Reels: Helping tribal members identify with their heritage
As the director of cultural resources for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, Wayne Reels helps people identify with their Native American heritage.
He describes it as a “rebirth and rebuilding of a nation” from the ground up.
That means educating people about their history and culture, whether through song, dance, crafts, workshops or classes, Reels said.
Reels, 59, whose father was Narrangsett and whose mother was Eastern Pequot and Western Pequot, always was aware of his identity as a Native American growing up.
He became director of cultural resources for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe in the early 1990s.
Reels, who loves to dance, said he’s grateful for his position, which has taken him all over the world. He has organized festivals, from the large to the small.
“I’ve been given an opportunity that most people can only dream of to go to those places and do the things that you love to do,” he said.
Reels said it’s important for tribal members to get back to their language, customs, tradition, and most of all their pride in who they are.
Reels helps teach a weekly song and dance class for youths and adults.
As a Pequot Elder, Reels said it’s important to talk about the history and culture, and to listen. He said it’s a priority for him “to get people to identify with their Pequot heritage, their Pequot culture, so it stays here and to serve the community any way I can.”
The Hartford Treaty, the result of the Pequot War, stated that they could no longer use the name Pequot, but the Pequot people persevered against the attempt at erasure, Reels said.
“We insisted that we are who we are, and we were able to fight it and able to get back this land right here, and, as time went on, we formed ourselves off of our ancestors who once lived here,” Reels said. “And now, as we formed ourselves, bringing back the identity into one’s heart, one’s pride of who they are, is the challenge, and that’s a never-ending challenge for every Native American nation that is co-existing because we’re fighting for our sovereignty. We’re fighting for our cultural existence around us.”
“If we get to the point where we’re just living up here as people, and we don’t recognize the special people we are, it makes all the difficulties of our ancestors, everything that they went through, for nothing,” he added. “I think this is our time and our struggle to keep things together for our offspring who are even yet to be born.”