Sonic Journey Four: Ma's House

February 28, 2024 Nia Tero Season 4 Episode 2
Sonic Journey Four: Ma's House
Show Notes Transcript

In our latest Sonic Journey, join us on the lands of the Shinnecock Nation, which have been cared for by the Shinnecock People for over 10,000 years. Here, photographer and artist Jeremy Dennis has restored his family’s home in order to create a place for creativity, care, and community for a new generation of BIPOC artists. This unique space is called Ma’s House, and Jeremy documented the building’s restoration in a short film of the same name. 

Lean closer and listen to fond remembrances of Ma from her descendants. Sense the transformation with the sawing and hammering of Jeremy’s construction. And feel your hair rustled by the salty breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.  

Jeremy's film is part of Reciprocity Project, a collaboration between Nia Tero and Upstander Project, in association with REI Co-op Studios. 

Host: Jessica Ramirez. Producer: Stina Hamlin. Story Editor and Audio Mix: Jenny Asarnow.  

Relevant Links: 

Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.

Enjoy the Seedcast podcast on the Nia Tero website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast platforms.

Keep up with Seedcast on Instagram and use the hashtag #Seedcast.

Sonic Journey Four: Ma's House
Seedcast Season 4 Episode 2
February 28, 2014

 [00:00:00] Jessica Ramirez: Did you know that there is an Indigenous nation surrounded by some of the most coveted real estate in the United States? Well, there is, and we're taking you there today.  

[Reciprocity Project theme music begins with slow melodic singing and drumming and plays in the background]

Hi, I'm Jessica Ramirez. Welcome to Seedcast Sonic Journeys. 

At a time of grief in this world, we're choosing to ground ourselves in the practice of listening. We listen to each other's stories; through our ears, we connect to each other's vibrations. Today, we're listening to a film called “Ma's House” from the Reciprocity Project, so we're headed to the Hamptons, two hours east of New York City. It's a place where mansions and very expensive cars are things many would associate with this place. But this is not only what exists here.

In Southampton, New York, there is a vibrant Indigenous community, the Shinnecock Nation. The sea breeze here whispers from the Atlantic Ocean onto the salty grass peninsula. It's where the Shinnecock people have cared for their ancestral land and waters for over 10,000 years. 

[melodic flute music and drumming begins playing faintly in the background] 

In fact, they are among a relatively short list of tribes in this part of Turtle Island that still live, and have always lived, in the place they come from. They build oyster and kelp habitat to steward their waters, just as they continue to steward their culture, art, and community.  

In Shinnecock Territory, there’s a place called Ma's House.  

[00:01:51] Jeremy Dennis: It just became like an individual's idea to a family's idea to restore it into a communal idea to restore this and try to turn it into a community space. 

[00:02:02] Jessica: This is Jeremy Dennis. He's a photographer and filmmaker from this land, and he made the film, “Ma's House”. It's about how he and a bunch of other Shinnecock folks built a collective space for creative Indigenous community to thrive.  

[00:02:18] Jeremy: I'm primarily an artist and photographer, and just being an artist in a community—being able to represent a small community to a greater audience—it's a gift in itself, and I've been awarded so much; things in my life that have made my life possible. And so in the spirit of reciprocity, I thought, like, why can't I offer that to others in my community, to the next generation, and just keep that kind of mutual benefit system going? 

[00:02:48] Jessica: Picture a large barn-like structure in the woods, reminiscent of when it was built in the 1960s. And it's painted bright candy-apple red, with large windows. You can stand out on a white deck and listen to the Shinnecock Bay. This is Ma's House. Now let's visit Jeremy there and his mom, Denise Silva Dennis and sister Kelly Dennis.  

[we hear the sound of the wind, Jeremy’s footsteps in grass, a bird calling, and the sound of Jeremy zipping up his coat] 

[violin music and the bright melodic sound of plucked violin strings begins] 

[00:03:29] Denise Silva Dennis: When he started, some of the walls looked like, “Oh gosh, it's all rotten under there!”  

[a sound like floorboards being pried up plays] 

[00:03:37] Jeremy: I was kind of like, doing a lot of internet research to see if it's even possible or if it's even worth it. Like, how do you save a house that's been deteriorating for so long?  

