Still Here After 12,000 Years: Honoring the Sites and Cultures of Indigenous New England

Peabody Museum canoe modelsPatricia Harris and David Lyon in the Boston Globe, November 3, 2017

In November, most of us turn our thoughts to big turkey dinners and first-wave English settlers in long stockings and buckle hats. Conventional Thanksgiving lore does give props to Massasoit and Plymouth-area Wampanoag for bringing most of the food to dinner. But the Pilgrims are only one part of the story. The Wampanoag Homesite at Plimoth Plantation depicts Native life vividly, but here are a half dozen museums that focus exclusively on the indigenous side of New England’s heritage. By the way, they are all closed on Thanksgiving, and some will soon close for the winter.

Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor, ME

In May 2016, the Abbe Museum unveiled “People of the First Light.” The new core exhibit takes its name from the term that many indigenous people of the Northeast — including the five nations of the Wabanaki Confederacy — use to describe themselves. They are the people of the sunrise, and the exhibit likewise marks a new day for the Abbe. Originally a small museum in Acadia National Park, the Abbe opened in 1928 to interpret Native artifacts found around Frenchman Bay. The modern downtown facility now tells a more comprehensive story of 12,000 years of indigenous culture in the Wabanaki homeland, and it does so from a Native perspective.

Tribal historians, artists, and educators advised in exhibit development. Gina Brooks, a Maliseet artist from New Brunswick, created dramatic illustrations of legends and tales from the oral tradition that inform many exhibits. The Abbe’s science and ethnography remain as rigorous as ever, but learning about the continuity of indigenous culture in the voices of the people themselves brings an immediacy to the experience. 26 Mt. Desert St., Bar Harbor, Maine. 207-288-3519, abbemuseum.org. Open through April Thurs.-Sat. 10 a.m.-4 p.m., closed January. Free until Dec. 22. Otherwise, adults $8, seniors $7, ages 11-17 $4, ages 10 and under free.

Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, Warner, NH

Founded by Charles and Nancy Thompson, the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum represents a singular vision of a master collector. Inspired by a school visit from Pequot sachem Silverstar when he was in the second grade, “Bud” Thompson amassed a major collection of artifacts and artwork representing tribes across North America. The museum sits in the homeland of the Abenaki (one of the five peoples of the Wabanaki Confederacy) and about a quarter of the collection represents peoples of the Northeast. Many works chronicle the growth of basketry and beadwork as Native economic mainstays in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The contemporary art gallery features two exhibits each year guest-curated by members of the Native community. 18 Highlawn Road, Warner, N.H. 603-456-2600, indianmuseum.org. Open through Nov. Sat.-Sun. noon-5 p.m. Adults $9, seniors and students $8, ages 6-12 $7, family $26.

Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Museum, Mashpee, MA

Created in 1970, more than three centuries after the establishment of Mashpee as a “praying village,” this compact museum and cultural center occupies a circa-1793 half-Cape home in the historic heart of the Mashpee Wampanoag homeland. (Eighty-five percent of tribal members live within 20 miles.) It sits next to the historic Herring Run, where some Wampanoag still harvest fish in the early spring.

This year the museum has seen a swell of visitors eager to learn more about the Wampanoag. One of the first things they learn is that Wampanoag culture finds many opportunities for thanksgiving throughout the year. The museum focuses principally on the post-1620 era, and on the contributions and achievements of Wampanoag people. A small but fascinating exhibit on Native American whaling is up this fall, but may be coming down next year. Although the museum closes for the winter on Dec. 1, off-season visitors can see a traditional round, bark-covered Wampanoag house on the grounds. 414 Main St., Mashpee. 508-477-9339, MashpeeWampanoagTribe-nsn.gov/museum. Open through Nov. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Adults $5, ages 6-18 $2, seniors and educators $4, family $10.

