TRIBE: Aquinnah Wampanoag
MEDIUM: Traditional singer, dancer, speaker and carver
LOCATION: North Providence, Rhode Island
Traditional singer, dancer, speaker and carver, Jonathan James-Perry is grounded in the traditions of his oceangoing ancestors. His vessels bring the community together. One of his projects, Mission Mishoon, became a community center with feasts created on the fires that burned diligently in the vessel as it was created. The community shared traditional foods — roasted whale meat, wild rice, turkey, venison, buffalo, bear, fish, mussels and the occasional doughnut.
Laughter, memories and prayers came together with people from the Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag communities and brought in people from the Narragansett, Pequot, Mohegan, Passamaquoddy, Hunkpapa Lakota, Crow, Haliwa-Saponi, Navajo, Shinnecock, Cree, Apache and many other Nations. Visitors brought pieces of their communities to the boat, and those gifts are now the vessel’s existence.
“All the vessels that I have made have been paddled and cared for by people in our New England Woodlands communities and Native-owned-and-operated museums and cultural centers,” Jonathan said.
Elizabeth James-Perry, Jonathan’s sister and an accomplished artist, sees how Jonathan strengthens the Aquinnah tribal community through showing how Aquinnah Wampanoag people still exist in their homelands against the odds.
“That key element every tribe needs for their continuance is put into practice in Jonathan’s boat-making projects — the ability that develops over time to work together in a thoughtful, respectful way to learn our lifeways,” Elizabeth said in her nomination of Jonathan. “Before you know it, we’ll be watching the next generation of culture bearers on the ocean, racing boats, splashing each other, celebrating a successful harvest, watching whales, and bringing their children out to view the sunrise.”