In 2021 the City of Salem, through its Public Art Commission, commissioned a portrait for City Hall to represent Salem’s Indigenous community. This portrait was created by Indigenous artist Chris Pappan, in close collaboration with the Massachusett Tribal Council. Thanks to the efforts and support, of many, including the Salem City Council, the portrait is now on public display in the City Council Chambers.
About the Portrait
This portrait portrays Squaw Sachem and Nanepashemet, two prominent Tribal leaders of the Naumkeag village and the Pawtucket band of the Massachusett Tribe. The Massachusett are the historical stewards of this land, Naumkeag or “the fishing place,” and a People that continue to be a vital part of the fabric of the Salem community. This artistic representation was created by Indigenous artist, Chris Pappan, in deep collaboration with the Massachusett Tribal Council. Each element of the work is intentional in its inclusion and carries meaning and importance as a symbolic representation of the past, present, and future of the First Peoples to hold this land, their inseverable connection to it, and their enduring strength, perseverance, vitality, and spirit.
It is with great reverence and honor that the City of Salem dedicates this portrait to the People of the Naumkeag village and the Pawtucket band of the Massachusett Tribe, as a reminder to us all, an acknowledgment of past atrocities, and a promise to listen, learn, and always endeavor together towards a better future.
Two figures stand by the bay that was the site of the arrival of Europeans. Behind Squaw Sachem is her husband, Nanepashemet. As he was not present during the time reflected in this portrait, he is here portrayed as a spirit guiding her from beyond. The wampum belts signify the responsibility and descendancy of leadership. Squaw Sachem holds an English coat, a token requested from the English by her each year per the details of the land title - small recompense for the rights to the land. The figures are surrounded by the bounty of the land which the Europeans coveted; their descendants, still here today, shown on the beach learning and listening; and a sky that resembles dawn, symbolic of awakening and a new beginning for the People. This was an extraordinary opportunity to work with the Naumkeag community. I am incredibly honored and humbled by the fact that they have placed their trust in me, and always strived to honor their living legacy and tenacity with my work. This project has challenged me in ways I never imagined. It is my hope that I have been able to imagine the ancestors in a way that the descendants can be proud of. Creating a vision of the past has its challenges, particularly for Indigenous people because of the legacy of misrepresentation. I chose not to give this painting a title to honor Squaw Sachem, whose name is unknown to history. The title Squaw Sachem was her choice of name so the English could not take or know her true name. I want the People to have this for themselves; the power and strength lie within the image and memory. Their names are their own and stay with them.
About The Massachusett
The Massachusett tribe are the descendants of the original people that the English Invaders first encountered in what is now the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We, against all odds, have survived as the descendants of the first people of Massachusetts. We continue to survive as Massachusett people because we have retained the oral tradition of storytelling just as our ancestors did. This tradition passes on the Massachusett view of how our world works, our relationship with all of nature and why things are the way they are. There are ways of perceiving and doing things in our community that trace back thousands of years. There are medicine ways thousands of years old that we still practice today. We honor our ancestors for keeping the traditions they were able to keep, for their foresight, for the gifts they left to us and for their continued guidance.
About the Artist
Chris Pappan is a Kanza artist. His artwork is based on the Plains Native art tradition known as Ledger Art. Many of his works literally reflect the dominant culture’s distorted perceptions of Native peoples. A graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and a nationally recognized painter and ledger artist, Chris’ work is in the collections of the National Museum of the American Indian as well as many others across the US and abroad. Chris lives in Chicago with his wife Debra Yepa-Pappan and their daughter Ji Hae.
About Salem Public Art Commission
Salem Public Art Commission (SPAC) is committed to enriching and enlivening the urban environment through innovative and transformative works of art in all media and modalities. With a focus on local artists and a global perspective of the art scene, SPAC seeks to foster greater community awareness of and interaction with the arts, enhance the scope of Salem’s public art collection, and celebrate diversity in all its forms among community members and visitors of Salem alike.