[00:03:45] Denise: His eyes would be swollen because he would be working on a floor, and he'd be in the basement, and the materials would come down into his face. But I just like, pray, and l just protect them today, you know. So they're okay.  

[the music continues]

She would be very proud if she could see not letting the house go down. I feel her presence here. I know that she has made things happen however way that she could, because that's the type of mother that she always was.  

[the music shifts from violin strings being plucked to sweeping violin melodies] 

[00:04:24] Jeremy: Ma's House is sometimes known as “the red house”. This is the house that I grew up in with my family. Sort of a place for visitors, a place for meals and sharing. 

[00:04:39] Kelly Dennis: Our grandmother, who everyone called Ma, she lived here and she made this how she liked it. 

[00:04:46] Jeremy: It just became really known as Ma's House.  

[00:04:49] Kelly: Her name's Loretta Silva, Princess Silva Arrow. She was the princess [laughs] that we loved. Just always remember her being very glamorous and wanting just to always care for us. We miss her a lot.  

[the violin music continues] 

[00:05:08] Jeremy: So Ma's House was built in the 1960s, and the first people who lived here were Ma, my grandfather, along with their six children.  

[00:05:16] Denise: When I got married, my husband came here to live; and then as I had children, Kelly, Jeremy; and then my other sister and her husband; one of my nephews, and their children. Like, this whole space here, there were so many kids and the family. I can remember there'd be a pull-out couch here, but we were always happy, and this was always [inaudible as the scene fades out].  

[00:05:36] Kelly: Yep, there were always different aunts, uncles, cousins. 

[00:05:41] Denise: That's a lot though [laughing]!  

[00:05:43] Kelly: During powwow time, [starts laughing] that's when they almost got to be over capacity at Ma's House.  

[we hear the sound of birds chirping and footsteps in the grass] 

[00:05:52] Jeremy: Once we completed our newer house down the road and we had to move, and so for the past five years, no one has spent time at Ma's House.  

[the sounds of birds continue, and introspective music fades in and plays in the background] 

[00:06:05] Denise: It was very sad to see, you know, what a once vibrant place just kinda dying off. One day, Jeremy came up with the idea, “What do you think of making Ma's House into a residency?”

[00:06:21] Jeremy: You want to step more in the frame? [laughs] You can come forward a little bit.  

[we hear the sound of a camera shutter clicking and whirring] 

[00:06:28] Denise: You know, invite other artists in and just to keep our, you know, culture alive.  

[we hear the sound of a picture frame scraping the wall while it’s being hung and leveled] 

[00:06:33] Jeremy: My plan for Ma's House is that it's going to have the entire front of the house dedicated to communal arts events, and history lessons, and workshops.  

[we hear a crow cawing, and Jeremy’s footsteps in the grass as he carries a long beam into the house] 

[00:06:46] Kelly: And the goal is to have a space for Black, Indigenous, and people of color to have an art space.  

[we hear the sounds of various equipment and tools as people work on the house, sweeping, painting, and restoring different parts of the house like walls and floors] 

[00:06:53] Jeremy: So it'll kind of be like a guest house. It'll also be my home, permanently. And it's just going to have a lot of different people I guess, in quotes, living there [laughs] all year round to pursue their own art projects.  

[introspective melodic music begins to play in the background] 

And so I want to have work on the walls that can be experimental, or don't have to be for sale. 

[as Jeremy stands in an open room holding some artwork, his voice echoes a bit in the room while he gestures at the wall]

What we're planning to do is have work mounted that's 2D on this wall.  

[introspective melodic music continues] 

Just art shows that generate conversation around quality, race, current issues. I've just become so proud of being Shinnecock, and I think if you would just ask someone from Southampton, they might know us for the Shinnecock Smoke Shop, for the Shinnecock Powwow. But one thing I really want to change through Ma's House is to actually transform the public perception of Shinnecock, where we're a modern place, where we have history being celebrated.  

[we hear the sound of a door opening and closing as Jeremy walks outside and down a set of brick porch steps] 

The reality is, on the East End, people who grew up here their whole lives are being pushed out.  

[we hear the sound of the road while Jeremy’s driving, and then he stops and we hear the sound of the car door opening and closing] 

[00:08:09] Kelly: We're constantly just trying to hold on to what we have, not let outside forces kind of take over our lives. 

