvest dance.

JCC preschoolers join hands with Wampanoag Tribe members during a celebratory harvest dance at Temple Sinai’s vegetable garden on Friday. CURRENT PHOTOS / WILLIAM J. DOWD

It was just one scene from the cultural event led by Cheenulka Pocknett, “Big Bear”; his brother, David Pocknett, “Little Bear”; Cheenulka’s son, Napowse Pocknett, “Bear That Walks At Night”; and friend Miles Bernadett Peters, “Lightning Wind,” which shared Wampanoag music, dance and storytelling to teach children about Indigenous traditions and honor, in part, the fall harvest.

The dance workshop was part of the synagogue’s celebration of the fall harvest season, which culminated with two special events Friday, three days before Marblehead celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day.

Pocknett used storytelling, dance and discussion to share Wampanoag culture with the preschool children, teaching them about Native Americans’ matriarchal societies and respect for elders.

Pocknett also recounted the legend of Turtle Island, a creation story for many northeastern Native American tribes, including the Wampanoag.

Members of the Wampanoag Tribe captivate JCC preschoolers with their dancing on Friday at Temple Sinai.

According to the tale, when Earth was only water, a woman fell through a hole in the sky. Various aquatic animals from an otter and muskrat to a turtle and a beaver helped by diving deep to find land, only to surface with mud that quickly washed away. Eventually the animals succeeded by placing the mud on the back of a giant turtle, which is why North America is known as Turtle Island in many Indigenous cultures.

The Turtle Island story emphasizes cooperation, sacrifice and an unbreakable bond between all living beings, Pocknett explained. While containing mythic elements, the tale is deeply rooted in real relationships between humans, animals and the natural environment.

The Community Roots Vegetable Garden where the dancing played out is a partnership between Temple Sinai, local nonprofit SPUR and the JCC preschool. Earlier this year, children from the preschool helped plant, weed and harvest vegetables, including carrots, zucchini and eggplant that were donated to the Marblehead Food Pantry.

David Pocknett Jr. ‘Little Dear’ shows off the fur of an otter to preschoolers during Sukkot and Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations at Temple Sinai on Friday.

Moreover, Temple Sinai has developed a close connection with the Wampanoag Tribe through recent cultural exchange trips and events. Temple members view this partnership as an opportunity to learn from Indigenous traditions and build community across cultures.

In addition to the harvest dancing, Temple Sinai hosted a rain dance workshop led by choreographer Morgan Cohen that connected to Jewish prayers for rainfall during the fall holiday Sukkot.

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