Longtime head of tribal museum's research department loses job

Kevin McBride, director of research at the Mashantucket Peqout Museum and also a teacher of battlefield archeology at UConn, right, and Jackie Veninger, left, an instructor with the field school and a research consultant with the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, confirms that what student Alex Buckingham, center, has found in her 5 meter shovel test pit is modern barbed wire while working at the Denison Homestead in Mystic Thursday, June 9, 2011.  McBride is leading students participating in his battlefield archeology field school in an archeological dig at the Denison Homestead in Mystic Thursday-Saturday.  Captain George Denison arrived in the area in the 1650's and the group is looking for anything that will show activities or features related to King Philip's War.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Kevin McBride, director of research at the Mashantucket Peqout Museum and also a teacher of battlefield archeology at UConn, right, and Jackie Veninger, left, an instructor with the field school and a research consultant with the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, confirms that what student Alex Buckingham, center, has found in her 5 meter shovel test pit is modern barbed wire while working at the Denison Homestead in Mystic Thursday, June 9, 2011. McBride is leading students participating in his battlefield archeology field school in an archeological dig at the Denison Homestead in Mystic Thursday-Saturday. Captain George Denison arrived in the area in the 1650's and the group is looking for anything that will show activities or features related to King Philip's War. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Mashantucket — Kevin McBride, director of research at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center and one of the facility’s original planners, learned Monday that the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe was eliminating his position in a cost-cutting move.

“It was nothing I didn’t know or suspect (was coming),” McBride said Tuesday. “The tribe’s been going through tough financial times — partly with the new casino (in Massachusetts). Sadly, they had to find some places to save some money.”

A casino that opened in August in Springfield, Mass., has caused a decline in revenue at the tribe’s Foxwoods Resort Casino.

In a statement, a tribal spokeswoman said the tribe eliminated McBride’s position while looking “to improve overall efficiencies in museum operations.”

“Kevin McBride is a dear friend of the tribe and has served as an integral part of the museum’s development and operation for more than 25 years,” Lori Potter, the tribe’s director of public affairs, wrote in an email. “We are grateful for his service and contributions to our history, and wish him continued success.”

An associate professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut, the 66-year-old McBride, a Ledyard resident, had worked for the tribe for more than three decades and had been with the museum since its opening in 1998. He helped plan it during the 1990s.

“I wouldn’t call my position critical,” McBride said. “Over the years, the research division has been whittled away.”

The museum has been without a director since Jason Mancini — McBride’s nephew — resigned in December 2017. Mancini, of North Stonington, is now the executive director of Connecticut Humanities, a Middletown-based nonprofit that supports educational and cultural programs.

Mancini, who described McBride as a lifelong mentor, said McBride’s legacy “might best be defined by his many students who have worked at the museum or in the field and have taken on the mantle of respect for and support of tribal sovereignty, Native American studies, and innovative research.”

Asked what McBride’s leaving might indicate about the future of the museum, Mancini said, “Well, you can leave ‘and Research Center’ off of the name.”

“Kevin’s departure will likely mark the end of scholarly work and academic partnerships for some time,” Mancini said. “Make no mistake, though the museum is a shell of what it once was, the Pequot story is an enduring one and one that has important lessons about the nature of relationships and power in our society.”

Despite budget cuts and staff reductions in recent years, the museum’s research department has continued to secure grants to support some of its work, including its Battlefields of the Pequot War project, a McBride-led study of a pivotal 17th-century conflict between the tribe and English colonists. In September, the museum hosted the 10th Biennial Fields of Conflict Conference, a prestigious event that attracted researchers from nearly 30 countries.

McBride said the museum’s battlefield project will continue and that he will continue to be involved with it, just not as the museum’s research director.

“My feeling is I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for the opportunity,” he said, referring to the tribe. “They can call on me any time.”

He said museums with active research departments are rare. He mentioned three, all of which have large endowments: the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and The Field Museum in Chicago.

“No museum in the world makes money,” McBride said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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