Ancient Fishweir Project Brings Native American Cultural Awareness to Boston


shutterstock_107205503While Boston is best known by most for its colonial history, the city also has a rich Native American history that is interesting, educational and fun to explore. Starting in the middle of May and running through until the mid-June, you will have ample opportunity to learn more about one unique aspect of Boston’s Native American history.

Approximately 5,300 years ago, Native Americans built fishweirs in what is now known as Boston’s Back Bay. These fishweirs, or fish traps, were built in the tidal waters in order to capture smelt, alewife and salmon during the spring spawn. In order to achieve this goal, the fence-like structures were made with more than 65,000 wood stakes woven with willow saplings, alder and brush wattling.

While the history of Boston’s fishweirs has not been fully pieced together, archeological evidence shows the structures were constructed over a 1,500-year period in an area that is now somewhere between 28 to 40 feet below the Back Bay and the Boston Common.

Today, the Ancient Fishweir Project strives to preserve these fishweirs, which were discovered nearly 100 years ago while excavating in preparation for construction of the subway’s Green Line. The project combines educational programs, public art and community events in an effort to celebrate the city’s contemporary Native American community. One of these events is the annual construction of a fishweir on Boston Common. In doing so, volunteers bring history to life while honoring those who depended upon the fishweirs for survival.

2015 marks the 12th year that the fishweir construction project has taken place In Boston. Construction of the fishweir will begin in mid-May and will continue until mid-June. As in previous years, members of the local Wampanoag and Massachuset Nations will collaborate with Boston school children to build the 150-foot fishweir at the edge of Boston Common.

While the fish weir sculpture will only remain in place for a couple of months, it represents the only historical monument in the city to focus solely on the Native Americans who occupied the region prior to the arrival of the Puritans. Furthermore, the impressive undertaking requires the cooperation and assistance of a core group of people each year. These include public artist Ross Miller, who started the movement and leads its creation every year. Boston City Arborist Greg Mosman is also responsible for locating the wood used to build the fishweir each year, a process that often involves removing brush and invasive trees from various locales.

To further celebrate Boston’s Native American culture, Making History Day will take place on Monday, June 1st. This day, which is sponsored by the Friends of the Public Garden, will feature dance and music performances by the Wampanoag Nation Singers and Dancers.

The Making History Day, which brings together children, educators, archeologists, artists, city officials and others who are interested in Boston’s history and heritage, is free to the public. It will take place at Boston Common near Charles Street and the baseball field. Performances will take place at 10:30 am as well as 11:30 am.

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