Connecticut Indian Tribes
There are two federally recognized Connecticut Indian Tribes, 3 state recognized tribes, and about ten unrecognized indian tribes residing in Connecticut today.
Mashantucket translates as the “much-wooded land” and the Pequots are the “Fox People” of this land. The word Nipmuc translates into English as “Fresh Water People.” Mohegan” comes from the word Mahiingan, meaning “wolf.”
Connecticut was an established name early in the 1600’s in particular reference to the Connecticut River.
The word itself was translated from the Indian name “Quinnehtukqut” and means “beside the long tidal river.”
Nipmuc people lived in a dome-shaped lodge called a ‘wetu’, called ‘wigwam’ by other Algonquian speaking peoples.
A ‘wetu’ is constructed from a frame of criss-crossing saplings bent in a u-shape, which is then covered with woven cattail mats or sheets of pealed hardwood bark, leaving a smoke hole at the top.
The Mohegan tribe has several small reservations in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Long Island.
In recent years the Connecticut Pequot and Mohegan tribes have become some of the wealthiest Native American bands due to successful management of tribal casinos.
Although there are currently five reservations in Connecticut occupied by 19 families, most of the more than 5,000 people with Indian ancestry in the state do not live on them.
One way in which Indians in contemporary Connecticut attempt to maintain a link with their heritage is to practice native crafts such as basketry, finger-weaving, beadwork, carving, and ceramics using natural materials and authentic techniques.
Another way is by attending social gatherings, participating in traditional ceremonies, and dressing in native-style clothing at these special events.
FEDERALLY RECOGNIZED TRIBES
(Federal List Last Updated 5/16)
STATE RECOGNIZED TRIBES
(Not recognized by the Federal Governemnt)
Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe. Letter of Intent to Petition 04/13/1982; Declined to acknowledge 9/26/1996; petitioner requested reconsideration from IBIA 12/26/1996; decision affirmed by IBIA subject to supplemental proceeding 6/10/1998; decision affirmed by IBIA 9/8/1998 with five procedural issues remanded to the Secretary; reconsidered final determination issued 5/24/1999; Proposed finding 01/29/2003 (68 FR 4507); Declined to acknowledge 6/21/2004 (69 FR 34388); Reconsidered final determination not to acknowledge became final and effective 3/18/2005.
Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Indians of Connecticut. Letter of Intent to Petition 06/20/1989. Reconsidered final determination not to acknowledge became final and effective 10/14/2005.
Schaghticoke Tribal Nation (formerly Schaghticoke Indian Tribe). Letter of Intent to Petition 12/14/1981; Declined to acknowledge in 2002; Reconsidered final determination not to acknowledge became final and effective 10/14/2005
UNRECOGNIZED / PETITIONING TRIBES
Eastern Pequot Indians of Connecticut. Letter of Intent to Petition 06/28/1978; Reconsidered final determination not to acknowledge became final and effective 10/14/2005.
Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation of Connecticut. Recognized by the Secretary of the Interior in 2002; recognition revoked in 2005.
Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation was made by merging of two nations—Paucatuck Eastern Pequot Indians of Connecticut and Eastern Pequot Indians of Connecticut.
Grasmere Band of Wangunk Indians of Glastonbury, Connecticut (formerly the Pequot Mohegan Tribe, Inc.). Letter of Intent to Petition 4/12/1999.
The Mohegan Tribe & Nation. Letter of Intent to Petition 10/06/1992.
Native American Mohegans, Inc. Letter of Intent to Petition 9/19/2002.
The Nehantic Tribe and Nation. Letter of Intent to Petition 9/5/1997.
Nipmuc Indian Bands
Paugussett Tribal Nation of Waterbury, Connecticut. Letter of Intent to Petiton 7/3/2002.
Poquonnock Pequot Tribe. Letter of Intent to Petition 7/7/1999.
Schaghticoke Indian Tribe. Letter of Intent to Petition 5/11/2001.
