Nipmuc Nation and Framingham: Indian Head Heights

Framingham Local History Walking Tour

Nipmuc Nation and Framingham: Indian Head Heights

Framingham, Massachusetts 01701, United States

Created By: University of Massachusetts Boston


You are standing at Indian Head Heights. This was one of several Nipmuc towns in what would become Framingham. The Nipmuc people are the first people of the greater Metrowest area and much of central Massachusetts and northern Connecticut. They have lived here since at least 10,000 BCE. The name Nipmuc roughly translates as "people of fresh water," as their lands had an abundance of freshwater rivers, lakes, and ponds. The Nipmuc people spoke an Algonquin language (tribal members currently offer classes and there are recordings of the language here:

Settler-colonialism is a type of colonialism in which foreign settlers move to and permanently reside on land already inhabited by Indigenous people with the goal of eliminating them and their cultures and replacing them with a settler society. Settler-colonialism often involves destruction or erasure of Native peoples. For example, by forbidding Native people to speak their language, practice their religion, or by forcing Indigenous peoples to adopt the way of life of settlers. For example, the Nipmuc people were forced to use English and their language was almost nearly lost.

The fact that you are now surrounded by a residential neighborhood instead of being on land reserved for the Nipmuc nation is an example of settler-colonialism. Yet, the fact that settlers now live here does not mean that Native people do not also live here. In fact, there are many Nipmuc people who live throughout the area. The Nipmuc Nation is one of several state-recognized tribe with reservation lands in Hassanamisco (Grafton, MA) and Chaubunagungamaug (Webster, MA and Thompson, CT). The Nipmuc Nation has long preserved their culture and traditions despite the destructive invasion of settler-colonists. Anishinaabe scholar Gerald Vizenor coined the term "survivance" to describe the ever-active Native presence in the face of settler colonialism, where Indigenous peoples continuously negotiate strategies of survival and resistance to settler-colonial attempts at their erasure. Additionally, it is important to recognize that Native nations have sovereignty or the inherent authority of Indigenous tribes to govern themselves and provide for the health, safety, and welfare of their tribal citizens within tribal territory. There are over 500 different Native nations in the Americas and currently not all have recognized sovereignty with U.S. and state governments.

An example of Native resistance is the life of Tantamous, known as Old Jethro to white settlers (a picture of his land is included at this stop). Tantamous was a Nipmuc spirtual leader who lived in various places in the area including Assabet (Marlborough) and later Nobscot Hill on the Sudbury/Framingham line (not far from Framingham High School). Settlers had attempted at several points to take Tantamous' land from him, including John Smith of Charlestown who unsuccessfully petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to grant him Tantamous’ land as payment for a debt. Tantamous was part of a moment to protect Nipmuc sovereignty. One of the ways he did that was by refusing to convert to Christianity and enter the Natick Praying Town. The Puritan Church had established as the first Praying Town at Natick and the purpose was to Christianize and assimilate Native people into the settler-colonial society. Tantamous would later be imprisoned for rebellion along with several other Nipmuc men on Deer Island in Boston Harbor during the winter of 1676. It was cold and life-threatening, and he would escape incarceration. He would later be captured by the colonial government and executed on Boston Common on September 26, 1676.

Another example of survivance was the choice by Nipmuc people to enter the Praying Towns. This allowed for them to survive in a world that was increasingly controlled by settler-colonists. Once there, they found ways to preserve their culture, religion, and language. They often mixed Nipmuc religious traditions with Christianity. Also, they preserved parts of the Nipmuc language through their translation of the Bible into Nipmuc.

Next, visit this map, which shows the overlapping lands of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. You can Zoom into the greater Framingham area:

Finally, learn more about the first peoples of this land, by visiting the website for the tribal government and citizens of the Nipmuc Nation:

How are Nipmuc people engaging in survivance? What are ways that non-Native people living in the unceded lands of the Nipmuc people can support their nation's sovereignty?

This point of interest is part of the tour: Framingham Local History Walking Tour


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