Who are the Native peoples of Southern New England?
Today we'll focus on the Narragansett and Wampanoag Peoples.
The Narragansett and Wampanoag are the Indigenous people of Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts. The Narragansett and Wampanoag people have lived in this area for over 12,000 years, and are still part of our greater communities today. Though they are two different nations, their languages and cultures are closely related. Let us take a look at their territories.
Territory: a geographic area under the authority of a government; an area in which one has certain rights and responsibilities
Where do you live?
Scroll up and down to compare these two maps of Southern New England. What similarities do you see? What differences?
There are 13 full moons in a year. On Turtle's back, there are 13 large plates. Each plate represents a different moon and a different harvest. Turtle also has 28 small plates around the outside of the shell. There are 28 days between each moon.
A full moon happens each month and each full moon brings a different harvest. Each harvest has a special celebration. These celebrations are opportunities to give thanks, acknowledge the different gifts of the land and waters, and to start using those gifts.
Below are 13 images that represent the different moons and different celebrations. If you are filling out the Turtle worksheet, use these images as clues.
Exploring the Seasons
Native people have used the cycle of the seasons for thousands of years and still use the cycle today.
- Scroll down to engage with different objects from the Haffenreffer Museum's collection that represent Native New England seasonal traditions.
- Click on the images to look closer.
- Watch the videos to learn how Native communities carry on the traditions of living with the seasonal round.
- If you're filling out worksheets, make sure to fill out the worksheet for each season.
All of the people you see are contemporary Native people. Some may be dressed in traditional clothing, but it is important to remember that they dress in modern day clothing too.
Look for these objects! Can you guess which objects might be used in spring? Summer? Autumn? Winter?
Seequan | Spring
Spring is such an important time. It marks winter's end with the thawing of the ice and ground, the awakening of hibernating animals, the running of the maple sap, the return of migratory birds, and the sprouting and blossoming of new growth. Spring is a time when Native families would traditionally move from their winter homes towards their maple camp and then towards their summer homes to begin fishing and start planting their gardens for the summer.
What does your family do in the spring? Do you get ready to plant a garden? Do you like to go fishing? Scroll to learn about springtime activities in New England Native communities.
Once the days are above freezing but the nights are still below freezing, maple sap runs through the tree. For thousands of years, Native people of the Northeast have been tapping trees and harvesting sap to make maple syrup and maple sugar.
Native people tap trees by drilling a small hole into a tree and placing a spile—a thin pointed piece of metal or wood into the tree that allows the sap to run down it into a container. Sap looks and tastes like water and needs to be boiled down into syrup, which can take a long time! Sugar is made by further boiling the syrup down and is quickly stirred in a wooden bowl.
Watch the video below to learn how Mashantucket Pequot people collect sap today.
Fishing and Boat Making
Around the full moon in April, the fish start returning from the saltwater to the freshwater to spawn (to reproduce baby fish). Native people gather in these areas to catch fish with nets, poles, and spears in order to feed their families. Sometimes people use boats to go onto the water to fish. A traditional boat, called a mishoon, is a dugout canoe carved by fire. Scroll down to learn more about fishing and boat making.
Note: the following video includes some minor technical glitches.
Spring is also a time for planting. Narragansett and Wampanoag women grow corn, beans, and squash together, in addition to other plants such as melons, sunflowers, strawberries, sunchokes, and goosefoot.
Corn, beans and squash are called the "Three Sisters" because the plants grow so well together: The corn grows tall, allowing the bean to wrap around the corn stalk. The bean adds fertilizer to the soil and feeds the corn. The squash grows close to the ground and has large leaves which provide shade to the roots of the corn and beans.
Neepun | Summer
In summer, the days grow longer and the nights grow shorter, the days get hotter, and more and more plants become available for harvesting such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. People spend more time in their garden tending to their plants and go to the beaches to get out of the heat. Traditionally, berry picking is an important activity in many Native communities, as berries are rich in vitamins. The waters get warmer, which is great for fishing and shellfishing.
What do you like to do in the summertime? Do you like to pick berries? Do you like to go to the beach? Scroll to learn about summertime activities in Native communities.
Berry Picking and Basket Weaving
Baskets have been used by people around the world. Native people weave baskets for many purposes. They are necessary when you are going to pick fruits. Fruits would traditionally be picked fresh in the summer, dried, and stored away for the winter. Today many people buy their fruits at the grocery store. Native community members still use these special woven baskets to harvest fruits and vegetables.
Shellfishing and Wampum Making
Along the coastline, Narragansett and Wampanoag peoples historically—and still—gather shellfish at low tide in baskets, including lobsters, crabs, mussels, clams, and quahogs. Quahogs are large clams that many people use today to make clam chowder. Native people have used the beautiful purple and white parts of the Quahog shell for thousands of years to make wampum beads. Wampum is traditionally used for demonstrating respect and showing love, and was worn for its beauty.
Taquôk | Autumn
Autumn is a very busy time. If you look around, you will see the animals storing food away for winter, the nights getting cooler, the birds flying south for the winter, the first frost arriving, and the last of the harvest ripening. This is the time of year when Native communities get ready for the winter. Traditionally, Native people harvest the last of their corn, beans, and squash, and dry them as well as other vegetables, fruits, and nuts. Families go out hunting and trapping to fill their freezers for the winter months ahead.
What do you like to do in the autumn? Do you like to jump in the leaves? Do you like to pick apples and pumpkins? Do you help a family member hunt or fish? Scroll down to learn from Native people what activities they are doing.
Corn is so important in many Native communities here in the Northeast. Native people harvest corn between August and October, peel the corn, braid the husks, and dry the corn for storage. Corn is then added to soups or pounded into meal and flour. Cornhusks are used to make dolls, mats, bags, and even shoes!
According to a traditional story told by the Narragansett and Wampanoag people, corn arrived here in the Northeast as a gift from Crow. He flew from the Southwest with a kernel of corn in one ear and a bean in the other ear.
Late autumn and early winter are the prime times for hunting and trapping larger animals. Deer, bear, moose, and beaver are commonly sought after by Native communities. Deer, bear, and moose are large animals that can feed many people and families. They are not only hunted for their meat, but their hide (skin), fur, antlers, toes, and bones are also used. Indigenous hunters recognize that these animals are giving themselves so that people can continue on, and this gift of life is deeply respected. Scroll down to learn more from Native hunters.
Viewer discretion advised: The following video contains scenes of hunting and processing animals.
Native families also traditionally hunt moose, a deer relative. Scroll to learn more about how hunters attract these huge animals.
Watch the video below to hear a moose call. What do you think it might sound like?
Pupoon | Winter
Winter is a quiet time. The days are shorter, the air is cold. Many animals hibernate, burrowing under the blanket of snow, and families share stories. Traditional winter activities include snowshoeing and ice fishing. Sometimes the weather can be unpredictable, which means that winter is a good time for indoor activities such as making clothing, especially mittens.
What are some of the activities that you enjoy doing in winter? Do you like to go sledding or snowshoeing? Scroll down to see what Native communities like to do in winter.
Native people invented snowshoes. