Ribbon-cutting at Carl Widdiss Way Apartments

A crowd of about 40 board members, foundation representatives, members of the Wampanoag community, and new neighbors celebrated the formal opening Wednesday of the Carl Widdiss Way Apartments. 

The ribbon-cutting inaugurated the four affordable housing units, including two two-bedroom apartments, and two one-bedroom apartments, next to the Aquinnah town center. Construction began in August 2023. 

The apartments are on Carl Widdiss Way, named for the former selectman and tribal elder who died in 2014, at the age of 65. 

A longtime housing and indigenous rights advocate, Widdiss led the successful campaign in 1991 to reinstate the tribal name Aquinnah, the Wampanoag word for “land under the hill,” for the area previously known as Gay Head. 

“We all, as Wampanoag people, we are from the land, and we can feel it here, can feel its presence, can feel its beauty, and wow, look at these homes,” Carole Vandal told the crowd. 

Vandal is a riverkeeper, environmental activist, and wetland coordinator who has spent the past 30 years devoted to educating Native American children in culture and biology.

As the crowd grew quiet, Carole played a wooden flute. When she finished the airy yet shrill song, she thanked the birds for harmonizing with her.

Mike Hebert, chair of the Aquinnah affordable housing committee, thanked fellow committee members and the broader community. “Without the support of the voting public, these projects won’t happen, so thank you to all the voters who come out and support our articles,” he said. 

Juli Vanderhoop, an Aquinnah select board member and a tribe member, said she knew Widdiss all her life, and called him her brother’s best friend. 

“Boy, did they like cars. They were master mechanics. They could fix up just about anything, unless of course it was a Ford,” she said, to laughter.

“He had a little garage on State Road, and often you’d find them there,” she added, “and the laughter that occurred from there to the town hall to the fire station was always long and loud.”

She highlighted the importance of keeping Aquinnah a community, and carrying on Widdis’ legacy. “This type of housing is exactly what’s going to hold this Island together,” she concluded. 

Derrill Bazzy, an Island housing advocate, praised the teamwork that built the apartments. “One of the things we learned over time is, affordable housing isn’t building cheap buildings,” he said. “It’s building buildings that are affordable every month, so people don’t overpay. It’s estimated that people will pay literally $3,000 less per year on these apartments than they would on a conventional apartment.”

Philippe Jordi, who heads Island Housing Trust, invited members of the audience who will soon move into the apartments to help cut the ribbon. The crowd was then invited to walk through them.

In a statement posted online, Pam Glavin Widdiss, Widdiss’ partner, thanked the community for making his wishes become reality.

“I speak for both of us when I say thank you to all, from the bottom of our hearts,” she wrote. “Lastly, I leave you with Carl’s own words, which he lived by each and every day: ‘It’s not how much time you get to live on this earth, but how you choose to spend the time you have.’”

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