Jason Mancini resigns as Pequot Museum director

Jason Mancini is pictured at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013.   (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Jason Mancini is pictured at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Jason Mancini, a longtime member of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center's research staff, is stepping down from his position as executive director after nearly three years.

In January, he will become executive director of Connecticut Humanities in Middletown, which supports history, literacy and other cultural programs throughout the state.

In discussing his decision to leave the museum, he said his vision for the museum was starting to diverge from what the tribe had envisioned, and he felt he did his job of realigning the museum's mission and its work in a sustainable fashion. He wouldn't comment further; however, he wants to maintain ties with the tribe.

Calls to other officials at the museum were not immediately returned.

Mancini, 46, has worked with the museum since its inception 22 years ago and started conducting archaeological research with the tribe at age 14, working with his uncle, research director Kevin McBride. A North Stonington resident raised in Ledyard, he said growing up locally helped inform his doctoral work on the tribe's history in the area, filling in the gaps between the Pequot War in the late 1600s and the casino project.

He said a lot of people don't know or don't understand the tribe's history, and one of his goals was to foster a better understanding of that history, not only within the tribal community but also within the general public.

As part of his mission to educate visitors on the richness of native cultures, Mancini worked throughout the museum. He cited the "first-rate" quality research and how it translated into the exhibits as something he was especially proud of. He also brought in Mashpee Wampanoag chef Sherry Pocknett to prepare authentic Native American cuisine and filled the museum shop with native-made items.

Mancini also worked to develop relationships with schools and other organizations to change the narrative of Native Americans from historical relics to vibrant, living communities.

The Upstander Academy, for example, brought together area K-12 educators for training on human rights and social justice issues. Glenn Mitoma, director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut, said the center partnered with the museum three years ago as part of its human rights outreach and education programming.

This year, the institute focused on an examination of genocide, using Rwanda and early New England as case studies. Mitoma said Mancini also got museum educators into the program in order to recontextualize how they interact with visitors and provide teachers with another way to bring the information to their own students.

Mancini also coordinated an overnight stay at the museum as part of the program, which Mitoma said was a powerful, immersive experience.

"Those kinds of initiatives I think were really beginning to elevate the conversation around the museum and our voice for, of and by native people," Mancini said. He and other staff members participated in the Standing Rock protests, and the museum took a more prominent position as a source of information on what matters in Native American communities around the country. He hopes his successor continues to lead the museum as a source of information and engagement with the community.

As executive director of Connecticut Humanities, Mancini said he wants to connect the state's cultural and historical organizations with K-12 teachers and college faculty to promote Connecticut's rich history. A lot of it isn't well known, he said, and working with the organizations as well as educators can make it more accessible.

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