Sunrise Ceremony at First Encounter Beach
Annawon Weeden leading a Sunrise Ceremony at First Encounter Beach Photo Credit: Victor Rubdi

This year, several Massachusetts public libraries are playing key roles in the 400th commemoration (1620-2020) of the Mayflower voyage and founding of Plymouth Colony.  In this interview, Debra DeJonker-Berry, Director of the Eastham Public Library, will fill you in about the Eastham 400 Commemoration of the First Encounter.  Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Jennifer Harris, the Director of the Plymouth Public Library.  Read on to learn more about how the Eastham Public Library is contributing to more accurately preserving the historical narrative.

Please tell us about the Eastham 400 Commemoration of the First Encounter and how the library is involved with the Commemoration.

Debra DeJonker-Berry: The Library is one of the partner organizations.  We see our role in the 400 as storyteller and have received a Mass Humanities grant to hire a scholar to write an inclusive story of the ‘First Encounter’ between the Nauset people and the English.  Through discussion of this new narrative and library programming, we are looking for themes in that story that apply today.  Some of this is very difficult, and we see this as a good exercise for all of us in listening and learning to talk to one another, giving each an opportunity to express their views.  It’s our way of engaging the community.

How is the library helping to ensure that the materials and programs developed are as accurate as possible and respectful of the history of Indigenous Tribes and Pilgrims?

We were so fortunate to work with Mass Humanities, who through their grant application process, guided us in finding not only a humanities scholar, Dr. Ian Saxine, but also to include a review by members of the Wampanaog Tribe, Steve and Paula Peters from SmokeSygnals.  We have completed the programs for the grant and distributed 500 copies of the book (which is also available online through the Internet Archive).  Now, that we are in the actual Commemoration year, we are continuing to schedule programs with important writers on this period, printing additional copies to distribute, and planning programs for 2021 to continue the discussion, incorporating the themes into library programs.  Though, some programs are being rescheduled and rethought due to COVID-19.  These themes tie in so well with not only the library’s long-range plan but the Town’s as well.  One of the most important things about our work is the many new partnerships that have established along the way – and, most importantly, the new groups of people we are bringing into the library.

As the Eastham 400 Commemoration activities are being coordinated by a town-wide committee, what helps your committee work well together?

Everyone in our group (we can have 18 people at the table, which includes representatives from the Nauset Regional High School, the Chamber of Commerce, the Cape Cod National Seashore, Eastham Historical Society, faith groups, members of the Tribe, the Eastham Painters Guild, and private individuals) has made a commitment to telling our story and to updating one another on what our group is planning.  While we do not agree on everything, there is an understanding and respect for one another that holds us together.  Most importantly, the group provides an opportunity to listen to one another and learn from each other.  The meetings are broadcast to the community, and I think while they watch us navigate through one or the other difficult topic, the work we do and the example set is appreciated.

What upcoming Commemoration events is the library excited to host?

In December 2020, we will be part of a week-long commemoration which is still in development.  The library will host the exhibit “Out Story: 400 Years of Wampanoag History” for the entire month.  In June, the library will host a month of events, but I am most excited about the screening, along with many other libraries in the state, of Theatre Royal Plymouth’s This Land, their first ever international community production. This Land is an epic theatrical event marking the 400 year anniversary of the Mayflower’s journey and its impact upon arrival in America. Created and performed by 120 citizens of Plymouth, UK and 30 members of the Native American Wampanoag Tribe from Massachusetts, USA, This Land is the story of what happened then and what it means to us now.

Any other thoughts you would like to share?

This commemoration is and should be difficult for all of us.  This story, once you begin to study it, can shake the ground from underneath you.  It brings all kinds of emotions to the forefront.  How we deal with them, and how we listen to others who are on different paths or are perhaps further along in this journey, will help us better engage with one another over the long run.  There is no better time for this than the present.

Interview with Debra DeJonker-Berry, Director, Eastham Public Library

Interviewed by Michelle Eberle, Consultant, Massachusetts Library System