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CENTERVILLE — Hidden from view at the base of a steep wood and brick stairway, Rachael Devaney’s family cottage sits on the shore of Long Pond, mid-Cape. This water is home to many creatures: muskrat, opossum, ducks, snapping turtles, frogs, minnows, and freshwater clams, while osprey, eagles, and seagulls populate the sky above. There’s a saltwater exchange on the shore opposite the cottage — the pond is less than two miles from the Atlantic Ocean — and, in Eastern Woodlands culture, a waterway that flows between fresh and salt is a place of regeneration and cleansing.

Although Devaney is Salvadoran and not Indigenous to Massachusetts, where her adopted family raised her, she’s deeply connected to the Eastern Woodlands tribes. In her teens, a mentor introduced her to the Wampanoag culture, taking her to Native socials, harvests, and powwows throughout New England. Her exposure not only educated her about these tribes but also her roots, by connecting her with people who looked like her and showing her ways of life that were similar to those of her ancestors. When she finally reunited with her birth family in 2018, she discovered that she was born in Ahuchapan, El Salvador, and that her Indigenous origins stem from the Pipil people, a nomadic subset of the Aztec Nation.

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On this day, Devaney’s aunt Gloria Marilu Garcia is visiting from El Salvador and is in the kitchen preparing rice and beans and thick corn tortillas made from Salvadoran masa. She speaks only Spanish, so her son Darwin González translates for the group, including Devaney’s boyfriend, Juarez Stanley, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, and her 11-year-old daughter.

Marcus Hendricks, a member of the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, passes pieces of cooked striped bass to Rachael Devaney in Centerville.
Marcus Hendricks, a member of the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, passes pieces of cooked striped bass to Rachael Devaney in Centerville.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

Beside the weathered deck that leads from the cottage to the Long Pond’s shore, four trunks rising from an oak tree are covered in pale gray-green lichen. Its branches shade Kristen Wyman, a member of the Nipmuc Tribe, as she sits at a table and cuts an heirloom watermelon for the party, setting the seeds aside for future planting. There’s a colorful harvest in front of her: Algonquin squash, carrots, Hot Portugal chili peppers, and corncobs from Maine; Nipmuc squash from Rhode Island, apples from Massachusetts, and from El Salvador, corncobs, zapote, and almond seeds, and a dark, slightly spicy honey collected from hives in coffee fields.

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Wyman’s cousin Marcus Hendricks belongs to both the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and the Nipmuc Nation. He’s arrived today with three striped bass he caught in Barnstable Harbor that morning. They’re big, about 25 pounds each, and cleaning them is going to be messy. There’s a debate about where to work. Devaney decides to pull a large folding table over the edge of the deck directly into the water, where she, Hendricks, and González take turns scaling, gutting, and filleting. They each narrate their technique as they prepare the fish while a bevy of swans hovers in the shallow waters nearby. Wyman watches, pressing sunflowers for oil. There’s a lot of teasing, laughing, and storytelling. Although the people who gather at Long Pond this afternoon belong to different Native tribes, as members of the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, they are all kin.

Formally organized in 2018, the Collective is a group of matriarchal-centered Native people, two-spirits, and men. The term “two-spirit” is used by certain Native communities to represent beings who embody both male and female genders. The Collective aspires to a nonbinary understanding of gender, mirroring more fluid genders that exists in nature, where, for instance, many plants have both male and female reproductive structures. And whereas colonization undermined the leadership roles of Indigenous women, the Collective strives to restore feminine power.

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Rachael Devaney speaks with fellow Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective member Kristen Wyman while preparing a number of fruits and vegetables in Centerville.
Rachael Devaney speaks with fellow Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective member Kristen Wyman while preparing a number of fruits and vegetables in Centerville.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

“Rematriation” is at the heart of everything the Collective is and all that it does. Wyman explains the concept in this way, while: “patriarchy is about dominance and control and overpowering, matriarchy is about life, growth, nurturing, and abundance. . . . The best way that we can understand that is through seeds. One seed can lead to hundreds and thousands . . . [Likewise,] in caretaking each other, we know that we can provide and have what we need, and that’s how we live abundantly. As opposed to this patriarchal world, where it seems everything’s about survival of the fittest and whoever has the most is the one that’s going to come out on top. In rematriating, we’re returning to those basic inherent principles that we see in the Earth model.”