Tomaquag Museum, Exeter, RI

You’ll meet a lot of indigenous people in the exhibits at this museum in the heart of Narragansett country. One display features two-time Boston Marathon winner Ellison “Tarzan” Brown. Another sketches the achievements of tribal historian Mary Glasko. Known as Princess Red Wing, she served as a delegate to the United Nations and co-founded the museum in 1958. The last living Narragansett sub-chief, 96-year-old Kenneth “Strong Horse” Smith, donated his turkey feather headdress and other ceremonial clothing for another exhibit. Connections span the generations. A beautiful circa-1850 Narragansett bark canoe hanging from the rafters comes from the family of executive director Lorén Spears.

Continuity is omnipresent. Next to historic Narragansett baskets with now-faded stamped vegetable dye designs is a case showing how a contemporary basketmaker constructs a traditional basket. Everything in the museum seems to have a story, often including the name of the person who made it, wore it, used it, or passed it down. Each quarter, the museum showcases a different contemporary Native artist, many of whom sell their work in the museum’s gift shop. 390 Summit Road, Exeter, R.I. 401-491-9063, tomaquagmuseum.org. Open all year Wed. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sat 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Adults $6, seniors and students $5, children $3.

Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center, Mashantucket, CT

Filling an airy modern building in the woods near Foxwoods Casino, this museum pulls out all the stops to relate the history and flesh out the cultural nuances of what it means to be Pequot. An archaeological dig on the Mashantucket reservation places the earliest settlement as 9,500 years ago, just as the glaciers receded. But the exhibits quickly move on to more recent eras.

When European colonists arrived, the Pequot were a prosperous nation that held sway over large parts of what is now Connecticut. Moving exhibits detail their near-extinction in the 17th century and their dwindling numbers and influence thereafter. This institution shines at teasing out the palpable resilience of people who clung to their identity through all forms of adversity. The exhibits are so thorough and compelling that it is easy to spend half a day here — a small investment of time to become acquainted with a people. 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket, Conn. 800-411-9671, pequotmuseum.org. Open through Nov. Tues.-Sat. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Adults $20, seniors and college students $15, ages 6-17 $12.

Nearby, the Mohegan Tribe operates a small museum with a diverse collection of objects from many Northeastern, Plains, and Southwestern tribes. Call the Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum (1819 Norwich-New London Turnpike, Uncasville, Conn., 860-848-3985, mohegan.nsn.us) ahead as opening hours can vary.

Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington, CT

Located on a wooded 15-acre campus in the Litchfield Hills, this museum has carried out more than 500 archaeological excavations in Connecticut since it was founded in 1975. The outdoor replica of an Algonkian Village is an especially evocative large-scale display of woodland life in the period 350-1000 years ago. The museum also works with all five state-recognized tribes (the Mashantucket Pequot, the Eastern Pequot, the Mohegan, the Schaghticoke, and the Paugussett) for contemporary programs. 38 Curtis Road, Washington, Conn. 860-868-0518, iaismuseum.org. Open all year Weds.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sun. noon-5 p.m. Adults $10, seniors $8, ages 3-12 $6.

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Rethinking Local Archaeology: Indigenous Consultation at Inception

field archaeology

A discussion about policy at the Abbe Museum, Bar Harbor, Maine:

Archaeologists participating in a new advisory committee with the Abbe Museum will discuss the present and future of their field at the Abbe on Sunday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m.

“The Abbe was founded in 1926 around goals to collect, preserve and interpret the archaeological record of the region, and we have been doing archaeological research in the Wabanaki homeland since 1928,” Julia Gray wrote on the museum’s blog. “However, like most archaeological work in North America, this was not done with any involvement with or consideration for the Wabanaki people themselves for many decades. In recent years, the museum has begun to work more collaboratively on some aspects of our archaeological content, but as a decolonizing museum, we know that we need to do so much more.”

Panelists include Kristen Barnett (Aleut), lecturer in anthropology at Bates College; Dave Putnam, lecturer of science at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, where he teaches anthropology, archaeology, glacial geology and climate change; Paulette Steeves (Cree-Metis), assistant professor indigenous anthropologist-archaeologist at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada; and Larry Zimmerman, professor of anthropology and museum studies, public scholar of Native American representation and adjunct professor, Native American and indigenous studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

The archaeological advisory committee is comprised of native archaeologists and others working in the field who will guide the museum’s archaeological research, collections management and interpretation fully into a decolonizing framework.

