This land was made for you and me.
In 1940, American singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie composed the song “This Land is Your Land” to protest Irving Berlin’s song “God Bless America.” Back then, America was emerging from the Great Depression, and the second world war was looming. Today, both songs continue to personify ways of expressing love for one’s country in uncertain times.
“This Land is Your Land“ evokes the persistent request of Indigenous Peoples Day advocates for Wellesley to acknowledge that our “town is located on the traditional territory of the Massachusett Tribe.” Would adopting this statement entail formal “Land Acknowledgement” from Massachusett tribal authorities? Would practicing acknowledgement serve as the basis for future land restitution and repatriation in our town?
The Town’s website acknowledges the peaceful purchase of land in 1630 by English settlers from Chiefs Nehoiden and Maugus at a price of “five pounds of currency and three pounds of corn.” Gauging Wellesley property values today, many will view this transaction as the settlers taking advantage of the Massachusett Tribe. Putting aside the cultural bias of presentism, we ask this question. Was the Wellesley land purchase viewed as a fair deal by both parties at a time when bartering was often the coin of the realm, land in the New World was cheap and plentiful, and the future was unknown? Probably yes.
Reparations, repatriation, and restitution are hot buttons today. Wellesley’s schools teach that the Town’s land was stolen, not purchased, from the Massachusett Tribe. What are the longer-term ramifications of this for our town? Four hundred years ago, the Massachusett Tribe could not have foreseen how selling their land would lead to the eventual loss of their homes. Likewise, Wellesley’s current residents cannot predict how “Land Acknowledgement” and revisions to our Town’s history, school curriculum, and fall holidays will impact our homes and neighborhoods down the road. Can Indigenous Peoples Day advocates clarify their goals and intentions with Wellesley voters prior to the March 2021 election? What’s next?
Woody Guthrie got it right when he wrote: “This land is your land, and this land is my land. This land was made for you and me.” Irving Berlin got it right, too.