Schaghticoke Tribe. Letter of Intent to Petition 9/27/2001.
The Southern Pequot Tribe (aka The Southern Pequot Tribal Nation of Waterford). Letter of Intent to Petition 7/7/1998.
The True Golden Hill Paugussett Tribal Nation (formerly the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribal Nation). Letter of Intent to Petition 2/8/2002
The Western Pequot Tribal Nation of New Haven. Letter of Intent to Petition 11/27/2000.
FIRST CONTACT TO PRESENT
Before the arrival of European settlers in the 1500s and 1600s, Connecticut was home to a number of indigenous peoples.
Thousands of Native Americans lived in what is now the state of Connecticut before European settlers came to the area. They were all part of the Algonkian Indian family.
The Pequot tribe was the most powerful. These Indians lived near the Thames River to the south. The Mohicans, a branch of the Pequot, lived near present-day Norwich.
These Native Americans gave the state its name. Connecticut comes from an Indian word “Quinatucquet,” which means “Beside the Long Tidal River.”
The Dutch navigator, Adriaen Block, was the first European of record to explore the area, sailing up the Connecticut River in 1614, and though the Dutch established a trading post, it was the British who fully colonized the area.
In 1633, Dutch colonists built a fort and trading post near present-day Hartford, but soon lost control to English Puritans migrating south from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
PRE-CONTACT CONNECTICUT TRIBES
Mahican – The northwestern corner of Litchfield County was occupied by the Wawyachtonoc, a tribe of the Mahican Confederacy of the upper Hudson, though their main seats were in Columbia and Dutchess Counties, N. Y. (See New York.)
Mohegan were found in the Thames River valley between Norwich and Uncasville. This tribe was associated with the Pequot tribe before the two tribes split in the 1630’s. The name means “wolf.” They are not to be confused with the Mahican. Also called:
The Mohegan were probably a branch of the Mahican.
Originally under Sassacus, chief of the Pequot, they afterward became independent and upon the destruction of the Pequot in 1637, Uncas, the Mohegan chief, became ruler also of the remaining Pequot and set up pretensions to territory north and west beyond his original borders.
At the end of King Philip’s War, the Mohegan were the only important tribe remaining in southern New England, but as the White settlements advanced they were reduced progressively both in territory and in numbers.
Many joined the Scaticook, and in 1788 a still larger body united with the Brotherton in New York, where they formed the largest single element in the new settlement.
The rest continued in their old town at Mohegan, where a remnant of mixed bloods still survives.
The Mohegan belonged to the Algonquian linguistic stock and spoke a y-dialect closely related to Pequot. The Mohegan originally occupied most of the upper valley of the Thames and its branches.
Later they claimed authority over some of the Nipmuc and the Connecticut River tribes, and in the old Pequot territory. (See also New York.)
Unkus [Uncas] Indians, from the name of their chief.
Eastern Niantic – Located along the border of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Western Niantic. – Located from the Connecticut River, eastward along the seashore, to a small steam which retains their name. The Eastern and the Western Niantic were parts of one original tribe split in two perhaps by the Pequot; the nearest relatives of both were probably the Narraganset.
Originally the Western Niantic are thought to have constituted one tribe with the Eastern Niantic and to have been cut apart from them by the Pequot.
They were nearly destroyed in the Pequot war and at its close (1637) were placed under the control of the Mohegan. About 1788 many joined the Brotherton Indians.
A small village of Niantic was reported as existing near Danbury in 1809, but this perhaps contained remnants of the tribes of western Connecticut, although Speck (1928) found several Indians of mixed Niantic-Mohegan descent living with the Mohegan remnant, descendants of a pure-blood Niantic woman from the mouth of Niantic River.
Nipmuc – In the early 1500s, they were located in what is now Tolland and Windham counties, and were subjects of one or another of the more powerful communities around them.
Some bands of this tribe extended into the northeastern part of the State. (Also See Massachusetts.)
