Amelia Grace Bingham, a Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Elder and Turtle Clan Mother, has died at the age of 98. Ms. Bingham of Mashpee died December 20 at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Plymouth.
She was known to be a dedicated and fearless advocate for the preservation of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe historically, culturally, and politically.
Born in Boston, she was the daughter of Clara Jane (Miles) Peters and Steven Amos Peters, who served as a Mashpee selectman for 27 years. She was the eldest of eight and last survivor of her immediate family.
She attended the Samuel G. Davis School in Mashpee and in her early teenage years she became a selectman’s secretary for her father, handling tribal documents and visiting elders to collect historical memoirs. She graduated from Lawrence High School in Falmouth with the Class of 1941.
Following graduation, she married US Army Lieutenant Colonel George G. Bingham Jr. and together they raised eight children.
Ms. Bingham studied at the Vesper George School of Art, with a concentration in interior design. Her work as an interior decorator for the New Seabury Corporation model homes was featured in Better Homes & Gardens magazine.
Ms. Bingham and her family followed her husband’s postings by the Army and lived at several military establishments in the US and beyond. After her husband’s 1965 retirement from the service, the Binghams returned to Mashpee and he was appointed chief of police in 1968. Upon observing the condition of tribal landmarks, Ms. Bingham became the founding director of Mashpee Historical Commission and campaigned to preserve several historic buildings including the parsonage on Route 130, the Avant homestead, the Mashpee One-Room Schoolhouse, and the Old Indian Meetinghouse. She spearheaded the efforts to restore the meetinghouse and Avant house—the former for community use and the latter to establish the Mashpee Wampanoag Museum, of which she become the founding director.
During this time, she had also become keenly aware of growth and development in Mashpee and began to oversee tribal interests which resulted in her becoming principal founder of the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Tribal Council Inc. in 1972. Presently known as the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Inc., it continues to provide political leadership.
She also was instrumental in the early 1970s with a land lawsuit which was developed in an effort to preserve Mashpee tribal land. Ms. Bingham believed that the future of the tribe was only as strong as its next generation, one of the reasons she obtained the first federal funding for cultural education. She became director of the Title IV Indian Education Program for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, establishing protocol and curriculum for native students.
She traveled to Washington, DC, many times to lobby for tribal interests ranging from education to the restoration of tribal ancestral homelands in Mashpee. Ms. Bingham was largely responsible for providing resourceful documentation that helped the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe gain federal recognition in 2007.
Due to her sharp advocacy and intellect, she was invited to participate in many capacities informing social and political programs to improve tribal conditions. In 1974, she was the first woman to serve as Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and was a consultant to the state legislature, the Massachusetts Department of Education, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management.
She was a board member and delegate to the National Congress of American Indians and the Northeast Coordinator of the White House Conference on Indian Education. Among her local appearances in the latter role during the mid-1990s was as a featured guest on “The Dick Cooke Show,” a weekly half-hour cable program seen Cape-wide, during which she discussed discrepancies in the recorded history of the Town of Mashpee.
Ms. Bingham was coordinator of Native American performances for the World Festival in France; and established the Mashpee Wampanoag Community Economic Development, Inc. in 1982.
As an independent tribal researcher, historian, and author she composed many papers. In 1970, she compiled and published a book of brief tribal history, “Mashpee: Land of the Wampanoags.” In 2012 she published a more telling volume in her book “Seaweed’s Revelation, A Wampanoag Clan Mother in Contemporary America.”
She traveled nationally and internationally representing the tribe and lecturing on tribal history and culture at colleges and universities.
Ms. Bingham was honored by Cape Cod Community College with the Pioneering Women Award For her numerous achievements.
She leaves six children, Steven P. Bingham Sr. of Boston, Michelle O. Romano of Maryland, Christopher L. Bingham of Las Vegas, Nevada, Peter A. Bingham Sr. of Mashpee, Ricky R. Bingham, also of Las Vegas, and Marla F. Bingham of San Diego, California; two adopted twin grandchildren, Tara Bingham DeGaetano of Douglas and Mark Bingham of Framingham; 15 grandchildren; 23 great-grandchildren; five great-great-grandchildren; and a large extended family.
She was preceded in death by her husband, who died in 2000; her sons Mark V. Bingham and George G. Bingham III; her brothers, Steven Peters Jr., John Peters, Russell Peters and Randolph Peters; and her sisters, Clara Keliinui, Muriel McKinney and Ann Brown.
A celebration of her life will be in the spring on a date to be announced.