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SimonPure Portal

As We Tell Our Stories

Produced, Written & Directed by Kenneth A. Simon

Broadcast Premiere: 1994, CPTV


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NARRATOR: Gambling ... land claims ... sovereignty ...

Connecticut's Native Americans have high visibility and growing influence -- often engaged in controversial issues.

Connecticut's natives have always been here, struggling for more than 350 years with assimilation, racism and economic stress.

Behind today's headlines are stories of culture, of identity, and of fortitude.



RUSSELL HANDSMAN (Archaeologist): For almost 100 years Corning fountain has stood in the heart of Hartford. It is a statue which celebrates progress and the growth of Hartford into industrial city. This particular statue has four Indian males encircling the bottom. Each one is supposed to represent a particular phase in the historical development of native Americans.

In this first figure, we see Native Americans represented in their primitive pre-civilized phase. This particular figure shows an Indian male fishing. The second figure of the Native American male kneeling is supposed to represent the first comings of the colonists to Hartford. He's looking out over the horizon, dressed in a headdress never worn in Southern New England, looking at the colonists coming up from the Connecticut River Valley. The third figure shows an Indian man with a raised striking out in resistance and defense of his homelands. It is supposed to represent the time period in the 17th century when Native Americans and colonists often solved their differences through armed warfare and massacre.

The last figure was really typical of the best Indian in the late 19th century. He represents a civilized, peaceful figure, much more white than Indian, a figure who by becoming civilized left the Indian traditions behind.

TRUDIE LAMB RICHMOND (Schagticoke Tribe): The bottom line is that this fountain portrays an inaccurate picture of Indian people's history and culture. I would hope that people will learn that there's a great deal of cultural diversity, that some of us live in reservations, some of us don't. We come from all different walks of life and all different occupations and in spite of all of that, we struggle to maintain our identity as Indian people.


MOONFACE BEAR (Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe): What the hell do you got against me, white man? Who am I supposed to be but who I am?

NARRATOR: Who are the native people of Connecticut?

Mashantucket Tribal Chairman Skip Hayward knows as well as anyone. His mother is a direct descendant of Mashantucket Pequots, his father's ancestors came over on the Mayflower.

Since 1974 Hayward has been the driving force in leading 300 members of his tribe back to the reservation.

RICHARD “SKIP” HAYWARD (Mashantucket Pequot Chairman): Until we get our museum going to show people what we're all about, they don't understand why we're black, red, white, yellow. "You're not Indian, you don't look Indian." Well, what does an Indian look like? You got to look like the guy on the nickel. You got to have blue-black straight hair and your nose has got to be just so and your lips got to look just so. You got to look the part or you're not one of those original natives.

You have one very small remnant of people and had all their land taken away. And you put them on this reservation in the 1600s and then you start moving in all of Europe and the whole world into their backyard, you're gonna change your looks. If you're Indian, what difference does it make what color you are, if you're black or white. The main thing is you can prove who you say you are.

JOSEPH CARTER (Mashantucket Pequot Tribe): You're gonna find light, dark, long hair, short hair, tight hair. We've been called extinct, so we're a very mixed tribe, but that doesn't mean that I'm not an Indian or I'm not a Native American.

NARRATOR: As with other federally recognized tribes, Mashantucket Pequot tribal applicants must prove direct descent from Pequot ancestors before being accepted into the tribe.

Pequot tribal spokesman Joe Carter came to live on the reservation in 1981.

JOSEPH CARTER: We've got quite a few people coming out of the woodwork as far as claiming their Pequot heritage. We are a federally recognized tribe, so we have to go through a federal genealogy which we trace back our ancestors to Western Pequots. Being a nation of people who were almost totally extinct causes us not to be able to marry within our tribe, which causes the bloodline of Native Americans to dissipate. 

NARRATOR: Although federal guidelines for tribal membership are stringent, individual Indian identity is for many natives a cultural issue.

JANIS US: It's very hard to say "you are an Indian and you are not." Just because you happen to have less bloodlines or less blood than the other one? No. You can't do that.