Abbe Museum Welcomes New Trustees

Gabe Frey Sarah Sockbeson Abbe Museum BDN

The Abbe Museum has added two new members to its Board of Trustees, bringing the total number of Trustees to 16. The new appointees, Gabriel Frey, Passamaquoddy, and Sarah Sockbeson, Penobscot, assumed their new roles on June 2, 2017. Abbe Trustees Jeff Dalrymple and Richard Cleary were elected to a third term.

“We are honored to have Gabe and Sarah join the Abbe’s board,” said Abbe Museum Board Chair Ann Cox Halkett. “Both bring talents and new perspectives that will complement and strengthen our energetic and engaged board. Their leadership will be especially important as the Abbe continues its commitment to decolonization and launches the first annual Abbe Museum Indian Market in Bar Harbor in May 2018.”

See the full story in the Bangor Daily News.

Dialogue Tour: American Flag Motif in Wabanaki Art

wabanaki flag basket abbe museum

Monday, July 3, 2017 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Tuesday, July 4, 2017 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Location: Abbe Museum, 26 Mount Desert St, Bar Harbor, Maine

For more information: 207-288-3519; abbemuseum.org/events/?view=calendar&month=July-2017

The Abbe Museum’s education team will be hosting a specialized dialogue program surrounding the use of the American flag motif in Wabanaki art. Participants will be prompted with questions to guide the conversation and have opportunities to share insights.

The cost of participating is $9 and includes admission for the rest of the day at our two locations!

There are a limited number of spaces for this one of a kind program. Please register by emailing educator@abbemuseum.org or call 207-801-4081.

Original post in the Bangor Daily News.

Traditional Foods of the Wabanaki Coast

Kyle-Pepperman-Downeast-Institute

Thursday, July 6, 2017 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Location: Abbe Museum, 26 Mount Desert Street, Bar Harbor, Maine

For more information: 207-288-3519; abbemuseum.org/events

In the Wabanaki homeland, the ocean is a central figure in the shaping of culture and worldview. The ocean has also been one of the most important Wabanaki food sources and has given life to communities for over 12,000 years. Join us at the Abbe as we welcome Kyle Pepperman from the Downeast Institute who will be on site with his aquatic touch tank! We will discuss marine life vital to Wabanaki culture and sustenance. This interactive program will also feature Abbe educators with artifacts and other materials used by Wabanaki people to harvest food from the ocean. This is sure to be a highlight of this summer!

Participation in this program is included with the price of admission and no prior registration is required.

Special thanks to the Downeast Institute, Kyle Pepperman, and Downeast Fisheries Trail.

See the original posting in the Bangor Daily News.

Abbe Museum Launches Wabanaki Cultural Database

abbe museum bar harbor me front facade

The Abbe Museum has begun making its non-archaeological items available online with the goal of uploading all such items to its searchable database over the course of the next 12 months.

“We have been looking forward to sharing our collections online for a long time,” said Julia Gray, director of collections and interpretation. “With only a small portion of our collections on exhibit at any time, this gives people a chance to see so much more and to learn about Wabanaki history and culture through art and objects from anywhere in the world. We are also excited to use this as a platform to welcome Wabanaki community input and perspectives on our collections.”

Full story at Mount Desert Islander.

Deep Time: Wabanaki Presence in the Dawnland

People of the First Light Abbe Museum

“People of the First Light,” the main exhibit at the Abbe Museum in downtown Bar Harbor, explores the history and culture of the native people who lived on Mount Desert Island for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. Photo by Dick Broom.

By the time European explorers “discovered” the coast of Maine in the early 1600s, native people already had been living here for thousands of years.

Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation dating back at least 5,000 years on and around Mount Desert Island.

Long before the first Europeans came, the native people had established “a well-adapted and fairly affluent life in their homeland surrounding present-day Acadia National Park,” wrote Julia Clark and George Neptune of the Abbe Museum of Maine Native American history and culture in Bar Harbor.

Full story at the Mount Desert Islander.