Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Wheel Makes One Last Turn

As we come into this world, we learn. What we do with all we see and learn is up to us. Do we use our knowledge for good or ill? Do we reach out a helping hand to those in need, or do we turn a blind eye and go on with our comfortable lives?
Life is full of events. We celebrate births, marriages, the anniversaries of those and, ultimately, death. The Wheel turns for all of us. Sometimes, though, it turns too fast and stops too abruptly. This new year has brought to its end the physical journey of one incredible woman. She has embarked on her most recent journey to the Summerlands, where her loved ones will see her once and forevermore. I am sorry to say that I never had the pleasure of meeting or getting to know Alice Mae Lopez. But my sister is in a relationship with one of her sons, and I know him as one of my dearest friends. (In fact, Anam Cara is his aunt!) Being a strong, Wampanoag man, crying is a difficult thing to do in public for my friend. This is the hardest thing he's ever had to encounter. He's been with his family since the morning he found out until, possibly, even now. My sister is a public mourner; she copes better with people around. Her boyfriend, though, feels better left alone. Perhaps to let it all out without anyone to see? Perhaps to escape idle chatter so he can think? Who knows? But however he mourns, it is best for him to decide. Though I did not know his mother, I cry still with the knowledge that my closest and dearest friends mourn so heavily and ache so deeply in their hearts. They know that I am here for them. And that is all I can do.
Going back to one's journey and lessons of the physical plane, I've come to find that Alice was not a bystander in life. Though she may have had some, she recognized that she had more than others in her community and tribe, and shared all that she could. To better show you how full of Great Spirit she was, I am including her obituary from the Boston Globe.

Alice Lopez, 49, advocate for Mashpee Wampanoag

In 2009, Alice Lopez took part during a powwow in Bermuda. In 2009, Alice Lopez took part during a powwow in Bermuda.
By Bryan Marquard Globe Staff / January 7, 2011

As director of the Mashpee Wampanoag Housing Department, Alice Lopez tried to ensure that all her people had housing in their homeland on Cape Cod, where expensive rent forces some residents to sleep outside so they can pay other bills.

Her work did not end when she left the office.

“She struggled with her own bills, but it was never, ‘I need help,’ ’’ said her sister Marcia of Mashpee. “It was, ‘How can I help this person?’ She opened her home to people, so they would have a place to stay, or said, ‘You can pitch a tent in my yard.’ At powwow time, I don’t know how many people had tents in the yard. She always wanted to make sure people had a place to eat, a place to wash up.’’

An activist who was helping guide to completion the Mashpee Wampanoag’s first tribal housing community, Ms. Lopez was preparing to leave on vacation with a friend when she collapsed in her Mashpee home, where she was found Jan. 2. She was 49, and tests are being conducted to determine why she died, her family said.

“It’s a great loss to the tribe, and we’re all feeling it,’’ said Cedric Cromwell, chairman and president of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. “She was an amazing visionary and an amazing Mashpee Wampanoag lady.’’

Jessie Little Doe Baird, who received a MacArthur Foundation grant last fall for her work as a linguist reviving the language of the Wampanoag, was Ms. Lopez’s best friend since childhood and had planned to leave on a trip with her Jan. 2.

“She really, really loved life,’’ Baird said. “Alice was a person who helped everybody. She mentored teens, she took homeless people into her home, she helped people make budgets, she helped people get groceries and furniture, and she helped the Wampanoag people keep a roof over their heads.’’

Accomplished at cultural traditions, Ms. Lopez was a member of the Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers, which performs music and dances across the Northeast at schools and events, including powwows. She also was a beadwork artist whose work included the crown worn by the tribal princess during the princess contest at each year’s Mashpee Wampanoag Powwow.

Such skills, she believed, should be taught freely to all.

“She was always willing to teach someone what she knew,’’ her sister said. “She never kept anything secret. ‘Share everything you know with everyone,’ she said. Everyone wants to have the advantage, but I don’t think that was her attitude. It was, ‘Whatever I know, I’ll teach you.’ ’’

Baird said Ms. Lopez “was extremely patient, too. She would show anybody how to do anything, and she’d be so patient.’’

The only thing for which Ms. Lopez had little patience was the economic plight suffered by many Mashpee Wampanoag.

“We have people living in tents, doing winter rents only, or three families living in a single-family home, just so they can be here,’’ she told the Globe in 2007.