NARRATOR: Janice Us teaches art to Indian children.

JANIS US: I treat everyone of my children as an equal. They are to me all Native American children. One may have more blood, one may not, I don't care. I have children in my classes right now who are blonde-haired and blue-eyed but can trace their descent to an Indian. I say that if a person is recognized culturally as a Native American within the community then he should be considered a Native American. I couldn't say that you could put a blood quota on anybody. Not only would that be wrong but so many of these records that were kept were destroyed.

MOONFACE BEAR (Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe): I don't feel that I look Black, that I act Black, or there is anything Black about me at all.

NARRATOR: Moonface Bear is a Paugussett tribal leader.

MOONFACE BEAR: My mother is Black. My mother's people came from Nigeria. They were native people and they had a way with their land, they had a culture, they had an understanding. And so that native person intermarried with an Indian Native person and those native people shared the common interests and the common enemy.

LEEANN VANVALKENBURGH (Schagticoke Tribe): My father is one-quarter Native American and my mother she's a mixture of Polish and she is definitely White, so I had the balance, so I was definitely assimilated into the White world if you will.

NARRATOR: Lee VanValkenburg is a Schagticoke tribal member.

LEEANN VANVALKENBURGH: But as I got older I found that it's easier to identify with it. I went through a stage where maybe it wasn't so easy because in high school was peer pressure and people just trying to be individuals, you just kind of didn't want to call so much attention to yourself especially when you look - maybe like me, where you have to explain yourself so much it was just easier to assimilate and just blend in, which was really what I wanted to do.

And I don't think you can say you can look at someone and say "oh, they're Native American because they have black hair and braids," or "I'm not because I have blue eyes and brown hair." I think it's who you feel you are and some people identify closer to it with it than others

MIKKI AGANSTATA (Cherokee Heritage): The average Indian person is like the average person in the State of Connecticut and you may find them anywhere. You may find them employed as part of state government, like myself. You may find them in private industry. You may find us doing technical jobs that you would never associate an Indian person as being interested in. On the other hand, you might find us at times highly visible and involved in things that are identified as Indians.


NARRATOR: People in the town of Montville have long been aware of the continuing existence of the state's Indians due to the efforts of the area's Mohegan tribe.

JAYNE FAWCETT (Mohegan Tribe): Well I don't ever remember a time when the museum wasn't a large part of my life. My aunt Gladys was always the teacher, always being certain that we didn't forget our culture.

NARRATOR: Gladys Tantaquidgeon runs the museum since the death of her brother, Harold, in 1989. In 1993 she was officially recognized as the Mohegan tribal medicine woman

GLADYS TANTAQUIDGEON (Mohegan Tribe): My father, John Tantaquidgeon, and my brother Harold Tantaquidgeon -- they built this little stone room in 1931 for the purpose of having some place to display many of the Mohegan made items: basketry, woodwork, and some of those things. The baskets in this one section were made by my father, John Tantaquidgeon. He was the last Mohegan basket maker. And some of the bowls and spoons and other cooking utensils were also made by him. He used oak for his splints for the baskets. It's really tough -- it doesn't wear out. And for the cooking utensils, they used maple.

JAYNE FAWCETT: It's very difficult to really dislike or hate someone when you really understand where they're coming from. And that's what the museum does: It teaches the non-Indians in town. And that, I think, was the genius of my aunt Gladys really, and my uncle.

MELISSA FAWCETT SAYET (Mohegan Tribe): Yeah, she's one, I would say, in a great line of great survivalists and great thinkers in our tribe -- her being a major person in a sense that she spans the last century and this century, being born in 1899. So she helped us make it through the 20th Century. But really what has enabled the Mohegan to survive aside from just certain flukes of history, like the fact that we weren't wiped out initially by disease, were the decisions of key individuals within the tribe. You know -- survivalists, conscious survivalists. It's not a passive thing, it's something that you have to be actively engaged in all the time.

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