NATICK, Mass. — A group of men beat on a large drum at the front of Eliot Church on Sept. 26. About 100 tribe members turned their backs to the drummers and faced the back of the church as WarriorWoman and StrongMedicine Bear walked through a set of doors, each holding a large feather.

Suddenly, a chant began and the two, holding hands and in tribal dress, stopped momentarily at the end of the church aisle and faced their tribe.

In unison, the two lovers began dancing together up the aisle to meet Chief Caring Hands.

WarriorWoman and StrongMedicine Bear were getting married.

But unlike other Praying Indian wedding ceremonies, WarriorWoman and StrongMedicine Bear’s wedding was one for the history books.

The couple’s recent ceremony became the first Natick Praying Indian wedding at Eliot Church in 340 years.

“To be here and surrounded by family on this day is no mistake,” said Chief Caring Hands, who officiated the ceremony.

The Praying Indians once worshiped and held wedding ceremonies at the Eliot Church regularly when the church’s founder and former reverend John Eliot brought them to settle in Natick in 1651.

In the 1670s, a Wampanoag leader attacked white settlers. The attack instilled fear in the settlers, and tribal movements in the area were restricted. Some tribes, including the Praying Indians, were banished to Deer Island, where many of them died.

StrongMedicine Bear is a descendant of several tribe members who were banished.

StrongMedicine Bear, whose given name is Shawn Silva, is also one of 12 children belonging to Chief Caring Hands, also known as Rosita Andrews. He and WarriorWoman – or Lisa Carlson – have two children together alongside children from previous marriages.

The ceremony involved a ceremonial dance entrance and exit, an opening speech from Chief Caring Hands, singing and an exchange of vows.

“You have taught me how to love,” said WarriorWoman in her vows.

“I had lost my rib and you have made me complete,” said StrongMedicine Bear in his vows, a nod to the biblical tale in which God created Eve from Adam’s rib.

For StrongMedicine Bear, the ceremony held special significance.

“To stand here, to get married here, where John Eliot preached, where my ancestors worshipped, is extremely meaningful,” said StrongMedicine Bear. “This is not only for me but for my future and my children so that they too can now get married here.”

StrongMedicine Bear designed and sewed WarriorWoman’s dress for the ceremony. He was also sporting new full arm-length tattoos specifically designed for the ceremony.

“I saw these in a vision,” StrongMedicine Bear said.

The church ceremony was private, but a public ceremony and “grand entry” was held at the Natick Praying Indian annual powwow at Cochituate State Park.

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