[00:08:19] Jeremy: The residents of Southampton kept wanting more land. They kept pushing us further and further back. And so Shinnecock today only has around 800 square acres of land.  

[we hear the sound of small waves from the bay lapping the shore] 

As my grandmother said, “We're still here, thanks to this little peninsula surrounded by water,” because there was just no more land for us to be pushed back to.  

[00:08:41] Denise: Nowadays, we try to say Nation instead of reservation, because reservation is such a colonial way of thinking. It's the land of our ancestors. We've always lived here.  

[the sound of waves continues and fades] 

[00:09:00] Jeremy: So many people that come here for the first time think they're lost, or they don't think that there's going to be any houses down here [laughs].  

Here we are! 

[we hear the sound of a drill going into a wall and sounds of Jeremy working on different parts of the house] 

There was so much generosity around Ma's House when I first started. People were either sharing the crowdfunding campaign, and people would be offering donations from individuals.  

[introspective piano music begins] 

[00:09:29] Donor: We have a check for you. 

[00:09:30] Denise: Oh, wow!  

[we hear the crinkling of a paper envelope] 

[00:09:31] Donor: 500.  

[00:09:32] Denise: Oh my goodness. Oh, that's so wonderful!  

Different friends have come down, different relatives have also come and worked. 

[00:09:40] Jeremy: Roger Waters was a Pink Floyd band member. He donated a beehive. Other people have been donating houseplants. Some people have been donating greens that are edible. 

[introspective piano music continues, and the sound of birds chirping]

Just here, late at night sometimes, it kind of feels like you're not really alone, whether that's the creaky floors, or just like, the draft coming through different cracks in the house. I like to also think that family members who passed on, but spent time at Ma's House, are still there in some form; kind of approving things that are going on there. Now that I'm taking care of the house itself, I think that the house will take care of me down the line.  

[the sound of a bird chirping plays, and fades out] 

[00:10:36] Jessica: What Jeremy is doing at Ma's House is really exciting work. I love that Jeremy created this project to honor the family that he comes from, but also that it will take care of future generations. Since this film was created, over 35 artists have convened and communed with each other, fulfilling Ma's dream.  

We dedicate this episode to her, Loretta A. Silva, or Princess Silva Arrow, aka “Ma”. 

[violin music and the bright melodic sound of plucked violin strings begins] 

Thank you to the Shinnecock Nation and Jeremy Dennis' family. Denise Silva Dennis, Kelly Dennis, and Avery Dennis Jr. Field production coordinator, Kavita Pillay. Production manager, Sauli Pillay. Lead assistant editor, Jacob Bearchum. Reciprocity Project producers, Adam Mazo, Taylor Hensel, Tracy Rector, and Kavita Pillay. Reciprocity theme song by Jen Kreisberg.  

To support Ma's House Artist Residency Program, go to And to support Shinnecock Nation's youth and Land Back efforts, please check out our show notes for how to get involved. Thank you to Upstander Project and REI Co-op Studios, who partnered with Nia Tero to create all the films in the Reciprocity Project.  

Watch this film and more at reciprocity. org!  

[Seedcast theme music, “Rooted”, by Mia Kami, begins and plays in the background]

[00:12:17] Jessica: To learn more about Nia Tero, visit us at, and please check out Seedcast on Instagram at @niatero_seedcast.  

This episode was produced and edited by Stina Hamlin. The story editor is Jenny Asarnow. The executive producer of Seedcast is Tracy Rector. The senior producer is Jenny Asarnow. Seedcast producers are Ha’aheo Auwae-Dekker, Stina Hamlin, Julie Keck, and me, Jessica Ramirez. Nia Tero social media by Nancy Kelsey. Fact-checker Romin Lee Johnson. Transcripts by Sharon Arnold. Seedcast graphics by Cindy Chischilly. Seedcast theme song is “Rooted” by Mia Kami.  

I'm your host Jessica Ramirez. You'll hear more stories from us in two weeks. Bye for now!

Theme song “Rooted” by Mia Kami:Like the wind we still move, like the waves we rise high, like the sun we never die. No staying quiet, we stand united, we are rooted to the ground, can’t tear us down. We’re here to stay…