Digging Deep

The Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation renews community through digging in and restoring the earth.

“Connecting to the land, connecting to the past has helped heal me in a lot of ways; giving me positive affirmation that we are here, we have been here, and we have a future as well.”  

-Tjamel  Hamlin II

Did you know that the word Connecticut Quinnehtukqut an Algonquin word meaning “long tidal river”? Or that the city of New London was formerly known as Pequot?

The first stewards of the land we now reside on were indigenous peoples, many descendants of whom are still here.  Connecticut recognizes five tribal nations: the Golden Hill Paugussett, Mashantucket Pequot, Mohegan,  Paucatuck Eastern Pequot, and Schaghticoke.  You can discover what tribes live near you on this cool interactive map: Native Land

Established in 1683, in The Eastern Pequot Nation is one of the oldest reservations in the United States. Over the past two decades, they have been active in restoring and renewing their 225-acre reservation in North Stonington on two fronts: an excavation into the history of their lands, and a renewal of their commitment to agriculture and ecology. 

In 2003, the tribe invited Dr. Stephen Silliman of UMASS, Boston to collaborate with them in discovering their past and culture through locating, documenting, and managing the archaeological sites on the reservation. Since then they have unearthed thousands of items, including some stone foundations of former dwellings. In a unique collaboration, members of the tribe work as interns in the field alongside students and graduate students, training as future archaeologists and geologists, through the Eastern Pequot Archaeological Field School. 

Notes Katherine “Wataswan” Sebastian Dring, chairwoman of the tribal council, who helped initiate the program with Dr. Silliman, “What’s more important is that we have a material archeological collection that we didn’t have before, that dates back thousands of years- because we have stone tools, then we have some of the colonial trade materials.” They recently transferred many of the pieces from UMass to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum to allow greater accessibility.   

Mitchel Ray, the tribes treasurer and avid historian notes, “We have one of the lengthiest and best petitions that has ever been seen. We want to get all that digitized.”  We’re still in the infancy.” In order to house all this history, the tribe also plans to build a community center. Ray believes the dig has breathed new life into the tribe, with many younger members excited about the opportunity to learn more about their culture and heritage.  

Watch Dr. Silliman’s  “Listen to Their Voices” video on the archaeological dig.

In 2017, with help from Eastern CT Garden Association, they began the Oskoosooduck Community Garden; this time a dig into the future, but with an eye on the past. 

“I’ve been using the garden to get people involved. The garden is probably the simplest thing you can do,” says Ray.  Food security and soveriegnity moving forward will be important as they grow their gardens.  “Going through our history, this is something that we’ve done for many years to survive. We went out there and cleared the land and plowed the land.” The garden hosts the traditional “Three Sisters” of squash, beans and corn, all grown together, and  implements heriloom seeds and a “no till” method, important to regenerative agriculture and soil health. Beehives help with pollination. A plan for a farm to school program is in the works, and they busy planting. 

Forest conservation is important as well.  The tribe is also working with Connecticut College, hoping to institute a walking tour of the many tree species on the reservation. Says Katherine “Wataswan” Sebastian Dring, “We are only here for a little while in the grand scheme of things. If we can honor the living and the dead, our ancestors, and all those who walked this land before we did; including the animals, things that crawl, the birds and all of that, they are all part of what we as Native people in our theology celebrate.“ 

If you would like to support the Eastern Pequot Community Garden here is a link to their

GoFundMe page. 

If you are interested in searching your roots,  The Fairfield Museum and History Center is hosting their monthly genealogy Meet-Up April 22, exploring historic resources available  for understanding Black, Native American and persons of color genealogical research.  Registration required. Click here to sign up.

Additional resources:

CT History.org

CT State Library

Dr. Silliman’s video “Listen to Their Voices

Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation Webpage

New England Native Indian Papers Series at Yale

Interactive map: Native Land

Native Northeast Portal

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