Understanding the Afro-Indigenous History of Martha’s Vineyard and Adopting a Decolonial Mindset on Campus with Jordan Clark

Part One

Illustration of Indigenous people against a tan background

In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, TIE’s first Fall Semester podcast episode of 2023 features the first part of an enlightening conversation with Jordan Clark, Assistant Director of the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP), about the connections between Indigenous and African American histories, particularly in Massachusetts, and the importance of adopting a decolonial mindset in institutions of higher learning.

Listen to the full conversation below:

TIE Podcast · Jordan Clark on the Afro-Indigenous History of Martha’s Vineyard and Adopting a Decolonial Mindset

Jordan Clark is an enrolled member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah, located on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. Prior to joining HUNAP, Jordan was the Director of Community Programs for Equity and Inclusion at The Cambridge School of Weston, MA. In that role, he managed student affinity and alliance groups, organized community programming, created and managed a four-year service-learning program, and executed leadership training and professional development for students and adults. Jordan was also faculty in the History Department at CSW, focusing on Native American Studies, African American History, the History of Mass Incarceration, and the development of Race in America.

In his discussion with TIE Editor in Chief Alexia Hudson-Ward, Jordan emphasizes the importance of centering different voices, particularly those that have been previously overlooked. He offers insights into his work at HUNAP and how he endeavors to challenge institutions to think more deeply about who they bring into their communities and the different types of knowledge or expertise those different speakers may hold. Through his work, he seeks to elevate Indigenous systems of knowledge, especially in considering how that knowledge can and should be passed on to future generations. As he details, these are important avenues through which we can all become more well-rounded people in ways that benefit our society as a whole.

Stay tuned for part two of this enlightening dialogue, in which Jordan delves more into the work of archivists, the role of AI in relation to the future of his work, and open access.

Here is a quick peek inside the episode:

On the Afro-Indigenous history of Massachusetts and Martha’s Vineyard:

“This is a great opportunity for me to shout out the really great work at the Aquinnah Cultural Center … There’s an amazing museum that’s curated by the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah that talks about our history but will often definitely connect with African American history that’s happening on the island in conjunction with the Native tribes because there’s the misconception that Native Americans are a racial group when in reality we are sovereign nations. So, somebody’s racial or ethnic makeup is not necessarily the marker of their membership into that space … The Aquinnah Cultural Center is … bringing in members of the community to talk about the history, their expertise, the knowledge that they’re passing down, and all of that for any Native community, but especially ours, is paramount to the continuing survival of who we are … That really meaningful information is being passed down to younger generations. If you think about our Language Reclamation Project, we have individuals who are the first bilingual speakers of our language and English in 300 years. And that only happens with really strong work done in the community … When you travel around the Cape and the Islands, there are Wampanoag words everywhere … What’s missing is the cultural connection and the ownership of the people of that place. And so, I think the really strong work that’s being done in those communities is to make those connections and bring back kind of the pride and the ownership of that space and place.”

On challenges to the Wampanoag Tribe as a legitimate Nation:

“If you are a federally recognized tribe in the United States, there are parameters put on you by the federal government that make it mandatory that you have some form of control of your membership, and that takes many different forms. What’s interesting historically [is] this idea of the blood quantum—the measurement of blood for Native Americans we deemed Native—is happening in parallel with the one-drop rule. And so, you have these two communities that are being treated vastly differently in terms of how they’re being counted and sorted by the federal government, but having real generational impacts … This idea of blood quantum was one of the ways to kind of whittle down those [Native] populations … The Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah, our membership is based on lineage … it’s not a perfect system, but it takes away that idea [that] who you have children with dictates whether your offspring and the generations following will be deemed citizens of your nation. And I think that is very conscious, in terms of the history of the Wampanoag Tribe, to encompass all of the people that come from this group … So you’re not talking about race, you’re not talking about this idea of being able to measure someone’s blood, which has no scientific basis. And that someone can be all these different racial and ethnic groups and yet still be a member of this nation.”

On the notion of a decolonial mindset:

“The conversation around decolonization is actually pretty straightforward: to make something decolonial is to eradicate and get rid of colonial structures. So, for an institution to decolonize, it would need to dismantle itself and give its resources and its lands back to the original inhabitants. That isn’t a goal for most institutions, it’s not realistic. However, if we think about how [to] create a decolonial mindset, we start to strip away some of the things we’ve learned from a colonial system and structure … When I speak with people at the university, when I speak with students, when I speak with communities, I talk about it as a collective benefit … There’s a collective benefit for everyone to take on this work, it’s not just benefiting Native communities. I also think that it’s about centering different voices … When we think about a decolonial mindset, it’s really challenging ourselves to look at things in a different way, ask different questions, and challenge the values that we’ve been taught that maybe don’t benefit us in the future.”

Watch the video interview here:

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.