A Closer Look at the Aquinnah Wampanoag of Massachusetts
Chances are slight that you've visited Aquinnah, Massachusetts, though it played such an important role in Massachusetts – and American – history.
The town of Aquinnah is on the westernmost tip of Martha's Vineyard Island. Its beautiful Gay Head Cliffs were designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service (NPS) in 1965.
From 1870-1997, Aquinnah was known as Gay Head. The townspeople voted 79 to 21 in 1997 to change the name to Aquinnah.
The Wampanoag (Aquinnah) Tribe of Gay Head was a part of the land long before the European settlers arrived.
The Vineyard Gazette newspaper reported in 2018 that the Wampanoag connection to Aquinnah dates back 10,000 years "with virtually no sign of any other population."
The Aquinnah Tribe was federally recognized in 1987 and is one of only two federally recognized tribes in Massachusetts, the Mashpee Wampanoag being the other.
The Vineyard Gazette reported the Aquinnah were whalers and hunted whales throughout their history. The tribe grew cranberries.
Wampanoag Tribe-nsn.gov states, "Cranberry Day (the second Tuesday in October) is our most important tribal holiday. Long ago, Cranberry Day included many days of harvesting and feasting in celebration of the cranberry harvest." The tribe shipped cranberries by catboat and "traded in New Bedford to obtain goods not found in Aquinnah, like sugar and molasses."
Aquinnah is governed by a Board of Selectmen and a traditional New England Town Meeting. The Aquinnah Wampanoag has its own governing body headed by a tribal chairman.
The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has deep roots on the mainland dating back hundreds of years. A recent special election in Dartmouth sealed the fate of an Aquinnah Warrior and the "Indians" name as the official logo and name of the Dartmouth High School sports teams.
Dartmouth Town Hall is a treasure trove of history and information about the Aquinnah. Plaques were recently placed at Dartmouth High School and Memorial Stadium football field on Slocum Road to honor the town's long relationship with the tribe.