Praying Indian history preserved by tribal chief

Brian Wright O’Connor | 9/8/2010, 5:05 a.m.
Naticksqw, the hereditary chief or sachem of the Natick Praying Indians, is planning to honor the historic links between African Americans and her tribe. Chief Caring Hands

“I’m not saying it’s wrong for traditional tribes to go after casinos. They have found the buffalo that cannot be shot from the train and I have to honor my brothers and sister.”

Competing claims over the true heirs of the legacy of the Praying Indians have caused tensions at times between Naticksqw’s tribe and the Wampanoags on the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard, but the most visible controversy involving Chief Caring Hands came in the 2007 fight over the Natick Public Schools’ “Redmen” mascot.

In a dramatic public address before the Natick School Committee, she implored the town to abandon the mascot, describing how it offended descendants of those the town thought it honored with the symbol of the fighting chief. In spite of objections that such a move would be an unnecessary surrender to political correctness, her moving personal story carried the day. The school board voted 4-3 to retire the Redmen. The town teams now take to the field as the Red and the Blue.

“I simply stood up and told the truth,” she said. “They listened.”

Events coming up this month provide an unusual opportunity to learn more about the history and the living culture of the Natick Praying Indians.

“Song on the Wind,” a musical drama marking the 375th anniversary of Concord’s founding, covers the first 50 years of the town’s history, with a focus on contacts between the pioneering settlers and the Praying Indians who welcomed them. The musical runs from Sept. 10 to Sept. 19 at the Emerson Umbrella for the Arts theater in Concord.

The chief calls the musical narrative, the result of careful research of the history of cooperation and conflict between settlers and natives, “a story held mute too long.”

On Sept. 25 and Sept. 26, the Natick Praying Indians will hold their annual powwow at Cochituate State Park on the Natick/Wayland line from noon to 5 p.m. Events will include storytelling, dancing, drumming and face-painting. Native vendors will offer food and crafts to visitors during the free admission weekend.

The sachem will be signing copies of her recently published book during the powwow. “The Words of the Father” serves as both a warning of the misdirection of modern life and a personal reflection on the lessons of nature and God’s word.

For more information about the Natick Praying Indians, visit www.natickprayingindians.org.