Aquinnah is the most remote town at the southwestern tip of Martha’s Vineyard. This community was known as Gay Head until 1998, when townspeople voted to give their home a name which recalls its heritage as the native land of the Wampanoag Tribe. Aquinnah, in the Wampanoag language, means the land beneath the Cliffs, and certainly a visual highlight of any trip to Martha’s Vineyard must be the spectacular formation known as the Gay Head Cliffs. A national landmark, this outcropping of colorful clay was created by the shearing force of the same glacier that formed the Vineyard some 20,000 years ago.
The Island’s Wampanoags are the same tribe that famously greeted the first Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. Originally they had half a dozen villages or more across the Island; it is only at Aquinnah that they have managed to survive as a distinct Indian community. In 1978, the U.S. government granted federal recognition to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), making it the only tribe so recognized in the state of Massachusetts. At the Wampanoag Tribal Center on Black Brook Road, a museum detailing the history of the Wampanoags on Martha’s Vineyard is open every summer.