The Collective’s mission is to restore the spiritual foundation of Indigenous people through regenerative food systems. They do so by initiating food and medicine projects in tribal communities throughout the Northeast, conscious of the Iroquois philosophy that in making any decision, they consider the effect on their kin seven generations in the future. Wyman expands: “[We] keep in mind the people who came before us and the people who have yet to come. We have that role of being the in-between connectivity.”

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Her own connection to her ancestral Native identity was complex in her youth. She’s a direct descendant of John Speen, or Qualalanset, of the Nipmuc Nation, one of the original proprietors of Natick. Speen lost his land in a deal with Puritan minister and missionary John Eliot, who established Natick as a “Praying Town” in 1651. According to the Natick Historical Society, the purpose of establishing these towns was to “separate Native people from their traditional lifeways, spiritual traditions, and kinship networks so that they could work towards converting to the Puritan faith.”

Kristen Wyman, a member of the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, seals a package of apple slices with a vacuum seal in Centerville.
Kristen Wyman, a member of the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, seals a package of apple slices with a vacuum seal in Centerville.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

Wyman’s grandmother, a traditional Nipmuc leader, married into the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe and grew up in the housing projects of Boston, “identifying as a mixed [race] person. She understood that within our family line we have African, Irish, and Native American identities, and she grew up at a time where you didn’t really talk much about your identity as a Native person.” This was a time when, as with “Praying Towns,” programs like mandatory boarding schools forced Indigenous children to give up their Native languages and traditions, and states like Massachusetts still had laws like the 1675 act that banned Native Americans from entering Boston (it was repealed in 2005).

Despite her grandmother’s heritage, Wyman did not think of herself as Native: “Growing up, we had this understanding of being Native, an image that was taught to us from the outside world of who a Native person was. And I didn’t always fit that description or image. And so I questioned, ‘Were we really actually real Native Americans?’”

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It wasn’t until she attended UMass Amherst to study Native American law and came into contact with its Native student community, including Devaney, that she began to connect her to Native identity. She now describes it in this way: “I see myself as someone born into the kinship of not only [my] family lines . . . but the kinship of waterways for which [the Nipmuc people] belong, the lands that were part of the Eastern Woodlands people. These are just as much a part of my identity as my name.”

In her years after UMass, Wyman “advocated for my ancestors,” through environmental justice and conservation, and her work as a youth program manager for the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park. When she founded the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective with Alivia Moore of the Penobscot Nation and Nia Holley, a Nipmuc member, she (and they) had grown to see that “our food and land relationships are central to reconnecting our people . . . to who we truly are.”

Darwin González descales a freshly caught striped bass as Delscena Hicks, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, picks up a striped bass filet in Centerville.
Darwin González descales a freshly caught striped bass as Delscena Hicks, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, picks up a striped bass filet in Centerville.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

Their work, though, would not be focused on “farming.” Wyman explains why the Collective’s relationship with the word “farming” is “very complex and challenging.” She characterizes the agriculture that developed among North American Natives around 1000 BC as more akin to “cultivation,” very different than the type of farming introduced by colonizers who parceled, divided, and controlled the land. She contrasts: “Our concept of farming was more relational in terms of understanding the cycles of the seasons and our creation stories.” And, “it was more of a community, a shared community effort . . . the word ‘farming,’ or the act of ‘farming,’ continuously places the power on the person, and it’s absent the power . . . and the choice of our kin. . . . [A] plant can’t talk in a sense that we would, but we can see over time, it tells us a story about its own health over time. I think Indigenous people knew those systems and knew that language very intimately in a way that we never wanted to exert power over, but wanted to work in concert in collectivity, in collaboration with for the benefit of all.”

