Museum Spotlight: Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center

Photograph submitted by Cliff Sebastian IV.

Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovered Objects is pleased to announce a partnership with the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Mashantucket, Connecticut. The museum opened in the summer of 1998 near Foxwoods Resort Casino and is dedicated to both preserving and advancing the culture of indigenous groups of the northeastern United States, especially the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.

The museum showcases nine permanent exhibits and features a gallery for temporary ones. With an eye toward education, the 308,000-square-foot building is also home to classrooms and a 320-seat auditorium. Staff in the research department are involved with archaeology, conservation, and historical research.

Each of the museum’s 2,000-plus objects is part of the Ethnographic Collection or the Contemporary Traditional Collection. The former includes historical objects created, collected, or used by Eastern Woodlands and New England Native Americans from the 1500s on, while the latter collection includes objects and art created by modern Eastern Woodlands artists, including contemporary paintings and sculptures.

Cliff Sebastian IV, from the museum’s marketing department, recently spoke with Poor Yorick about how the center works to honor the past, present, and future of the tribe.

 

PY: On your website’s welcome page, you say, “The Pequot Museum is committed to transforming how indigenous culture and peoples are represented to accurately portray a next-generation Native narrative that gives greater understanding to the evolution of a new Native voice.” Can you tell me a little more about that? How do you think the Native voice is evolving?

CS: Indigenous people often do not have control over their own historical narratives. This leads to inaccuracies at best and complete erasure at worst. While we are far from the first or the only organization dedicated to providing authentic historical accounts of Native Americans, our unique position as the largest Native American museum and research center gives us the reach and resources necessary to provide the most faithful representation to the largest possible audience.

In addition, by providing some of the finest, most up-to-date archeological and anthropological research available, we have the distinct privilege of being able to provide exclusive new discoveries to the public with more precision and speed than most. All of this finely tuned historical work ultimately provides a foundation for the next generation of Native leaders to build upon. We are still growing and working, and as such, we are always working on optimizing exactly how to best be a platform for contemporary Native voices.

 

PY: How do you think preserving the tribe’s history through the museum helps to enrich its future?

CS: Simply put, one cannot build on a shaky foundation. Unfortunately, much of mainstream history has not provided a complete, multifaceted look at Native history and its place in larger American history. Therefore, we have the conspicuous responsibility and privilege of uncovering and sharing that history with everyone but especially the tribal community. People will always benefit from having a richer understanding of who they are and what factors influenced the world that surrounds them today. People with a more thorough comprehension of their pasts can have more comprehensive visions for the future.

 

PY: Tell us about a couple of recent events or activities your museum has held.

CS: This has been a particularly busy year for us! We always have yearly events that people look forward to for months, but we also always try to find new and exciting events, exhibits, and programming for everyone who comes to this museum. This year, beginning in April, our latest exhibit, Without a Theme, opened. WaT is a curated, contemporary art exhibit with more than twenty large-format installations from multiple premiere Native artists, uniquely unrestrained by the expectations Native artists are often saddled with. WaT is in our Mashantucket gallery until the end of November and is right next to our new interactive exhibit, Implicit Bias, a stark view at how societally pervasive biases have tangible outcomes in our lives and the lives of those around us.

We held our Educational Powwow earlier this summer. It is a unique blend of a real powwow and an educational demonstration to help explain the history, tradition, and etiquette of powwows to people previously unfamiliar with the culture. This spring we held our “17th Century Encampment,” an immersive, living history experience where museum-goers have the opportunity to be transported back into 1600s southern New England and interact with trained, knowledgeable historical re-enactors and learn about life and society for Natives and non-Natives alike. Along with our enormously successful second annual clambake celebrating the Native New Year, and Eyes on Owls, an expert-led discussion about and introduction to real, live owls for people of all ages, we have had a very active season so far…and fall is usually our busiest!

 

PY: Which artifact or exhibit, in your opinion, is most essential to, or representative of, the museum?

CS: There are two exhibits that would best represent the museum. The first would be the Pequot Village, a 5,000-square-foot, incredibly lifelike re-creation of a 1500s’ Pequot village. There is truly nothing like it, and it is difficult to think of a more all-encompassing way to captivatingly illustrate the lives and the society of the Pequot people in the 16th century.

The second would be the Tribal Portrait Gallery. Led into by an exhibit about the contemporary Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation explored through photographs, artifacts, maps, and more, the Tribal Portrait Gallery showcases a series of large black-and-white portraits of individual tribal members and families taken by Kwagiutl photographer David Neel. These two expansive, expertly crafted exhibits showcase Pequot society and the individuals who made and make them possible. One is a glimpse into the past, the other a gallery of the present and the future, a reminder that the Pequot people are not a past tense but are still here today and will be tomorrow.

 

For more information, visit the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center’s website at www.pequotmuseum.org.

 

By Melissa Johnson
Editor-in-Chief



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