Roughly 80 street signs in Cambridge will be revamped by springtime to include translations to the language of the Massachusett Indian tribe.
Sage B. Carbone, a descendant of the Massachusett Tribe and a member of the Northern Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island, proposed the initiative as part of the city’s 2021 participatory budgeting cycle. The project was approved and received $180,000 in funding as part of the city’s African American and Indigenous Peoples Historical Reckoning Project.
Since the project was approved, the Cambridge Historical Commission has worked alongside an advisory group to choose the language and location of the signage. Signs will be placed between First and Eighth Streets in East Cambridge and will feature a translation from English to Massachusett.
“Because this area of Boston and Cambridge is Massachusett land, the traditional homeland of the Massachusett tribe, we’ve decided to honor the original land keepers would be best,” Carbone said.
The Cambridge traffic, parking, and transportation department will implement the signage by spring 2024, said Sarah L. Burks, who serves as preservation planner on the Cambridge Historical Commission. The city will also launch a website with historical information and pronunciations for each sign.
Burks, who helped assemble the advisory group for Carbone’s project, said she hopes the signs will start conversations and raise awareness both of Indigenous history and diversity in the city of Cambridge.
“Traffic signs particularly get boiled down to the simplest common denominator: You want it to be read quickly and understood and provide safety information,” Burks said. “This will still do that, but by adding the additional language it will speak to the fact that English is not the only language spoken here and that we’re aware of cultural traditions of people from different backgrounds.”
The project was nominated as part of Cambridge’s participatory budgeting process, where Cantabrigians over 12 years of age can vote on proposed initiatives. Carbone’s submission was combined with another project to repair and add to the city’s existing Black history markers, according to Burks.
Carbone said Indigenous languages are commonly spoken and written on reservations around the country, but almost nowhere to be found in Boston. She sees these translations are an opportunity for change.
“Unfortunately, New England has been really poor in its visibility of Indigenous peoples,” Carbone said. “As visitors to the city and people living here, I wanted to provide an opportunity to see a bit of what you would on a reservation.”