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.

Advertisements

Brooks Library (Wantastegok): Wearing Our History – Abenaki Artists Panel Discussion

Vermont Abenaki Artists Association Aln8bak Wearing Our Heritage

Contemporary Abenaki artists and tribal members talk about the meaning of garments, accessories, and regalia in their own lives and in the expression of community and tribal identity. Some of the topics will include: The Indian Arts and Crafts Law of 1990; art informed by tradition and what it means to be a Native American artist in the 21st century; honoring the past through art, and how artists walk the Red Road recognizing our ancestors. The panel will include [Elnu Abenaki] S8gm8 (Chief) Roger Longtoe Sheehan and Willow Greene, moderated by Vera Longtoe Sheehan.

This program was created by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association in partnership with Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and Flynn Center for the Arts, supported in part by a grant from the Vermont Humanities Council. Find out more about the event and panel at http://brookslibraryvt.org or (802) 254-5290.

Wednesday, November 8 at 7 PM – 9 PM
Brooks Memorial Library
224 Main St, Brattleboro, Vermont 02645

This Centuries-Old Canoe Was a Critical Element of Wabanaki Life

wabanaki canoe brunswick maine press herald

One of the oldest-known examples of a Native American birch-bark canoe is on display at a museum in Maine, where indigenous tribes have used them for thousands of years.

The canoe put on display Thursday dates to the mid-1700s, said members of the Pejepscot Historical Society. It’s an example of the type of canoe that was critically important to the history and culture of the Wabanaki, the first people of parts of northern New England and Atlantic Canada.

This type of canoe was “extremely important for your family’s survival” for the Wabanaki people, said the Penobscot Nation’s tribal historian James E. Francis Sr. The Penobscot, one of four Wabanaki tribes still existing in Maine, still builds them today.

Maine Museum Preserves Wabanaki Birchbark Canoe

brunswick maine wabanaki birchbark canoe

One of the oldest-known Native American birch-bark canoes will go on display at a Maine historical society museum, possibly as early as this fall, after spending three decades in a barn. Carbon dating by the Pejepscot Historical Society in Brunswick shows the Wabanaki canoe was likely made sometime between 1729 and 1789. Museum records date the canoe to the mid-1700s.

The Wabanaki Confederacy is a group of Native American nations who lived primarily in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and parts of Atlantic Canada.

Larissa Vigue Picard, the historical society’s executive director, says the Wabanaki artifact is “priceless” and could be the oldest birch-bark canoe in existence. Native Americans have been making these canoes for 3,000 years. But only a few of the earliest ones still exist because birch bark is so fragile, says Laurie LaBar, chief curator of history and decorative arts at the Maine State Museum in Augusta.

The Pejepscot Historical Society came in possession of the 16-foot-long canoe in 1889. Museum officials say it was donated to the organization after being passed down through generations in the family of William Barnes, a sea captain from Harpswell, who received the canoe as a gift from a tribe. It’s spent the last three decades in a barn behind the museum, exposed to extreme temperatures and humidity, but is in relatively good shape.

Built by standards of the 1700s, it was held together with wooden pegs instead of nails or other modern fasteners brought to America by Europeans, according to the historical society’s Stephanie Ruddock. The canoes were popular with early explorers because they were much lighter than dugout canoes made from tree trunks, and could be carried.

A craftsman in Wellington will restore the 18th century vessel before it goes on display, situated in a specially crafted cradle.

Read the original article in The Maine Edge.

Native American Heritage on Display at Annual Festival

Wabanaki Basketmaking

Folks in Bar Harbor got to experience a little taste of history. The annual Native American Festival and Basketmakers market brought music, dance, and a lesson in culture to Downeast Maine.

“You know Maine a lot of times doesn’t really know much about indigenous population so it’s a wonderful gathering of artisans and drummers and sharing.”

Each handcrafted item represents the beauty and culture of the Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot people. For many visitors it’s a chance to meet artists and learn about contemporary Wabanaki art from the Maritimes.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see each other and share our music with them. We are a strong part of Maine history and we would like to bring that back.”

See the full article by Alyssa Thurlow on WABI 5.

Vermont Folklife Center Offering Apprenticeships

The Vermont Folklife Center announces the continuation of the Vermont Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program for its 24th year. Initiated to support Vermont’s living cultural heritage, the program provides stipends of up to $2,000 as honoraria and to cover such expenses as materials and travel. Under the auspices of the program, traditional arts such as blacksmithing, Abenaki basket making, Franco American singing, and Bhutanese Nepali folk dancing have received support.

A traditional arts apprenticeship brings teachers and learners together who share a common commitment to keeping these art forms alive. It pairs a community-acknowledged master artist who has achieved a high level of expertise in his or her art form with a less-experienced apprentice. The master and apprentice jointly plan when, where, and what they expect to accomplish over the course of the apprenticeship. Apprenticeship schedules reflect the time constraints of both master and apprentice and range from short-term, intensive sessions to meetings spread over the course of a year.

Read the full announcement here.