Native American Heritage Month Reflection by Claudia A. Fox Tree

This piece originally appeared in the Superintendent’s Update by Superintendent Cliff Chuang on Thursday, Nov. 17. Please find this week’s full issue of Superintendent’s Update and back issues at

Claudia A. Fox Tree

Reflection by Claudia A. Fox Tree

Tribal Land Acknowledgements (TLA) are not just land acknowledgments. They need to name the tribal nations, and not just focus on the land. TLAs are about raising the visibility of Indigenous people and Indigenous knowledge. They are one step towards making visible the Indigenous nations that colonizers made invisible.

We should do them to highlight our own learning process and to share important information about Indigenous nations. That information may be historical or current. They offer an opportunity to publicly recognize that we are on another nation’s land. Think of it like a “national anthem” that recognizes the original nation. They remind us that we owe a debt of gratitude to Indigenous nations and that we can renew our commitment to learning more and being accountable. They are an opportunity to say aloud what actions we will take since we are on another nation’s land and consider the often fraught historical circumstances.

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Colonizers made names invisible, so we can use a TLA as a moment to raise the visibility of names. Names have meaning and when they are removed, the original meanings disappear. Here are some names I want to share:

  • Quinobequin (quin-o-be-quin): the original name for the Charles River means “meandering.” This river is now named after someone who never even saw it.
  • Massa-adchu-es-et (Massachusett): Massachusetts is an Algonquin word that roughly translates to “large hill place” or “at the great hill.”
  • Agawam: Agawam means “the other side of the marsh” or “low-lying lands.”
  • Pawtucket: They are Algonquian-speaking and closely related to the Pentucket to their immediate north. Pentucket translates as “at the bend in the large tidal river.”
  • Nipmuc: Nipmuc means “freshwater fishing place.”
  • Wampanoag: means “People of the First Light.”

A TLA is a place to state how we will be accountable by adding a statement about our commitment. As someone whose ancestors are from Germany and the Caribbean, and not Indigenous to the lands where I work or live, I consider TLAs as one way to be a “good relative” and an ally to the local Indigenous communities.

As we approach the third Thursday in November, which is incredibly meaningful to our Wampanoag neighbors, what do we say? Some people, often Indigenous but also their allies, see this date as a “day of mourning.” Not everyone “celebrates” it.

I think about this in the same way I think of cultures that honor days and events that I’m unfamiliar with. For example, one might say, “Happy Rosh Hashanah,” but not “Happy Yom Kipper” because that is a day of atonement.

Similarly, “Happy Thanksgiving” isn’t “happy” for everyone. As an alternative that acknowledges an event with compassion, I suggest we use the words “meaningful” and “observance.” So, we could say, “I hope you have a meaningful observance.” This works across “holidays.”

For that long weekend, we can say, “I hope you have a meaningful long weekend” or “I hope you get to do something meaningful with the time off.”

Superintendent’s Update Upcoming Events

November is Native American Heritage Month
November 13-November 19, 2023: Transgender Awareness Week
November 17-18, 2023: BHS presents Twelfth Night at 7:00 pm
November 18, 2023: Coffee & Cocoa Chats with Cliff at 10:00am, Dudley Cafe (15 Warren St. Boston)
November 20, 2023: Transgender Day of Remembrance
November 20, 2023: Coffee & Cocoa Chats with Cliff at 7:00 pm, Superintendent’s Office
November 20, 2023: Bedford Youth and Families Services Vaping and Marijuana Presentation at 7:00 pm
November 22, 2023: Early Dismissal
November 23, 2023: No School – Thanksgiving
November 24, 2023: No School – Thanksgiving Break
November 28, 2023: School Committee Meeting at 7:00 pm
November 29, 2023: Coffee & Cocoa Chats with Cliff at 10:00 am Zoom
November 30, 2023: Coffee & Cocoa Chats with Cliff at 3:30 pm, Bedford High School
December 4, 2023: HAFB Holiday Tree Lighting at 4:00 pm, HAFB Chapel (Building #1603 – 76 Arnold Street)

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