From the Editor

Plymouth 400, the organization planning a shipload of events to commemorate the 400th anniversary of European arrival in the neighborhood, postponed its opening celebration due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Two weeks later
Donald Trump’s secretary of the Department of the Interior, David Bernhardt, informed the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, whose direct ancestors had greeted the Pilgrims in 1620, that their reservation would be “disestablished.”

They are unrelated events, presumably, though the historically minded might note that it was a series of epidemics four centuries ago that effectively disestablished the entire Wampanoag population from their real estate around Plymouth in advance of the Pilgrims’ arrival. And that successive scourges played a formative role in the creation of the nation. Across the hemisphere upwards of 70 percent of the Native American population was wiped out, often before the speculators even showed up to draw lines and make solemn promises in the form of treaties and acts of congress.

It was all a long, long time ago. But here we are in the North American world it made nonetheless. Yellow fever in the late-eighteenth century, cholera and scarlet fever in the nineteenth century, Spanish flu and HIV/AIDS in the twentieth century also changed the country in convoluted ways not directly reflected in the roll call of victims. Epidemics reach through time. So who knows what we will say of COVID-19 in a decade, let alone in four hundred years.

None of this belittles the current crisis, of course, or alters our mission in the short term. Our duty remains: to do what we can to stop the spread and to care for the sick and displaced, to find what solace and comfort we can in the enforced contemplation, to cherish the time with family that otherwise might not be shared. To persevere.

But the latest action by the United States against the original inhabitants of Cape Cod is a stern reminder that greed and perfidy do not self-quarantine in times of crisis but fester in distraction. “Today’s action was cruel and it was unnecessary,” Chairman Cedric Cromwell (Qaqeemasq) of the Mashpee Wampanoags said in a statement after Bernhardt’s action. “It begs the question, what is driving our federal trustee’s crusade against our reservation?

“Regardless of the answer,” he continued, “we the People of the First Light have lived here since before there was a Secretary of the Interior, since before there was a State of Massachusetts, since before the Pilgrims arrived 400 years ago. We have survived, we will continue to survive. These are our lands, these are the lands of our ancestors, and these will be the lands of our grandchildren. This Administration has come and it will go. But we will be here, always.”

Our duty now is to wash our hands, yes – “Out, damned spot. Out, I say!...Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him....” But, with clean hands or faintly stained, it is also our obligation to stay awake, to remember our complicated past and our shared future, and to keep watch with our neighbors.