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Local Native Culture FAQ

The following are some frequently asked questions about local Native culture and related topics. Visit our General FAQ and Research FAQ pages for more information.

  • 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.