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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4th Annual Pocumtuck Homelands Festival on August 5

pocumtuck homelands festival 2017

The 4th  Annual Pocumtuck Homelands Festival, a celebration of Native American Art, Music, and Culture,  takes place on Saturday, August  5, 2017,  from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Unity Park Waterfront in Turners Falls, MA.  The event is free, family friendly, fun, educational, accessible, and of interest to all ages.

Performances include live traditional, original, and fusion music, a story teller, and three drum groups. There will be outstanding  Native American artists, and games, activities and crafts for children. Also featured will be primitive skills demonstrations, a books and authors section, and condensed history lessons about Great Falls. The Mashantucket-Pequot archaeology team will be on site for the second time to analyze early contact period artifacts people bring to them. And Tim MacSweeney, keeper of the website Waking Up On Turtle Island, can help explain the significance of threatened sites considered sacred to the tribes such as in Shutesbury and Sandisfield. Food will be available, including Native American fare.

Performers will be Hawk Henries, Nipmuc flute player and flute maker;  the Kingfisher Singers and Dancers, Wampanoag from the  Mashpee, Aquinnah, and Herring Pond communities;  story teller Larry Spotted Crow Mann,  Nipmuc; the Medicine Mammals Singers;  and Lee Mixashawn Rozie,  who uses instrumental virtuosity and stories to illuminate the indigenous and African roots of “American” music.  Be energized by the presence of three drums: Chief Don Stevens and the Nulhegan-Coosuk Band of the Abenaki Singers, plus returning favorites, the Black Hawk Singers (Abenaki),  and the Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition Singers.

Donations appreciated. Find more information and the schedule the week before the event at www.nolumbekaproject.org. and/or turnersfallsriverculture.org.

Day of Remembrance at Peskeompskut with Nolumbeka

day of remembrance peskeompskut nolumbeka

Organized by the Nolumbeka Project: Saturday, May 20, 2017 at the Great Falls Discovery Center, 2 Avenue A, Turners Falls, MA.

• Doors open at 10 a.m. We are offering ample time during the day and between presentations for conversations, personal reflections and individual touring of this historically significant district of Great Falls and the 341st anniversary of the battle that changed the course of King Philip’s War
• 10:30 a.m. – Presentation by Nolumbeka Project Board members David Brule and Nur Tiven.
• 1 p.m – Ceremony officiated by Tom Beck, Medicine Man and Ceremonial Leader
of the Nulhegan – Coosuk Band of the Abenaki Nation.
• Special guests during the day include Loril Moondream of Medicine Mammals and Strong Oak of Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition.

Teaching Native American Histories Summer Program

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From the posting:

Teaching Native American Histories is a 2-week program held in the Wampanoag homeland (aka Cape Cod), July 16-28, 2017.  The co-directors are Linda Coombs (Aquinnah Wampanoag) from the Aquinnah Cultural Center and Alice Nash, who teaches History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  This Summer Institute is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  There is no cost for the program itself and each of the 25 Summer Scholars will receive a $2,100 stipend to defray the cost of travel, lodging, food and books.

It would be great to have a mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous teachers from different parts of the country, with a range of teaching interests, who can thrive on long days and intensive learning.  A major benefit of the format is that teachers get to meet and work with other teachers.

The application deadline is March 1, 2017.

The Fictions of History: A Message from Trace Lara Hentz

trace lara hentz author

Reprinted with permission from the author

My message to the Turners Falls School Board Committee:

