Pequots celebrate their survival, 386 years after attempted genocide
Mashantucket ― Pequots invited the public to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum on Friday to commemorate the 386th anniversary of the Mystic Massacre and celebrate the survival of their people, with about 40 people showing up to listen and learn.
On May 26, 1637, during the Pequot War, the English attacked a Pequot village in present-day Mystic, killing as many as 600 people. The Mohegans and Narragansetts joined on the side of the English.
In the late afternoon on Friday, between a sunrise ceremony at the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation and a Saturday morning ceremony on the Eastern Pequot Reservation, the museum held a special edition of its Witness to a Genocide program.
“When we celebrate the remembrance of this day, we do so as one nation,” said Joshua Carter, executive director of the museum. At the end of the war, the Treaty of Hartford divided captured Pequots between Mohegans and Narragansetts, which led to the respective split of Mashantucket and Eastern Pequots.
The treaty forbade the Pequots to call themselves as such. But Nakai Clearwater Northup, manager of public programs at the museum, said the “English never stopped referring to us as Pequots and neither did we,” though the English were effective in hiding their language.
It’s important “to make sure folks understand that one, it was an attempted genocide, and two, that they failed,” Carter said. He said the museum has continuously been able to provide more information about the massacre and provide new programming on what happened immediately after.
And among tribal members, Carter said it’s important to acknowledge that one day they will be the ancestors that descendants are hopefully talking about and honoring.
“Today is really about honoring the resilience of Pequot Nation, the strength,” Carter told those gathered for the event, which included a screening of “The Witness,” a 30-minute dramatization of the Pequot War that plays regularly at the museum, followed by an interactive discussion led by Carter and Northup.
The film spans the time from the 1634 murder of a Pequot sachem by a Dutch trader to the Treaty of Hartford in 1638, touching on the Pequot attack on an English village in present-day Wethersfield, killing 13, and then the Mystic Massacre.
“I don’t watch ‘The Witness’ anymore because I get triggered, and I feel uncomfortable being angry. It’s not in my nature,” said Northup, and some other Pequot attendees also said they don’t watch it. Present Friday were Mashantucket Pequots, Eastern Pequots, Mohegans and non-Native people.
After the screening, Carter split the attendees into four groups and asked them to choose among freedom, land or identity, knowing they’d have to give up the other two. The decision had to be made through the Pequot custom of unanimous consensus.
No group reached consensus, each finding themselves stuck between identity and freedom, land and freedom, or identity and land.
“Land, identity and freedom are interconnected, unequivocally,” Carter said. “You cannot separate your identity from the land.”
He then spoke about the model of making decisions by consensus rather than with 51% support, asking if people are willing to let go of their position for the benefit of the whole. He talked about the European construct of “Indian time” to signify lateness, but said when white men asked Native communities to make decisions, each community member had the opportunity to weigh in and give their perspective.
Carter and Northup also twice asked people to separate into groups based on whether they agreed or disagreed with two statements: war between the English and Pequots was inevitable, and two nations can hold sovereignty over one piece of land. The majority agreed with both statements.
Northup said he believes the war was inevitable “because it had the recipe for everything you needed for war. It had the difference in religion, greed.”
He commented later on how Connecticut memorializes the Mohegan sachem Uncas, who took up arms with the English ― through names such as Uncasville and Uncas Leap ― but the name of Pequot sachem Sassacus is rarely spoken outside the Pequot community.
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