Six girls standing at rail overlooking water, backs toward camera, looking into water

Restoring a Long-Lost Language

The Wôpanâak Nation seizes an opportunity to use words for good


Finding the right words to express yourself in the face of stress can be difficult enough. But not having the actual words to describe the experience in the language of your culture can be even harder. For the Wôpanâak Nation in Mashpee, Massachusetts, where there’s only a handful of people left who speak Wôpanâak fluently, that’s what’s happening. And to make matters worse, the opioid crisis has escalated in the community as well.

Banding together, the Tower Foundation, the Wôpanâak Language Wellness Institute, and the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project have partnered to help the Nation restore its native language as a means to help young people cope with substance use disorders and mental illnesses. 

The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project initially recognized a need to create words, prayers, and other native cultural expression that could help young people cope and heal. An arm of the larger Project, the Wellness Institute focuses its efforts on children who may be impacted by a family member’s addiction or mental illness. While the group works primarily with school-age children, drawing on tribal elders’ knowledge of traditions and cultures is also an important part of their work. The group works with linguists to develop new words and prayers to give expression to some of the terms needed to describe aspects of addiction, giving young people an alternate way to share their experiences.