Joan Tavares Avant

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Joan Tavares Avant
Granny Squannit
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal President, Tribal Historian, and writer leader
Personal details
Born (1940-04-14) April 14, 1940 (age 79)
RelationsMabel Pocknett Avant (Grandmother)
EducationUniversity of Massachusetts Boston, B.A in human services 1993
Cambridge College, master's degree in education, 1995
Known forAuthor of People of the First Light; Director of Indian Education in the Mashpee Public Schools, columnist for the Mashpee Enterprise

Joan Tavares Avant (born April 14, 1940), also known as Granny Squannit, is a Mashpee Wampanoag tribal leader, historian, and writer living in Mashpee, Massachusetts.


Joan Tavares Avant is the granddaughter of respected Mashpee leader Mabel Pocknett Avant (Nokomis). Avant has served three terms as Tribal President, four terms as Tribal Historian,[1] and was the Director of Indian Education in the Mashpee Public School System for 26 years where she developed a Wampanoag curriculum along with teaching and promoting history and cultural awareness to Native parents, students and non-Natives.[2][3] She has worked with Wampanoag families for over 30 years regarding social issues and has served in the court as a Professional Tribal Elder for family in crises (IQUA).[2] In that latter capacity, she worked to provide guidance and promote cultural awareness to local Wampanoag students and teachers, as well as to provide school day care and tutoring services. She worked with Native and non-Native educators to create a curriculum that highlighted local Wampanoag elders, culture, history, legends, and values.[4]

In 1993, the Falmouth Affirmative Action Committee recognized Avant for her work with education.[5] In November 2012 she was featured in the CBS News segment Wampanoag: Reviving the language discussing the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project. Avant remains actively involved in the Mashpee community as a Clan Mother, Commissioner for the Tribal Housing Commission,[6] and member of the Mashpee Historical Commission.[7] She also serves on the Mittark Committee,[6] which publishes Nashauonk Mittark, the monthly Mashpee Wampanoag newsletter.

Avant is mother to four children, grandmother to five grandchildren, great-grandmother to 3 great-grandchildren, and has two unadopted adult children, all which she loves dearly. She is also one of seven clan mothers, the Deer clan mother of her tribe.[8]


Avant received a Bachelor of Arts in human services in 1993 at the age of 53 [8] from the University of Massachusetts Boston, and a master's degree in education at Cambridge College in 1995.[3] She is currently working on a doctoral degree in Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.


Avant has had a long career as a columnist for the Mashpee Enterprise, in which she currently writes a column titled "Tales From Granny Squannit,"[9] and has also written for the Cape Cod Times. Two of her articles, Now, and Always, Wampanaog[10] and With Intent to Civilize,[11] have been featured in the Cultural Survival quarterly magazine. She is also an editor of the National League of American Pen Women’s newsletter.[3]

She has also self-published two books: Wampanoag cooking: A prelude to the soon-to-be-published book Wampanoag foods & legends (1993) and People of the First Light (2010). The latter is a compilation of personal memoirs, Wampanoag history, and recipes, focusing on Avant's own experiences in the Mashpee Community.[12]

The Tale of Granny Squannit[edit]

Granny Squannit is one of the oldest Wampanoag legends. An old medicine woman with long black hair covering the single eye in her forehead, she snatches away children who misbehave, taking them away in her canoe to her cave in Cummaquid to scare them into being good. However, Granny Squannit also has a benevolent side, giving presents to good children and guiding sailors who leave her gifts. Every Halloween, Avant dresses up as Granny and greets (often scaring them in the process) Mashpee children as they walk through the woods.[8]

After playing Granny Squannit for adults, children and organizations and keeping her alive through writings for 20 years, Avant was given "Granny Squannit" as her native name from their tribal medicine man. She continues to write articles on Granny Squannit, even having her own column titled "Tales from Granny Squannit" in the Mashpee Enterprise in recent years. She also has a black and white tattoo of Granny Squannit on her right arm.[8]


Joan writes, "I am honored to serve as a founding trustee for the WLRP project to open a K-3 immersion charter school in the fall of 2015. It has been my forever passion to not only preserve the culture but to assist making wise pedagogic decisions for our children and families in their own public recognized tribal school".[2]


  1. ^ Knight, Margaret. "Chappy". Vineyard Gazette. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "School Board of Trustees". Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project.
  3. ^ a b c Nashauonk Mittark. "Elections" (PDF). December 2009. Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  4. ^ P. Stone, R. MacKenzie (1990). The Excluded Past: Archaeology in Education. Google Books: Unwin Hyman Ltd. p. 123.
  5. ^ Falmouth Enterprise Newspaper. "Obituary". Falmouth Enterprise. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  6. ^ a b Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. "Committees and Councils". Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  7. ^ Town of Mashpee. "Historical Commission". Mashpee, Massachusetts. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
  8. ^ a b c d
  9. ^ Barnstable Patriot Staff. "The Exchange 3-22-13". The Barnstable Patriot. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  10. ^ Avant, Joan Tavares (Summer 2006). "Now, and Always, Wampanaog". Cultural Survival Quarterly. 30 (2).
  11. ^ Avant, Joan Tavares (Spring 1979). "With Intent to Civilize". Cultural Survival Quarterly. 3 (1): 19. Retrieved 11 April 2013.
  12. ^ Senier, Siobhan. "Another new book: this one by Wampanoag elder Joan Tavares Avant (Granny Squannit)". Retrieved 9 April 2013.