Southampton unveils plaque honouring First Nations people on Mayflower anniversary

City has worked with Wampanoag people to mark Native American History Month
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
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The plaque has been added to the city's Mayflower Memorial
The plaque has been added to the city's Mayflower Memorial Southampton City Council

A plaque dedicated to the First Nations Wampanoag people has been unveiled in Southampton as the city becomes the first in the UK to participate in Native American History Month.

The city council has forged strong links with the Wampanoag people through its work to commemorate this year's 400th anniversary of the Mayflower voyage, which brought pilgrim settlers from England to the coast of what is now Massachusetts in the US.

The new plaque has been added to the city’s Mayflower Memorial, which up to now had only featured tributes to the ship's English settlers and crew. It remembers the original Wampanoag inhabitants of the village of Patuxet, which was decimated by disease between 1616 and 1619 following the invasion of English and European settlers.

The deserted village was subsequently chosen by the Mayflower pilgrims as the site of their settlement. Today (9 November) marks the 400th anniversary of their arrival on the continent.

The plaque reads: “In memory of the Wampanoag of Patuxet who perished in “the Great Dying” plague of 1616 to 1619 introduced by European and English invaders. The decimated village of Patuxet - a graveyard - was settled by the pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. They renamed the village Plymouth Colony.”

The city council said it had chosen to join in Native American History Month because of its Mayflower connection and wider Native American links. It is running a programme of virtual events funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund all month to celebrate Wampanoag history, stories and culture.

Along with a range of free online videos and resources, a Wampanoag film, The Mashpee Nine, will be shown as part of City Eye’s annual film festival. The programme will end on 26 November with a new film from the Wampanoag people offering their perspective on Thanksgiving Day and why they choose not to mark the occasion.

The council has also launched school education resources that tell the Mayflower story from both the perspective of the European settlers and the indigenous Native Americans. It is the first time Wampanoag people have co-curated education materials for UK school students.

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Paula Peters, a Wampanoag scholar and the co-creator of the resources, said: “It has been such a pleasure to work with the Southampton City Council team knowing how genuinely they seek to know and teach the whole story of colonisation.

“The Wampanoag story has been marginalised for centuries, yet the story of the Mayflower is one that cannot be completely understood without the inclusion of the Wampanoag perspective. These are the stories that inform our humanity. If we are ever to advance in a worldly way we have to take a critical look at the past and map our futures so that we do not make the same mistakes.”

Southampton’s mayor, Sue Blatchford, said: “We have learnt much from working with representatives of the Wampanoag tribe and are enriched by the experience. We commit to ensuring all our school children learn their story. From now on, the story of the Mayflower will be told in this city not just from the perspective of those waving the ship off, but also from those witnessing its arrival from (what is now) the Massachusetts shore.”

The development comes amid a wider debate in the cultural heritage sector about how colonialism, slavery and contested histories should be represented in the public realm.

A video of the Slavery, Colonialism and the Public Realm session at this year's Museums Association conference will be available on our website shortly

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