Pequot – Their name means “destroyers.” Also called: Sickenames, in a Dutch deed quoted by Ruttenber (1872). The Pequot belonged to the Algonquian linguistic stock, and spoke a y-dialect closely related to Mohegan.
The Pequot occupied the coast of New London County from Niantic River nearly to the Rhode Island State line. Until driven out by the Narraganset, they extended into Rhode Island as far as Wecapaug River.
The Pequot and the Mohegan are supposed to have been invaders from the direction of Hudson River. At the period of first White contact, the Pequot were warlike and greatly dreaded by their neighbors.
They and the Mohegan were jointly ruled by Sassacus until the revolt of Uncas, the Mohegan chief.
About 1635 the Narraganset drove them from a corner of the present Rhode Island which they had previously held, and 2 years later the murder of a trader who had treated some Indians harshly involved the Pequot in war with the Whites.
At that time their chief controlled 26 subordinate chiefs, claimed authority over all Connecticut east of Connecticut River, and on the coast as far west as New Haven or Guilford, as well as all of Long Island except the extreme western end.
Through the influence of Roger Williams, the English secured the assistance or neutrality of the surrounding tribes.
Next they surprised and destroyed the principal Pequot fort near Mystic River along with 600 Indians of all ages and both sexes, and this disaster crippled the tribe so much that, after a few desperate attempts at further resistance, they determined to separate into small parties and abandon the country (1637).
Sassacus and a considerable body of followers were intercepted near Fairfield while trying to escape to the Mohawk and almost all were killed or captured.
Those who surrendered were divided among the Mohegan, Narraganset, and Niantic, and their territory passed under the authority of Uncas. Their Indian overlords treated them so harshly, however, that they were taken out of their hands by the colonists in 1655 and settled in two villages near Mystic River, where some of their descendants still live.
Others were removed to other places on Long Island, New Haven, the Nipmuc country, and elsewhere while many were kept as slaves among the English in New England or sent to the West Indies. (See also Rhode Island.)
Paugussetts, of Stratford and Huntington, and surrounding townships lived in villages on both sides of the Housatonic River in New Haven and Fairfield counties and spoke Algonquian.
Quinnipiacs, extended along the shore from Milford to Madison.
Schaghticoke, located in West-Central, Litchfield County, near present day Kent.
Sequin or “River Indians” which included the following tribes:
Tunxis (a.k.a. Sepous), located on the Farmington river 8-10 miles west of the Connecticut.
Podunk – Found on the East side of the Connecticut river, in East Windsor,
South Windsor and East Hartford.
Wangunk – Found in Wethersfield and Middletown.
Hammonasset, located in the Clinton and Killingworth area.
Wappinger (a.k.a. Matabesecs), located in the Western part of Connecticut/Eastern New York.
The valley of the Connecticut River was the home of a number of bands which might be called Mattabesec after the name of the most important of them, and this in turn was a part of the Wappinger Confederacy. (See New York.)
Wepawaugs, Indian tribe that lived on the East bank of the Housatonic river, probably part of the Paugussett tribe.
PRE-HISTORIC CULTURES IN CONNECTICUT
12,000 – 9,000 years ago – Paleo-Indian Culture
9,000 – 3,000 years ago – Archaic Culture
3,000 to 400 years ago – Woodland Culture
CONNECTICUT PALEOINDIAN PERIOD
Paleo-Indians inhabited the Connecticut region some 10,000 years ago, exploiting the resources along rivers and streams.
They used a wide range of stone tools and engaged in hunting, gathering, fishing, woodworking, and ceremonial observances.
They are thought to have been seminomadic, moving their habitations during the year to use resources that changed with the seasons. The earliest dated human occupation site in the State is Templeton, located on the banks of the Shepaug River in Washington Depot.
When it was first found in 1977 and carbon-l4 dated to 10,190 years ago, it was the oldest known campsite in New England. It is still the only known deeply-buried, undisturbed, single-occupation, Paleo-Indian campsite having large quantities of tools used for a wide variety of functions.
