2022 | Trailer 1 MIN.
Jeremy Dennis (Shinnecock)
Ma’s House was once the heart of a community. As Ma’s grandson, artist and photographer Jeremy Dennis is on a quest to restore the family home to its central role as a community gathering place for a new generation of diverse artists. Through personal mementos, intimate narratives, and a touch of celebrity gossip, Dennis and his family reveal generations of history and hope contained within the walls of their home.
Critical acclaim for this film
"What Jeremy Dennis is doing, as revealed in this splendid documentary on the restoration of Ma’s House, is visionary and expressive of his virtue, resourcefulness and courage. He is finding a way of using creative engagement to keep the line of his historic inheritance preserved, revitalized and forward looking. His project and its mission breathe hope into his Shinnecock community and serves as an example for other communities, This documentary, Ma’s House, captures the spirit of those who deeply believe that the arts must be at the center of any community or culture if healthy bonds are to be woven and the meanings of our lives are carried forward."
- Eric Fischl
"Making this film about Ma's House was a wonderful experience. After working to rehabilitate our family home over the past year, it was important to reflect on the progress and how far the house has come. The work was tiresome and financially draining but it all came together thanks to the individual contributions of many friends and family members. When we began, there was so much love and passion behind the mission of turning the home into a future communal art space for artists of color on the Shinnecock Reservation. I hope the film conveys our gratitude towards those individuals, shows where the space is going, and creates a better image of what Ma's House is all about." – Jeremy
In Ma’s House, viewers are introduced to the history and culture of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, in what is today known as the Town of Southampton on Long Island, New York. Ma’s House accomplishes this through the story of photographer and filmmaker Jeremy Dennis’s family home, an important site for the transmission of Shinnecock culture since the 1960’s. Vacant for years, Jeremy’s grandmother’s house is now being renovated and converted into a museum and art space for Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC), with the goal of establishing a residential program where they can share space and co-create community. Ultimately, the purpose is the perpetuation of Shinnecock culture and Black culture through “art events, history lessons, and workshops.”
The story of Ma’s House is about far more than the fate of an abandoned old house. In a real way, the house is emblematic of the Shinnecock’s ability to survive four centuries of invasion and ongoing encroachment into their ancestral homelands. Seen in this light, Ma’s House is about the survival of Shinnecock culture against all odds. The restoration of the house presents viewers with a story of resilience and the determination to not just survive but to thrive in a way that transcends outmoded ideas about who Native American people are. It is also about the rejection of binary thinking that would separate people into artificial categories based on race and misperceptions about culture. Shinnecock people like Jeremy’s family are the embodiment of cultural blending. They have also retained the knowledge of what it means to belong to land in an unbroken relationship that spans millennia.
Jeremy teaches that “If I take care of the house, the house will take care of me.” According to this understanding of reciprocity, caring for the house literally guarantees Jeremy’s well-being and by extension, presumably, that of his family and larger community. All people regardless of their cultural background can relate to this way of living in reciprocity. Shinnecock views on reciprocity highlight people’s connection to land and place, especially when we hear Jeremy talk about his people’s location on the peninsula. According to his grandmother, Shinnecock Bay has provided protection for the community and prevented it from being completely forced off their land, although over time their land has been diminished to only 800 acres. Thus, it is the earth itself that ensures Shinnecock people’s ability to survive on their homeland in the face of relentless pressure to dispossess them.
- The film puts a spotlight on the intentional creation of collectively-held and shared space to build community and nurture culture. What is the significance of Jeremy Dennis’s choice to create community in this way and what is he trying to accomplish?
- What do you think is the main message the filmmaker is trying to convey?
- What stood out for you the most?
- What larger story is the filmmaker trying to tell?
- To what extent do you think they succeeded?
- What choices did the filmmaker make to shape your understanding of Ma’s House?
- As you learned in the previous section, most of Shinnecock land was stolen by European settlers who did not compensate the Shinnecock Nation. What larger historical and social forces do you think help to explain this history?
- What does “sovereignty” mean? Why does Jeremy’s mother say that today Shinnecock peoples refer to their land as the “Shinnecock Nation,” not the “Shinnecock reservation?”
Find additional discussion questions in the downloadable learning materials on this page.
- Jeremy Dennis’s personal website: https://www.jeremynative.com/about/
- Indigenous Long Island map: https://www.jeremynative.com/onthissite/
- Ma’s House Studio: https://www.mashouse.studio/
- History of Shinnecock Tribal Trustee Governing System: https://www.jeremynative.com/onthissite/wiki/tribal-trustees/
- Southampton Schools Shinnecock teaching materials: https://www.southamptonschools.org/Page/6069
- Educational resources: https://www.jeremynative.com/onthissite/educational-resources/
- New York Times story on Shinnecock Bay restoration: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/05/climate/shinnecock-long-island-climate.html
Behind the scenes
Jeremy Dennis walking on the path behind Ma’s house that goes to the marsh coastline
Jeremy Dennis restoring Ma’s House
The Dennis family in front of Ma’s house
Loretta 'Ma' Silva
Jeremy Dennis (left) with his mother (center) and grandmother in front of a snowman in family at Ma’s house
Ma’s House in the Shinnecock Indian Nation