The Collective’s growing initiatives throughout New England take place on privately held land, state parks, and tribal land like the Hassanamisco Nipmuc Reservation in Grafton. Ten “brigade leaders,” including Devaney and Wyman, are members of the communities they represent and use their intimate knowledge to support those communities and lead food-related projects, in so doing, engaging with members of eight Eastern Woodlands tribes: the Mashpee Wampanoag, Narragansett, Nipmuc, Mohegan, Penobscot, Abenaki, Massachusett, and Mi’kmaw, and in South America, through Devaney, the Salvadoran Pipil.

In Tiverton, R.I., brigade leader and Nipmuc member Keely Curliss is farm manager at Movement Ground Farm, located on traditional Wampanoag territory, where she has allocated an acre for the Collective. Curliss’s brigade work engages and creates access for Wampanoag families while restoring heirloom seeds like Nipmuc squashes, Narragansett beans, and Narragansett flint corn. In Petersham, brigade leader Holley recently organized a wild blueberry and huckleberry harvest in the Harvard Forest. She also caretakes the garden, herbal medicines, and fruit trees at the Nipmuc Reservation and helps build the Collective’s local apothecary in Nipmuc and Massachusett territories. In Mount Vernon, Maine, brigade leader Kessi Watters’s Mawiomi Garden grows Indigenous food and medicines and trades with the Collective. It also occasionally rents the two small Airbnb homes on the property to provide respite for community members in need. As a Collective member, Hendricks fishes and hunts deer, which, like the produce, is exchanged and shared among Collective communities. These trades enable the Collective to replicate the ways of its ancestors more closely and helps it avoid participating in the modern cash-based economy, relying instead on mutual aid, trade, and barter, with some support from donations and grants.

A striped bass cooking over a wood fire in Centerville.
A striped bass cooking over a wood fire in Centerville.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

This intentional “interweaving of traditional alliances,” as Wyman calls it, is critical on many levels. When a group from Massachusetts recently helped at a corn harvest at Mawiomi Garden, she says, it was as much about the “learning exchange and conversation” as it was about picking corn. These intertribal alliances replicate their ancestors’ systems of trade, diplomacy, and commerce, which spanned the Americas. Those far-reaching trade routes are why we have corn in New England that was first cultivated in South America, a system González renews when he brings corn from El Salvador to exchange with the Collective.

The bounty at Devaney’s cottage will be packaged, frozen, stored, and distributed to community members in need during the upcoming months. They’ll prioritize elders, and in the case of the fish, those without access to waterways. The Collective has plans to build its infrastructure and capacity to support even more members, including adding refrigerated food storage, and there are plans in the works to partner with a local farm institute so that Collective members of all ages can reconnect with how their ancestors cultivated the land.

Kristen Wyman, a member of the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, harvests the seeds from sunflowers in Centerville.
Kristen Wyman, a member of the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, harvests the seeds from sunflowers in Centerville.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe

Wyman’s dreams for the Collective’s future are inextricably tied to the young people in her community in whom she sees “real transformation:” “I envision them creating and rebuilding a community that really values each other and understands caretaking and sees that responsibility to caretake each other as a way to survive . . . [that] they see themselves as part of this long trajectory of culture and responsibility . . . that they help dismantle some of the harm that these inequitable systems have imposed on our people . . . and that this generation of youth will realize how much they deserve a life of freedom and joy and abundance.”

For more information about the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, visit www.facebook.com/EWRematriation and instagram.com/easternwoodlandsrematriation

Jocelyn Ruggiero can be reached at jocelyn@jocelynruggiero. Follow her on Instagram at @jocelynruggiero1 or Twitter at @jocelynruggiero.

Rachael Devaney, a member of the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, descales a striped bass.
Rachael Devaney, a member of the Eastern Woodlands Rematriation Collective, descales a striped bass.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe/The Boston Globe