Dear School Board:
I have just a few things about the Turners Falls mascot issue and local history.
This issue is not a surprise. The community near Great Falls doesn’t know the history. Who exactly wrote the account of what happened in Turners Falls? Let’s be clear. It was not the Pocumtuck or Wampanoag or any of the other tribes who lost their lives on that fateful day.
Time after time, war after war, history is told (or not told) by the victor, the winner of the conflict.
When I interviewed leaders of the Eastern Pequot years back, I wanted Connecticut to know its own history, largely unwritten, hidden. Marcia Flowers said “we’ve been cleaning people’s houses for the past 300+ years.”
Indian people knew it was best to be invisible. Many still feel this way: invisible.
Pequot scalps? The bounty was $100 in colonial times. $100 is like a million dollars today, right?
Why don’t we all know this?
We’re not supposed to know.
This issue over mascots makes it clear. We argue over history. If it creates conflict, this is exactly how the oppressor and oppression works.
We in North America are literally educated to be ignorant of the true history. It’s a blood-soaked path in the pioneer valley and westward. Fictions were crafted by the nation builders who used war/massacre/colonization on the First Nations Indian People yet these facts were diminished or erased. Hiding truth and history only perpetuates continued racism and intolerance.

Your Indian mascot doesn’t honor anyone but reveals our ignorance.

Trace Lara Hentz, Greenfield, MA, former editor of the Pequot Times

Netop: A Clarifying Response to Jaywalking

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In the past two weeks, sports columnist Jay Butynski took a look at some of the anecdotal and historical evidence behind the usage of Native iconography for the “Indians” athletic programs at Turners Falls High School. I appreciate that he would like to defuse tensions and find neutral ground; I agree that partisanship and divisiveness are seldom a productive means of resolution. But the straightforward answer to the headline “Is this nickname dust-up really necessary?” is an unambiguous “Yes.” When there is a discussion to be had around understanding and respect, especially in a learning environment, the opportunity should be welcomed and embraced. I’d like to make a few observations, which might help to inform the larger conversation through an understanding of the underlying dynamics. For background, links to the original columns are listed below:

Part 1 from last week’s Greenfield Recorder can be read here.
Part 2 in this week’s Recorder column can be found here.

Jay hit upon a critical observation when he cited a reader’s comment in reply: “Perhaps the best response to shoot down my assertion was that unlike the Indian nickname in Turners Falls, many of those other nicknames were given to teams by people who bear a likeness to the nickname. Irish people were responsible for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish nickname, etc. This person might be right.” I would say to Jay “You just nailed it, my friend!” – perhaps without realizing just how succinctly.

This single observation goes straight to the heart of the matter. Let’s pull back and look at it through a basic lens of mutual respect or “getting along with each other.”  Most people can agree that this ideal is something to which we aspire, and would like to encourage as much as possible; these are “teaching moments” for the next generations, and indeed the future of us all. Here’s the deal: when one individual, or a group of individuals, helps themselves to something which belongs to another, it is called appropriation, defined as “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” When these actions occur with no conscious intent (but often with impact), it is due to a phenomenon known as implicit bias, defined as “the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes (e.g., implicit attitudes and implicit stereotypes) that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control.”

The use of the word “netop” in the current context can be shown to exemplify these concepts, through broad deployment of stereotypes, conditioned attitudes, and a lack of awareness. Again, I wish to use this as a simple demonstration of the underlying dynamics, which are often hidden; this is not intended as a fault-finding, but as an understanding. The responsibility lies within society at large: though the individual may be subject to these covert assumptions, it remains for each one to recognize the insidiousness and decide for themselves to act differently. And in order to find appropriate answers, the right questions must be asked. Here we go…

Netop is commonly explained as a Narragansett term meaning friend. True. But there is much more to the story. First of all, the written word is an Anglicization of a single iteration of a widely used logotype amongst indigenous Algonquian-speakers, which includes nearly all of the tribal entities within what is now called New England. In the spoken mother tongue(s) it would be vocalized somewhat differently, more like nee-tomp… in Western Abenaki it would be vocalized nee-dom-ba (nid8ba); my point is that this a generalized (stereotyped) term, borrowed (loosely appropriated) by English colonists. It is not entirely correct to state that it “was used by early colonists as a salutation when greeting Native Americans.” Rather, it was first used by the indigenous people amongst themselves and their neighbors, and (in a manner similar to the quoted apocryphal William Brewster story), first used as an address by a Native person to the new European visitors – not vice versa.

