We Are Still Here: Leah Hopkins

Photo by Ryann Monterio (Aquinnah Wampanoag).

 

A cultural ambassador from a young age, Leah Hopkins (Narragansett) is passionate about educating the public about Eastern Woodlands Native peoples and fostering cultural competency for Native youth. “Growing up, I was the only Native student in my school system and in many of my college courses, and I naturally fell into a role of teaching my peers and teachers about Indigenous Peoples and cultures and debunking myths and stereotypes. My whole life I have been working towards making our peoples of the Northeast visible and clearing up misconceptions that we have lost our culture, our language, our spirituality. We are here despite 400 years of colonization, land dispossession, and trauma. We have maintained our cultures and traditions and are a living, breathing, vibrant community.”

Hopkins says she grew up deeply involved in Native culture by being on the land and exercising subsistence practices, singing and dancing, ceremonies, and community events. She credits her participation to her father, Don Eagle Hopkins Sr., “My father would go beyond our Tribal community, participating across the country and Canada in Native activism and ceremonies, and always welcomed people into our home for meals and hospitality. He had such a passion to connect with other communities. Today, my husband and I try to continue that tradition of welcoming Native people and students who are away from their communities by hosting them here and making them feel welcome and introducing them to our communities.”

Hopkins speaks passionately about the connection to land that motivates her. “I love the feeling of being on the land, doing what we are supposed to: fishing, harvesting, growing, hunting, and ceremonies. You feel so much more connection when you butcher a deer, rather than going to the store to pick up a steak. It just feels right. There is a relationship, a sense of continuity, and things are done in ceremony. These are practices that we are passing on to our son.” Hopkins is also a skilled seamstress, beadwork artist, and an acclaimed Eastern Woodlands singer and dancer. She has performed both in the U.S. and internationally; her deep cultural roots contribute to her passion for educating Native Peoples and building cultural competency.

Hopkins also runs a cultural consultation business and has extensive experience with curriculum and program development for her community and Eastern Woodlands peoples. As a former educator at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, and as the Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Education Planning coordinator, she says she cherished her time working with the public, but particularly with Native youth: “It was very rewarding to teach them about the land, to harvest beach plums, cranberries, and clay; traditional gardening techniques making their own toys; singing and participating in programs that sparked their love for their culture.”

Hopkins credits her work at the Public Program department at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum for fortifying her ability to present herself as a professional and her people on the world stage. “Native cultures have long been looked down upon as primitive and less complex than other cultures. Promoting the complexity of Native communities from our cultures and promoting our visibility is what drives me,” she says, adding, “Eastern Woodlands peoples, our cultures, our histories, and our arts are undervalued. We are invisible in the mainstream here in New England, unlike in other parts of the country where Native art is part of the aesthetic and infrastructure—where larger populations of Native people cannot be ignored. Education is a tool to make people aware of our communities and stop the stereotyping. I find opportunities to interact with the public very rewarding. This is why I love doing events like the Cultural Survival Bazaar, because it is fun to be singing and sharing our culture at a family friendly event.

 

To have Leah provide cultural consultation or educational programming, contact: eleahhopkins@gmail.com.

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