The following are some frequently asked questions about the following subjects:

  • Our museum and property
  • Our Research and Collections Department
  • Local Native culture and related topics

If you have any questions that are not covered below, please reach out to us via our contact page.

General FAQ’s

Are you affiliated with any Connecticut tribes?

The Institute for American Indian Studies is not officially affiliated with any of the five Connecticut-recognized tribes (Mashantucket Pequot, Eastern Pequot, Mohegan, Schaghticoke, Paugussett). We are a private and independent nonprofit organization.

Where does your funding come from?

As we are not affiliated with any of the Connecticut tribes, we receive no money or funding from those tribes or from any gaming facilities. Likewise, we receive no funding from the state of Connecticut or the town of Washington. We have an endowment, but the vast majority (74% at this time) of our annual funding is revenue generated through memberships and contributions, admission fees, workshop tuitions, educational programming and similar sources.

Was IAIS built on an actual village or site?

While no evidence was found at any time that a village existed where IAIS stands now, there have been discoveries in the form of stone debitage that seems to indicate that at some point in the distant past, our property may have been used as a stone tool manufacturing site.

Why do so many of the Native Americans in your exhibits look like European Americans?

The individuals used as models in our exhibits are all modern Native Americans, generally of Eastern Woodland descent. Today’s Native Americans descend from over 300 distinct nations and tribes, spanning the continent. Just as someone from a Southern European nation can look very different from a Northern European individual, so too are Native Americans different. A person with Eastern Woodland heritage will have different physical characteristics than people from the Plains, Southwest or Northwest Coast regions. Today, many Native American families have intermarried with non-Natives and may have African, Asian or European characteristics, but that does not make them “non-Native”; they still continue the traditions and spiritual practices of their ancestors.

How can I help out?
  • IAIS is always looking for volunteers to help in a number of different fields. To learn more about volunteer opportunities, click here. Interested in an internship with IAIS? Click here to learn more!
How can I become a member?
  • Becoming a member is a simple process. Just visit our Membership Page for all of the necessary information.
What is the American Indian Archaeological Institute?

The American Indian Archaeological Institute (AIAI) is the original name of the Institute for American Indian Studies; it was called this from its groundbreaking in 1974 until 1991. The name was changed to reflect a shift in focus away from solely archaeological discovery and interpretation and towards public education, in conjunction with archaeology.

Research FAQ’s

How has NAGPRA affected your collections?

The Native American Graves Protections and Repatriation Act was passed by Congress on November 16, 1990 and stipulates that any organization receiving federal funding must return Native American funerary and sacred objects to their respective tribes.

While IAIS does not regularly receive federal funding, in order to be in compliance with NAGPRA, we have assessed our collections and discovered approximately twelve items that fall under these criteria, including several masks and a pipe. These are items that we have never previously exhibited and we have identified them as being Seneca, Narragansett and several Plains tribes. All tribes have been contacted regarding these items and have agreed to take possession of them. They will remain protected in our vault until tribal representatives have made the necessary arrangements to take them.

IAIS is fully compliant with NAGPRA, having met all of the federal regulations.

Why are exact locations of archaeological sites not made public?

Exact locations of archaeological sites are not made public for a number of reasons. Many sites are found and excavated on private property, so the locations are not revealed in order to protect the rights and privacy of the property owners. In addition, when an archaeological excavation is “closed,” there is almost always evidence remaining to be found.

Archaeology is an ever-developing field and the future always holds new and exciting discoveries and methods of study. A constant concern is the attention of amateur enthusiasts, who may disturb a site looking for an interesting find, without properly documenting their methods.

When this happens, any information that the site may have contained will be destroyed. As such, archaeological sites must be preserved and protected.

How can I find out more about my artifact?

Several times during the year, IAIS holds Artifact Identification Day, where visitors are encouraged to bring in any of their artifacts for identification by our Director of Research & Collections, Dr. Lucianne Lavin. While Dr. Lavin will do her best to give accurate information, she will be better able to identify specifics about items from the Eastern Woodlands area and cannot appraise your item.

Check our calendar of events for the next ID Day. Dr. Lavin is also available for identification on a one-on-one basis for a fee of $50 per hour. To contact Dr. Lavin, call (860)868-0518 ext. 109 or email [email protected] 

Can I sell or donate an artifact?

Like most museums, IAIS has a strict policy against purchasing archaeological/lithics artifacts. If someone wishes to donate an artifact however, our Collections Committee will consider the donation and accession it, if it is deemed to be culturally significant to our collections.

