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.

The Wabanaki People Are Taking Back Their Narrative

Cultural preservation is self-preservation for Native communities. An upcoming film from the Upstanders Project, “Dawnland,” explains just that.

The documentary, now in post-production, follows the journeys of those involved in a truth and reconciliation process in Maine involving the Wabanaki people. The documentary examines the history and the implications of the removal of Native children from their homes in the US.

From boarding schools in the 1800s to foster care today, Native children have repeatedly been separated from their families. In Maine, the Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in 2012 to trace the abuses experienced by Native children since the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted in 1978.
As early as 1975, a US Senate report found that Native children were 19 times more likely to be removed by child welfare workers than non-Native children. Today, Native children are still twice as likely to be taken from their homes and placed in foster care. Research has suggested this practice can lead to even greater isolation and erasure of indigenous culture.

The stories of Native children in foster care are peppered with horrific and unusual punishments, including not receiving food and being subject to physical harm as well as emotional and sexual abuse.

To tell these stories today, “Dawnland” has tapped advisers and consultants to help ensure the representation of the Wabanaki is accurate. Chris Newell is one of the advisers — he ensures the film is “culturally competent to the collective cultures of the Wabanaki territory.” Newell — born and raised in Motahkmikuhk, an Indian township in Maine — considers the story of Dawnland not his own, but rather the story of many of the people he grew up with.

Hear more about cultural preservation in “Dawnland,” by listening to the audio above.

Future Folk shares the stories of communities through the music that they make. It is a co-production of PRI’s The World and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

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.

Bangor to Designate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day

Bangor City Hall

The Bangor City Council on Monday night voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of every October — a day the federal government has designated to honor Christopher Columbus.

Bangor follows a growing number of cities and states that have decided to shift the focus from Columbus to the people who lived here before the arrival of European explorers and colonists.

Belfast was the first Maine city to take that step in 2015.

The city council’s resolve, which was approved in a unanimous vote, came at the request from members of the Penobscot Nation, whose Tribal Council member Maulian Dana Smith led the effort. She worked with Councilor Sarah Nichols, who brought it forward to the full council.

See the complete article in the Bangor Daily News.

Portland Designates Second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Maine’s largest city will no longer celebrate Columbus Day as a municipal holiday. The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to designate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The vote came after nearly an hour of public comment.

Portland became the latest municipality in Maine to recognize indigenous people instead of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who arrived in the New World on Oct. 12, 1492. Belfast was the first to make the switch in 2015, Bangor did so last month and Orono followed suit last week. Later Monday night, the Brunswick Town Council voted 8-1 to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Read the full article in the Portland Press-Herald. 

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That’s five towns/cities in Maine now. Durham, NH was the first in that state, just this week. Brattleboro adds its Town School Board in the ‘change” column. The time has come to recognize the rest of the story…

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.