IAIS preserves and educates through discovery and creativity the diverse traditions, vitality and knowledge of Native American cultures.
Located in Washington, Connecticut, the Institute for American Indian Studies (IAIS)—formerly the American Indian Archaeological Institute (AIAI)—was incorporated in 1975 as an outgrowth of local efforts to recover New England's then-largely-unknown indigenous history.
In the early 1970s, Edmund "Ned" Swigart, an instructor at the Gunnery School and head of the Wappinger Chapter of the Connecticut Archaeological Society, and Sidney Hessel gathered volunteers of all ages to dig in and around Washington. A multitude of discoveries pointed to extensive native settlements and soon the back room of the Gunn Historical Museum overflowed with artifacts and field notes in need of analysis. Volunteer archaeologists joined forces with volunteer fundraisers and the American Indian Archaeological Institute opened on July 1, 1975.
Since then, IAIS has surveyed or excavated over 500 sites, including the remarkable discovery of a 10,000-year-old camp site—the earliest known archaeological site in Connecticut. But archaeology is about so much more than excavating sites or collecting stone tools: it is about people. Through archaeology, we are able to build new understandings of the world and history of Native Americans. This history echoes throughout all history and informs us in the present. With full awareness of the importance of keeping this knowledge alive, the focus of the Institute has always been stewardship and preservation.
In 1991, our name changed to the Institute for American Indian Studies and our focus shifted to include education in conjunction with research. Today, in addition to special events and workshops, IAIS also houses a knowledgeable Education Department, dedicated to developing and providing in-depth and exciting programs for students of all ages. Schools from throughout the region take advantage of the Institute's on-site facilities, while schools from across the country contact IAIS looking for reliable and accurate information. Each year, more than 4,000 people visit us and another 6,000 students participate in our education programs.
The Litchfield Hills Archaeology Club joined the IAIS family in 2007 when Director of Research and Collections Dr. Lucianne Lavin founded this hands-on group. LHAC offers various exciting benefits with membership, including opportunities to dig and catalog artifacts.
Today, IAIS continues to be a 501(c)3 museum and research center dedicated to providing unique, informative and engaging experiences for our members and visitors alike. It is our members who keep us moving forward and striving to provide the best events, workshops and activities possible. In addition to annual support from members, IAIS reaches out to foundations and corporations for grant and funding opportunities. We also offer a wide variety of Native American made and inspired items from across the country in our Four Directions Gift Shop to appeal to varying tastes in jewelry, art, holistic remedies and more.
A respect for the earth and for all living things is central to Native American lifeways and this is reflected throughout our museum, which is nestled in 15 acres of woodlands and trails. Outdoors we have Three Sisters and Healing Plants Gardens, as well as a replicated 16th century Algonkian Village. The appearance and construction of the village is based upon traditional knowledge and archaeological research, and is built from local, natural resources. Visitors can take one of our self-guided trails to explore the seasonal world of Woodland Indian peoples, ending the adventure in our village.
Inside, our museum exhibits allow visitors to travel through time—displaying astounding artifacts and presenting information on prehistoric to contemporary Native Americans. IAIS offers permanent, semi-permanent and temporary exhibits: these, along with our workshops, lectures, book discussions and various other offerings give visitors a reason to visit often. Open five days a week year-round, something exciting is always happening in these woodlands. It is a place of discovery...a place to return to.