At the tribal housing department, she said, “we’re constantly dealing with ‘Who’s going to be evicted today? Who’s been neglected by their landlord and has mold growing in their home?’ ’’

Cromwell said “her focus was to get homeless tribal people into homes and houses,’’ a task that meant becoming knowledgeable about federal housing regulations and advocating for the historic rights of the Mashpee Wampanoag.

“She was a freedom fighter, if you will, for Native American rights,’’ Cromwell said.

Born in Hyannis, Ms. Lopez grew up in Mashpee, the fifth of seven children. Her mother, Carol (Hendricks) Lopez, taught the children arts and crafts. Her father, the late Vincent Lopez, drove trucks, worked as a commercial fisherman, and taught his children how to hunt and fish.

“He taught us how to survive,’’ Ms. Lopez’s sister said.

Early on, so little money was available that the family crowded into a two-bedroom house and used an outhouse before moving into a larger house when Ms. Lopez was a child.

“But we were rich, too,’’ her sister said. “We could walk and roam and be with nature all the time. We had a great upbringing that kept us to our roots.’’

Ms. Lopez graduated from Falmouth High School in 1979 and initially worked as a history interpreter for the Wampanoag Indigenous Program at Plimoth Plantation.

In the early 1990s, she became a housing advocate in Hyannis for the Community Action Committee of Cape Cod and the Islands. During about a decade with the organization, she rose to become a case manager, a case facilitator, and director of the scattered-site shelter program.

In 2003, she launched the Wampanoag housing program, which was the first time the tribe offered housing assistance to its members.

Ms. Lopez was married and had two sons, Tauohkomuk, known as Woki, and Kesuqs, known as Kees. Her marriage ended in divorce.

“She loved her kids,’’ her sister said. “She loved any kids, but her sons were the world to her.’’

In addition to her sons, mother, and sister, who all live in Mashpee, Ms. Lopez leaves three other sisters, Marie Stone, Rita, and Naomi Walker, all of Mashpee; and two brothers, Mark of Mashpee and Robert of Ashburnham.

A traditional sunrise ceremony will be held at 7 a.m. tomorrow in the Old Indian Meetinghouse in Mashpee. A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the meetinghouse, and burial will follow in the Old Indian Cemetery in Mashpee.

During their teenage years, Baird said, sometimes she and Ms. Lopez would skip school to go out of town for a powwow. As an adult, Ms. Lopez “was well known in Indian country across the country and into Canada’’ because of her participation in powwows, Baird said.

“She loved the underdog,’’ Baird said. “If she felt like someone didn’t have a voice, then she wanted to be their voice, and she felt that way about everything from people’s rights to safety and housing, to people’s rights to worship any way they saw fit, to people’s rights to hunt and fish within their aboriginal rights. But her friends were not just the Wampanoag people or Indian people. She had a broad spectrum of friends from other countries and across the United States.’’

Because Ms. Lopez “was full of light and hope and wisdom, she exemplified who we are as people of the first light,’’ said Cromwell.

“She was a female warrior for the Mashpee Wampanoag people.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at

Also, here is a little from the Enterprise (a paper that encompasses Cape Cod and the South Coast.)
Even the island of Bermuda mourned the Tribe's loss.

In the past few days, I have heard some songs that make me think of her, even though I never knew her. I feel, though, that her spirit has recognized me as a friend of her loved ones, and has connected with me through Mother Nature. Crow has taken a message from me to her on behalf of her sons and their girlfriends. Squirrel and Mourning Dove watched over me and kept me aware as I worked. In these totems, Alice and I have met. Through these songs, we have danced together; separated by the mists. I look forward to meeting her in the Summerlands one day.

Chi Megwich, Alice, for all that you did, were and are.


  1. From what I understand, she was a lovely soul. *^_^*

  2. My condolences to the family. I did not know Alice personally, but I understand from my family on Shinnecock Rez that she was a beautiful and caring person. She did so much for her people. She was too young to cross over, but her spirit will continue to enable more good things to come to her family and her people. May the Great Spirit be with you during this time of sadness and give you strength and comfort.

    Sissy Coverdale Williams Shinnecock)
    North Wales, PA

  3. Chi Megwich (Ojibwe, language of my heritage, for "Thank you very much.") The more I read about her, the more I begin to see that her thoughtful selflessness was precious is many places around the states and in other corners of the world. Thank you for your prayers, and I wish the same for your loved ones who knew her.
    Blessings, my friend!


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