We prefer artifacts that have provenience and paperwork, to aid in the authentication by the Committee. For more information contact our Research Department by emailing [email protected]

Local Native Culture FAQ’s

What tribes/nations are there in Connecticut?

Currently, there are five tribes recognized by the state of Connecticut, each with a reservation. These tribes are the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation near Ledyard; the Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation near North Stonington; the Mohegan Tribe near Montville (the Mohegan Reservation was not federally established; the Mohegan Land Claims Settlement Act of 1994 has allowed the tribe to take 700 acres of uncontested land into trust to use as their reservation); the Schaghticoke Tribe near Kent; and the Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Nation near Trumbull (their traditional reservation lands, currently only one-quarter of an acre) and Colchester (an additional 118 acres, established in 1980).

At this time, only the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe have also attained federal recognition, however many other tribal members live in Connecticut besides those from the five state-recognized tribes. Many of these indigenous residents belong to tribes located in other states while others belong to Connecticut indigenous communities that are not recognized (or no longer recognized) as tribes by the state. Additionally, many Connecticut residents have indigenous ancestry even though their family may no longer be involved in tribal relations.

What is the difference between state and federal recognition?

State recognition affords tribes a level of autonomy and self-determination (the degree being based largely on the state in question), while federal recognition carries with it a number of additional opportunities and benefits.

Through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), federally recognized tribes have access to a range of federal services in education, social services, law enforcement, health services and resource protections. In 1978, the Department of Interior, which contains the BIA, established the Federal Acknowledgement Project to allow previously unacknowledged groups to petition for federal recognition. Federal guidelines set forth a set of seven criteria that any petitioning group must meet before they are granted federal recognition.

For more information on federal recognition, visit the BIA’s website. Guidelines for state recognition are different across the country, so visit a state’s website for further information.

Which is correct: Native American or American Indian?

When Christopher Columbus arrived on the island that today is Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1492, there were people living all throughout the lands that are currently North, Central and South America. Columbus assumed he had arrived in his intended destination of India and began referring to all of the people he met as Indians.

In 1507, German cartographers, Martin Waldseemuller and Matthias Ringmann created the first map that referred to America, named in honor of Florentine explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, who launched several expeditions to South America. Neither American nor Indian have any basis in the traditional culture of the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

Most present-day Native American people would prefer to be referred to by their individual tribal affiliation, but that is not something that is immediately known. In lieu of discovering an individual’s affiliation, many people prefer the terms indigenous, First Nations or First Peoples.

You use the word Quinnetukut a lot, but I've seen it spelled differently. Why?

The word Quinnetukut is an Algonkian word, generally translated as “place of the long water.” This was a common name used by the Native Americans of the area and refers to the present-day Connecticut River.

Before the arrival of Europeans in North America, there was not a written Algonkian language. As such, many of the modern-day words derived from Algonkian (moose, raccoon, possum, squash, quahog and so on) are based upon phonetic spellings, transcribed by early European explorers and settlers.

Naturally, the number and diversity of records resulted in a number of different spellings, especially because there was no reliable English dictionary until Samuel Johnson’s 1755 A Dictionary Of The English Language.

Who were the first Europeans to come to Connecticut and when?

The earliest documented European visitor to the Long Island Sound was Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524, although he came to New York Bay, southern Long Island and Narragansett Bay, rather than Connecticut.

The most current archaeological evidence suggests that Dutch traders were the first Europeans to make sustained and impactful visits to Connecticut. By the early 1600s, Dutch settlements had sprung up on both sides of the Sound and traders, including Adriaen Block, Hendrick Christiaensz and Cornelius May, navigated Connecticut’s waters exchanging goods with the local indigenous peoples.

Early trade relationships between the Dutch and the Native Americans were friendly and mutually beneficial.

Some Native American communities even encouraged Europeans to settle amongst them, since easy access to European goods enhanced their quality of life and improved their social and political status with other tribes. After the Pequot War of 1636-1637, the British gained control of much of the wampum production along the Sound, which effectively ended the Dutch trade dominance.

How can I trace my American Indian heritage?

American Indian heritage can be very difficult to trace for a number of reasons. Until the influx of Europeans to North America, beginning in the sixteenth century, Native American tribes did not keep written records.

During colonization and even into more recent times, American Indian heritage was often kept secret, so as to prevent discrimination. However, local historical societies are a good place to start looking for information.

In addition, after the formation of the reservation system, many reservations housed missions from the Moravian Church, which kept extremely detailed records and family information. Contacting the modern Moravian Church may prove fruitful in tracing American Indian heritage. There are also numerous genealogists who specialize in tracing indigenous descent.