No more racist Indian mascots

Family a chief concern for Praying Indians leader

Kathy Uek/Daily News Staff
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Caring Hands, chief of the Praying Indians
(Allan Jung/Daily News staff)

On a typical morning when Caring Hands begins her day, members of the Praying Indians call. As chief for the past five years, she watches out for the physical and spiritual welfare of "her tribal family."

She is especially conscious of "keeping our native culture, heritage and spiritual life alive for our children," said Caring Hands.

Caring Hands is Rosita Andrews' tribal name.

Her mother passed the title of chief down to Caring Hands. The Praying Indians all live within a 20-mile radius of the chief.

Although the Praying Indians number only 50, they call themselves a tribe. She explained this by citing the Navajo as an example. "If most of the Navajo tribe was annihilated and the remaining were scattered and went to other tribes, you cannot tell me he is not of the Navajo tribe."

Although not federally recognized, in 1651 the Massachusetts General Court recognized the Natick Praying Indians as a distinct group of native praying people, she said.

"We are recognized in the book of Talking Leaves (the bible) one God of all man. It was this knowledge that prevented us from fighting alongside the English or our native brothers. It was also this knowledge of peace between brothers which resulted in our internment on Deer Island."

By 1675 when King Philip's War occurred, there were 500 Praying Indians from three villages of Natick, Ponkapoag (currently Stoughton), and Nashoba (currently Littleton).

Of the 500 interred on Deer Island in Boston Harbor, the first 200 were from Natick. When the war ended, only 167 of the 500 Praying Indians survived.

"That's why it's a miracle," she said. "We are a living history."

When the Praying Indians returned from Deer island, their tools and livelihood were gone and others lived in their homes, some of which were wetu, made out of tree bark and straw and shaped like igloos, and some were English-style homes, she said.

Today when children ask her where they live and if they still hunt, she tells them, "We live in houses now like you do, and we hunt at Stop & Shop."

Praying Indian Chief Waban was one of the survivors who left Deer Island. Eventually he and other chiefs died and the Praying Indians spent the next three centuries without a leader. Their church and land were taken away and their language halted, she said. "There was a disconnect for more than 300 years before we restored what was taken from our culture."

Caring Hands lives in Stoughton. In the 1600s, royalty of the Natick Praying Indians lived there.

As Praying Indians they meet every problem with prayer, said the 56-year-old chief, who prayed recently before a Natick School Committee meeting where she talked about the Redmen logo, which sparked a controversy in town.

In that meeting she suggested "Red Hawk Men" for the Redmen nickname. Caring Hands wants to be one with Natick. To do that, she said she would like to meet with Natick High School students.

"I would particularly like to speak to the juniors and seniors because it is there that there is the maximum amount of pride, school spirit and self identity," she said. "I would like to give students a chance to let them ask questions and let them know we have wrestlers, football players and track stars, too."

When her tribe has stronger needs, such as issues that affect its survival, elders come together for prayer. The Eliot Church where they once prayed still exists, and she said they are hopeful to one day again be able to share in worship there."For the past two years we spoke with them about gathering at least one Saturday a month."

Today, each member of the tribe attends church separately. They gather for celebrations and ceremonies such as birthdays, weddings, or a young member's achievement.

Pamela Ellis, a Nipmuc historian and genealogist for the Natick Nipmuc Council, said it is difficult for Indians to preserve their traditions, just as it is for other ethnic groups, she said.

Caring Hands previously worked in a victims advocate pilot court program. Eventually the program was used in all courts throughout the state.

Dressed in a beige buckskin shawl worn over a contemporary brown skirt, Caring Hands wore a multicolored cloth headband to show respect to the creator above us, she said.

The round medallion made of glass beads she wore around her neck was given to her when 21 (Plains Indians) from the Southwest, Midwest and West, each representing a different language, met with descendants of those who came over on the Mayflower. "It reminds me of a healing between cultures that is always close to my heart," she said.

On a daily basis the Praying Indians wear contemporary clothing. "But we always have on something of a reminder of who we are such as moccasins, a headband, earrings, a choker or even a special medicine gift about our neck that is not visible," said Caring Hands, who would like people to be sensitive to their dress, in which they take pride.

Caring Hands has heard children ask their parents, "Are they real Indians?" to which the parents replied, 'Shh, be quiet. No, they are not.'"

"We know it is because of our complexion," said the chief. "While the reservations, are not good in themselves, they allow Indians to keep their culture and keep strong blood lines. Here, because we were killed or deported, the remaining population mixed with whites and blacks. That's why we have brown skin with wavy hair and white skin with blue eyes and blonde hair."

But Caring Hands continues in her mission, "I will fight for the survival of my tribe and what is given to us by the creator," said the chief.

"Since 1651, we have fought for our spiritual and physical existence. Originally there were 14 Praying Indian villages. Today, although there are many Praying Indian descendants, only one 'tribe' remains in Stoughton, of which I am chief."

(Kathy Uek can be reached at 508-626-4419 or

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