Indigenous Communities of Connecticut

endawnis Spears
Akomawt Educational Initiative

TEACHER'S SNAPSHOT


Historical Background

Native communities inhabited Connecticut for approximately 11,000 years before colonies or statehood. For centuries, these tribes have been violently dispossessed of land, language, kinship, foodways, and religion by the policies and culture of settler colonialism. These policies and practices have been so effective that many people living in Connecticut today cannot name the two federally acknowledged tribal nations (Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe) and three state-acknowledged tribal nations (Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe, Schaghticoke Tribal Nation, and Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation) in the state, let alone locate their current land bases.

This geography lesson seeks to inform students about the tribal nations that exist in Connecticut today and to locate them on a map. Tribal cultures in Connecticut did not use two dimensional maps as the primary way of understanding landscapes and geographies. Tribes understood that territories did not require hard geopolitical borders, when land cannot be owned. Therefore, overlapping territories with shared agreements were at the center of diplomatic-focused governance. It is important for students to understand that two-dimensional colonial maps show land and geographies from European perspectives.

Making a connection between pre-colonial Native communities and contemporary tribal nations is important for students. This understanding can create a foundation upon which students can build to learn more about living Indigenous communities, not just as historical remnants of Connecticut’s colonial past, but as dynamic people living in the 21st century.

D1: Potential Compelling Question

Where did Native/Indigenous communities live in the past and where do they live in Connecticut today?

D1: POTENTIAL SUPPORTING QUESTIONS

  • How can we use maps to understand more about where Indigenous communities live and have lived?
  • What are the names of the Indigenous communities in Connecticut today and where are they located?
  • Why is it important to learn about Indigenous communities in Connecticut?

D2: TOOL KIT




D3: INQUIRY ACTIVITY

Part 1:

  • Ask students to take an initial look at the Native Land Digital Map. What is different about it from other maps they have seen? (One big difference is that it does not have present-day geopolitical borders indicated. Also, as you hover over different sections of the map, you will see how much overlapping territory there is.)
  • Explain to students that this map shows the homelands and territories of Indigenous peoples throughout the world.
  • Ask students to find present-day Connecticut on the map (you may have to help them.)
  • Zoom in on Connecticut. Remind students that these Native/Indigenous people lived here for about 11,000 years before anyone came here from Europe. All of the tribal nations in Connecticut today were here long before Connecticut officially became a state in 1788.
  • Doing the best they can without familiar state borders, have the class use the map to make a list of all of the tribes that have lived in what is now Connecticut. NOTE: Although the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation is a state-acknowledged tribe, it does not appear on this map. This is because the map is crowd-sourced, and information about the Schaghticoke has not yet been contributed.

Part 2:

  • Show the students the historic map of Indian trails and villages. Explain that this map was based on information from about 1625, although it was drawn much later. Have them compare this map with the first. Ask the students:
  • What do you see?
  • What does the legend point out?
  • Together, make a list of the names of tribes, referred to in this map as “Sachemdoms.” These are the names that are in the large font and entirely capitalized. NOTE: A Sachem is a political leader in Algonquian speaking tribes, living in the coastal woodlands here in the northeast. The made-up term “Sachemdom” is meant to explain an Indigenous form of leadership in a European way, i.e. by comparing tribes to “kingdoms.” But unlike in a monarchy, tribes had power spread out across multiple leaders. Not just political leaders were important, and not just men were important. Spiritual leaders and internal community leaders were of equal or greater importance, and women could hold positions of leadership in all these realms. These were not “kingdoms,” but combining the word “sachem” and “kingdom” made it more understandable to non-Native readers.
  • In some cases, the name of the tribe actually describes the place where they are from. For example, “Quinnipiac” means “People of the Long Water Land” and “Pequot” means “People of the Shallow Water.” In other cases, the name on the map might be an actual leader’s name, like “Uncas.”
  • Next, under each tribe, make a list of some of the village names shown on the map (these are the ones in the smaller, all capitalized font.) Some of these names might be familiar to students, depending on where they live: Mistic, Noank, Willimantic, Yantic, Norwauke, Mattatuck, Nepaug, Weataug, etc. Many of the names on this map have been spelled in different ways in English over time.
  • Explain to students that drawing land on a flat map was (and is) a European—and now also American—way to represent and understand land. However, this map, with its straight lines and firm borders between territories, is not the way the people being represented understood this place. In addition, most Indigenous tribes moved around throughout the year, staying in the best place for the time of the year, and not living in one spot, as the map seems to indicate.

Part 3:

  • Using the contemporary Tribal Nations of Connecticut map, ask students to locate their own town on the map (you may need to help them.) Which tribal lands do they live closest to? Have they ever visited any of these places?
  • Explain that this map shows where tribally owned land is located today. This is also where tribal administration and the offices of elected officials are located. Some tribal nations have their own police forces, fire departments, court systems, and laws. Some tribal nations have thousands of citizens, and some have a few hundred citizens. About half of the citizens live on or near the reservation land, and half live other places throughout Connecticut, the Northeast, the United States, and around the world.

Wrap up:

  • Show the three maps again in succession or all together. What do students notice? What is the same between some or all of the maps, and what is different?
  • Point out that the land base shrinks significantly over time. This is due to a variety of reasons that students will learn more about as they get older. Contrary to what has long been taught in American schools, disease and warfare are not the only reasons why there are fewer Native communities in Connecticut today, although they are part of it. Unfair and racist laws (made and enforced first by the colonies, then by the state of Connecticut and the United States) and the targeted removal of Native people from their land (keep in mind all of Connecticut was once Indigenous land) were important factors as well. By the end of the 1700s, Native communities in southern New England had had 8,775,000 acres of land taken from them because of these laws and rules.

D4: COMMUNICATING CONCLUSIONS

  • Students will choose an Indigenous community that appears on all three maps, and draw a map of their land base over each time period. Be sure to include a key and proper spelling for tribal names/places. Students can color code according to the time period and point out any times where there is a gap in information or where they would like to learn more.
  • Students will choose one of the tribal nations on the contemporary Tribal Nations of Connecticut map and visit their tribal website (see below). What can you learn about the tribe today? How many people are enrolled in the tribal nation? What does the tribal nation do to preserve their culture? What are the departments in the tribal nation? Have them write a short report about what they have learned or create a digital presentation to share with the class.
  • Students will research the official seal of one of Connecticut’s five tribal nations and create a reproduction in the art medium of their choice. In an accompanying label they will explain what the different elements, designs, and colors symbolize and how the tribal seal reflects the tribal nation’s history and/or culture?

Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation

Mohegan Tribe

Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation

Schaghticoke Tribal Nation

Golden HIll Paugussett

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Place to GO

Things To DO

Watch the film: Gather

Watch the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame short film about Mashantucket Pequot sisters Martha “Matt” Langevin and Elizabeth George directed by Karyl Evans.


Websites to VISIT

Native Knowledge 360° from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Native-land Teachers Guide


Articles to READ

ConnecticutHistory.org:

What Is Settler-Colonialism?” by Amanda Morris. Learning for Justice, January 22, 2019.

Tribal Nations and the United States: An Introduction. See, in particular, the map on pages 10-11.

“Chapter 5: The Empty Continent” in Why You Can’t Teach United States History Without American Indians.