Traditional Native American food will be served to visitors in a historic setting at the Pequot Museum in Mashantucket, Connecticut, over Thanksgiving weekend, Saturday, Nov. 30. From 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Toni Weeden of the Narragansett tribe will be preparing dishes over an open fire at the museum’s Farmstead which has two acres of plants, herbs and trees used by Pequot families for centuries.
The day continues with the Winter Moon Market from noon to 4:00 p.m. in the museum’s Gathering Space. Native American artists and craftsmen will be on hand to display and sell their wares. This event is a companion piece to the museum’s current exhibit, Native New England Now, celebrating the Native Arts Program of the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA).
The museum’s full name is the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center. It has been owned and operated since its Aug. 11, 1998 opening by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. Slated as the world’s largest Native American museum, it not only tells the story of the Mashantucket Pequot, but of the natural and Native history spanning the past 20,000 years. This is enhanced with life-size exhibits, films and displays of the northeastern region.
The building also has classrooms, a 320-seat auditorium and administrative offices, and is a Smithsonian Affiliate. Special events held throughout the year include various Native dancers, musicians, storytellers and artisans who, through their art, keep their traditions alive. Some of the tribes represented during November are the Narragansett, Tuscarora, Wampanoag and Pequot.
In the early 1600s, there were approximately 8,000 Pequots over 250 square miles. Less than 20 years after the arrival of the Mayflower, an armed conflict arose between the Pequot and the English colonists of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Saybrook and their allies of the Narragansett and Mohegan. Some colonists considered the Pequots to be an obstacle in expanding their settlements in southeastern Connecticut along the Mystic and Thames Rivers. The Pequot village of Mystic, or Missituk, was attacked and burned in 1637. The estimated number of deaths was between 400 and 700 Pequots.
The number of tribal members at Mashantucket was down to 151 by 1774. By 1856, the 989-acre reservation had been reduced to 213 acres because of illegal land sales by the government of Connecticut. Members of the tribe had scattered throughout the United States in search of work.
Early in the 1970s, tribal members began returning to the reservation. Within a few years, they had restored interest in tribal culture and prepared economic development plans. They enlisted the help of the Native American Rights Fund and the Indian Rights Association, to begin legal action to have the illegally sold land returned to them. It took seven years, but the landowners agreed the land should be returned and the Connecticut legislators petitioned the federal government to settle the claim and grant tribal recognition. President Ronald Reagan signed the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Land Claims Settlement Act, Oct. 18, 1983. The reservation that had been reduced to 213 acres is now 1,250 acres.
This tribal nation owns several businesses including a greenhouse, restaurant, luxury hotels and the Foxwoods Resort Casino. The Pequot Museum is on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation. For those who visit the museum during Thanksgiving weekend, they can enjoy servings of traditional Native American cooking, history, arts and crafts at one of the oldest reservations in continuous use in North America.
By: Cynthia Collins
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