Donor Spotlight on Michael Collins
For Michael Collins, the desire to support Indigenous causes started with a fascination with Native cultures as a young boy. Over the years, that fascination has transitioned from interest to dismay, as he’s reflected more and more on the education he received growing up in Massachusetts, a state steeped in false histories of Plymouth Rock and the Europeans’ first contact with Native Americans.
“As a child, I was taught that the pilgrims were the saviors,” he says. “What I knew was that the pilgrims came, and the Indians taught them how to grow corn, and so on. We were never taught the truth.”
Today, Collins believes that changing the erroneous narrative starts with raising awareness about the truth, and supporting organizations that bring that truth to life. Based on this commitment, Collins has been a generous supporter of First Nations since 2016, every year donating regularly with gifts designated to the area of greatest need.
“I give because what was done to Indigenous peoples and what continues to be done is wrong, and it matters to me,” he says. Collins is Irish-American, and he reflects that the Irish culture he knows involves being taught to always help others and care about other people.
His philanthropy also stems from a professional life spent helping others. He has built a 40-year career in health care, serving in various capacities of management and consulting for interoperative care, acute care, long-term care, and rehabilitation care.
“I feel badly about how Indigenous people have been treated, and that’s part of my motivation.”
His caring manifests in both supporting First Nations and taking every opportunity to help set the record straight. And where he’s from, there are several opportunities. Living near “First Encounter Beach,” and spending time there with his dog Leo, he’s reminded frequently of the stories he and others were taught as kids.
Revisiting an Education
Collins, who is now retired, remembers as a young boy being brought to nearby pow-wows of the Wampanoag and to various Native American events. For his mother, the outings were low-cost educational opportunities and a chance to broaden her children’s horizons.
There were also school trips, and one memory stands out of going to Plymouth Plantation. Collins describes the tourist destination as essentially a small village of roughly 15 buildings and pilgrim’s houses created to demonstrate the experience of the pilgrims and the toughness of life in the new colonies. What Collins vividly remembers from the trips though was a sole teepee that was off in the distance, separated from the village. “Even as a youngster, I saw that as isolated, almost segregated,” he says.
Collins says his experiences there added to the other things he was taught about the beginnings of America: That the pilgrims literally stepped off a boat onto a rock in Plymouth, made friends with the Indians, and eventually all sat down for Thanksgiving.
As time went on, he learned the truth, which became especially apparent living so close to many descendants of the Wampanoag Tribe. He now describes reading recently how the pilgrims landed in Provincetown Harbor, rowed across Cape Cod Bay, and encountered the Indians, who were immediately frightened. The pilgrims left but soon returned, this time finding a whole cache of food belonging to the Indians, which they promptly looted, according to written accounts of the event. And, of course, it went even more downhill from there.
The more Collins learned, he says, the more upset he became. “Indigenous people were really taken advantage of. And why weren’t we taught these things? Why haven’t we been able to talk about the truth about what really happened?”
Changes Close to Home
Collins realizes this lack of acknowledgement and false education is at the root of the social inequity and injustice that continues today, in addition to the ongoing damage to the environment. He says it’s imperative to reeducate people and share the real story.
He notes that there have been some improvements, a small one being a revised “First Encounter Monument” at the beach. The first monument erected in 1920 read: “On this spot hostile Indians had their first encounter December 8, 1620, with….” The inscription goes on to list the names of 15 European settlers and “three sailors of the Mayflower Company.”
The good news: A second First Encounter plaque was erected in 2001 with the intro text updated to read: “Near this site, the Nauset Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation seeking to protect themselves and their culture had their first encounter…”
Awareness and Action
While a step in the right direction, Collins knows it is only a small step, and that more of course has to be done to change the narrative. To help, he takes every opportunity to support efforts to reverse the myths that have been engrained in today’s society.
He served as a volunteer at an event at the Cape Cod National Seashore, where members of the Wampanoag Tribe shared their history and customs and presented blessings and songs honoring the Indigenous people of Cape Cod. He says a local fellowship is also holding frequent educational programs and webinars, with several related to the Wampanoags and other Indigenous peoples’ histories.
Collins shares insights regularly with friends and families, calling attention to the experience of Native Americans and asking people to acknowledge, remember, and honor the truth. He also invests in the future, strength, and ingenuity of Native communities today by supporting First Nations. “The work of First Nations is going to go long way to create an awareness that might reduce the racism,” he says.
Another reason for his support of First Nations is his commitment to the environment. Collins is an environmentalist who enjoys nature as a whale watcher, dog lover, and bird listener. He is also a volunteer with a group that promotes awareness of climate change and that works to persuade governments to act justly on climate change. Collins says his environmental advocacy comes from his father, who taught his children the importance of caring for the environment.
“And that’s how I see Indigenous people, and that ties into my work with the environmental group,” he says. “Indigenous people are the original environmentalists, the stewards of our land. They respect the earth, and they recognize that we are part of the ecosystem and not the dominators of it.”
Thank You from First Nations
Collins has turned a childhood fascination with Native cultures into a philanthropic strategy of both giving and educating. He says he continues to be inspired by the thoughts, the wisdom, intentionality, and decisions that Native Americans have always made and still make today. He admires the intelligence and consideration Native people give to problem solving, and hopes that as awareness grows that it may benefit other populations.
And, as his own horizons have been broadened, his personal support and outreach have broadened the horizons of others as well. As a caring person by nature, he is helping ensure that encounters today, long after that first encounter on the beaches of Cape Cod, are rooted in justice and are respectful of the real story of what really happened.
Thank you, Mike Collins. We value your support.