The paucity of Paleo-Indian sites and artifacts in the state suggests that the total Indian population was very small and that short-term camps were the rule.
Since one locale could not serve all of their needs for a full year, they had to move frequently to take advantage of seasonally abundant resources.
ARCHAIC PERIOD IN CONNECTICUT
More is known of the people living at this time because of technological advances, a larger population, greater number of known sites, a greater variety and quantity of artifacts, and so many fewer years for decay to destroy the record of what happened.
While the Paleo-Indian environment was one dominated by evergreens with oases of deciduous trees, the spread of oak, hickory, and other now common deciduous trees made more areas habitable for large numbers of people.
Because the food supply is more diverse, the likelihood for survival is greater for people living in deciduous forests. The gradual advent of a new environment populated by different plant and animal species necessitated changes in the people’s culture.
The most obvious change was in the development of tools for felling and limbing trees, for making dugout canoes from large logs, and for roughly shaping logs.
One also discerns development in fishing implements for netting, hooking, spearing, and trapping large numbers of fish. Specialized food preparation implements were used to grind seeds and nuts.
A hammerstone could have been used to break bones to extract marrow as well as to break rocks for making tools. Steatite (soapstone) bowls came into use late in the Archaic.
Because such bowls conduct heat very well, they can be used for cooking directly over a fire. In the Archaic, abundant evidence is found for the actual utilization of wild plant seeds, roots, bark, shoots, stalks, berries, and nuts.
Many of the common plant species growing in gardens today as “weeds” were used by the Indians for food, (amaranth, purslane); medicine (yarrow); smoking (smartweed); beverage (goldenrod); dye (pokeweed); and raw materials for crafts (milkweed).
While it is important to know the various uses that the people had for different natural materials, archaeologists can also determine the seasons of the year a camp was occupied by the carbonized seeds in refuse pits and hearths.
Many Archaic sites were seasonally occupied in a manner similar to that of the Paleo-Indian Period. But since the Archaic sites are larger and have far more implements, these sites obviously were inhabited by more people at a single time.
People frequently returned to previously inhabited camps. Archaic ceremonialism is better known from many human burials containing grave goods for use in the afterlife.
The body was placed into a carefully prepared pit and covered with red ochre (fired hematite).
The stone is a brilliant red and simulates blood. Frequently stone projectile points, blades, and stone pots included in the grave were broken intentionally to release their spirit to accompany the soul of the deceased.
While all of the Paleo-Indian artifacts known from Connecticut are made of stone, Archaic implements are found of stone, bone, carbonized fibers, shell, antler, and copper.
Most of the raw materials were obtained locally, but copper used for knives and ornaments was received in trade from people as far away as the Great Lakes area.
The best preserved materials are from coastal sites having large quantities of clam and oyster shells. The inland sites are found near major rivers, small streams, lakes, and in uplands near soapstone outcroppings.
Almost any plowed field will yield artifacts diagnostic of this period.
WOODLAND CULTURE IN CONNECTICUT
The use of domesticated plants occurred very late in New England because of the short growing season.
The Indians had learned to exist upon the wild foods very comfortably and did not need horticulture. To depend upon new plants for one’s very existence was to court disaster.
Corn, beans, and squash, however, were grown to supplement their diet and tobacco was cultivated for rituals. The presence of settled villages at the time the Europeans arrived can be documented by records of traders and settlers.
Unfortunately, the records seldom include detailed descriptions of how or even exactly where the Indians lived.
Because the Indians had no written language and were overwhelmed so quickly by the Europeans in Connecticut, the actual social, political, economic, and religious life of the people is known only vaguely and is strongly biased by unsympathetic European observers.
Warfare among Connecticut Indians before European contact cannot be documented archaeologically. Warfare, however, was an inevitable result of the social disruption caused by European contact.
The only Indian alternatives to war were to flee or to become Europeanized. It should not be surprising that there was little left of the Woodland Indian culture in Connecticut within a relatively few years after European contact.
Sources of records on US Indian tribes