November 11, 2011
Wampanoag Korean War Veteran, Ellsworth (Al) Oakley of Mashpee, Mass, USA could fill a novel with all the stories of his life which are filled with hardship and triumph for the last 78 years. There have been many honorable titles and accomplishment Al Oakley has achieved throughout his life, but the biggest title he holds now is "Grandad."
Oakley comes from a hereditary line of traditional Chiefs of the Wampanoaq Nation in New England. The Waponoaqs were the first people to meet the pilgrims in the 1620s who were then 40 tribes strong and Oakley’s father was a Chief in the 1920’s.
Oakley grew up with rich Wampanoaq traditions which later helped in the traditional right advancement for his own people.
At the age of 17, Oakley enlisted in the US Navy when the Korean War broke out. He then later changes his mind and decided to enlist in the army but he didn't like the way the army uniform looked like. He saw his calling when Army Paratroopers held a recruitment session at camp and that’s when he knew he wanted to be a paratrooper.
Within days Oakley was selected and became a paratrooper in three months. Oakley served with the C60th, 9th Infantry Division, 11th Airborne where his Korean campaign included, Kimps, Taegu, Kumwha Valley and Koje-do Island.
Oakley said, “Four thousands of us jumped in Korea, where we held the port of Seole Korea. We took over different hills in Korea and we continued to advance to take over hills, to reach high grounds.” During his tour of duty Oakley said, “Just the experience was hard and I almost got hit by our own air bombs. I was fortunate, had many bullets fly over my head.” Oakley tour of duty lasted 5 months in Korea in 1951 but stayed in Japan till 1954.
After returning from the Korean War, Oakley, at still a young age, struggled to find his own identity but he knew his military training and traditional upbringing prepare him for anything obstacles in life.
Oakley’s Mi’kmaq connection goes back over 45 years where he spent a lot time with the Mi’kmaq of Boston. Oakley later married Caroline Paul, a Mi’kmaq from Eskasoni in 1966 and they were married for 38 years until Caroline’s passing. They had two children together, Squanto and Nancy and Oakley has an older son, Keno from a past relationship.
Oakley said, “I spent 38 wonderful years with Caroline and she supported everything I did.”
Oakley’s love for Eskasoni came as love at first sight, “In 1967 when I first came to meet Caroline’s family they were in Chapel Island. We later drove to Eskasoni and the minute I hit that cliff and saw Eskasoni, I fell in love with it.”
The name Al, Oakley said, is from the Mi’kmaq of Boston who couldn’t pronounce my name correctly, Ellsworth. So they started calling me Al. Ever since then my alias name has been Al.
For over 40 years Oakley was in the forefront of Indian Affairs and a leader for his people. For 19 years he was the Wampanoag Nation Supreme Sashem (Chief) and his traditional name was and still is Drifting Goose.
Oakley is the founding member and first President of the Boston Indian Council along with Mi’kmaq activist Anna Mae Aquash and other Natives in Boston. Oakley participated in the first Eastern Seaboard Indian Coalition and took part in the occupations of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington DC and JFK Federal Building in Boston during the 1973 American Indian Movement uprising at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.
In his own personal and professional achievements, Oakley became a bodybuilder/weightlifter and won awards in his division in Boston, he was a boxing instructor, ironworker and telephone company worker for the New England Telephone Co., until he retired after 19 years. Caroline was a Mi’kmaq interpreter for the Boston Hospital.
On October 31st 1992, Oakley relinquished his position as Supreme Sachem of the Wampanoag Indians because he felt it was time to take another direction in life and he and Caroline decide it was time go home to Eskasoni and retire.
In his farewell letter to the Mashpee Wampanoag People, he gave his people a strong message of unity, "One lesson we must carry with us from our past is that continued success will only come from continued solidarity."
Al and Caroline moved to Eskasoni in November of 1992 and both were an active community member. Al and Caroline played a big role in the traditional movement in Eskasoni and Al has continued and will continue to dance and play the drum at powwows everywhere.
Oakley was quoted in Boston paper saying, "I'm not a politician. I'm a traditional leader. What I've tried to do is bring back the culture, bring back the spiritual awareness.”
Oakley is also proud of his Mi’kmaq connection to Treaty Day where he and other Mi’kmaq drummer were the first drummer to lead the veterans parade in downtown Halifax 25 years ago.
As Veterans, Oakley and his son Squanto, a US Marine Veteran, play a big role in Unama’ki on Remembrance Day. He said, “We cannot forget Veterans Day, I am honor to go schools and church. Future generation need to know what war was like. Also we must remember the ones who have gone on before us.”