Let’s be clear that this was a gesture of friendship toward complete strangers, a situation which rapidly devolved into mayhem and misunderstanding. Several more points: Brewster and his band of refugees were met by Wampanoag, not Narragansett; a ceremonial exchange of a smoking pipe as a gesture of peace between equals would not have happened in 1620 – in fact, the calumet ceremony came to the Northeast in the next century – and further, the English were never fond of it, as they did not consider the local populations as equals. Lastly, and back home to Turners Falls, this immediate region was not Narragansett homelands, but rather Abenaki, Nipmuc, Pocumtuck, Nonotuck, perhaps some Mahican and Pennacook (note these spellings and designations are all Euro-derived, variable, and subject to interpretation).  Although the languages and phrases were often similar, citing a Narragansett language origin as justification for appropriation manifests conflation as stereotyping, once again. Particularly telling, the use of a facial profile with Plains culture regalia as a logo for the Indians identity is (quite literally) a graphic example of the depth of unawareness of geo-cultural reality and the lumping of all Native diversities into the “Other.”

So, yes, it is all connected – and matters – now, what’s to be done? Starting with an identification of the root situations, we can postulate solutions.

It has been said that one cannot care about that about which one is unaware or ignorant. There must be an understanding to have a connection… not separation, but connection. The key here is learning, by intent and through mindfulness. This will help to dispel assumptions, stereotypes, and implicit bias due to cognitive disconnect, all of it at once. Without this foundational work, the gesture of change becomes an empty exercise in political correctness. It is worthy to aspire toward positivity, and the right side of history, but as human beings with the capacity for empathy and reason,  we are well-served to do the foundational work, to connect in a meaningful manner, to show up and be present in our own lives. As a wise person once said, I am also a you.

Lew Collins: Failure to Prove Native Americans Oppose Mascots

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Lew Collins added his voice to the Greenfield Recorder editorial debate, citing the Washington Post’s poll in May, 2016, which asserted that a majority of Native Americans did not find the use of Native mascots offensive. Excerpt below:

Mr. David Bulley, in the My Turn section, suggests that our Indian name and logo we use at Turners Falls High School “harms Native Americans” and that “Millions of natives as well as the American Psychological Association say there is no honor here.”

While these and other claims he makes are bold — they’re dangerously misleading. Mr. Bulley had his turn in the paper. Now it is “My Turn” to voice the supporters’ side.

Read the full Op-Ed in the Greenfield Recorder.

Mr. Collins slips into the pervasive mindset that “Indians” are, for all intents and purposes of those in the dominant culture, nearly identical and can be lumped into the same basket.  A graphic example is his lead-in paragraph:

But, may I suggest that we embark on this debate in true Indian fashion by closely following the deliberative “council fire” standards as outlined in the “Great Law of Peace”: “Neither anger nor fury shall find lodgement in their minds and all their words and actions shall be marked by calm deliberation.”

His “True Indian fashion” extracts wisdom from the Haudenosaunee Great Law of Peace, brought by Wendat prophet Deganawida, and invokes its rejoinder for peace and consensus – an admirable aspiration. May we all follow this exhortation! But, this citation is a perfect example of implicit stereotyping, part of the mindset underlying the appropriation of an indigenous mascot by a group separated from the subject (and history, and culture, and value system) of their usurpation. The indigenous communities of this region were, and are, Algonquian relations and allies (the Pocumtuck, the Nonotuck, the Nipmuc, the Sokwakiak, the Narragansett, the Wampanoag, and others), and not at all Iroquoian – as a matter of fact they were often at great odds.

This aspect of implicit bias (see this article, also from the Washington Post, just 3 weeks ago) is further bolstered by Mr. Collin’s defense of local enlightenment – and thus entitlement to the use of the Indians emblem –  when he states “Right off the bat we know this is not the case in our community — it’s quite the opposite as many have spoken in great lengths about the Indian history that we are aware of in our town.”  There has been a lot of speaking but there has been very little awareness of the true stories. The amount of conflation, obfuscation, misinformation, and generalization is staggering. Add to that the statements to the contrary being issued by the Tribes still here in the immediate area, the descendants of those who survived the Peskeompskut Massacre, and the argument does not come close to holding water.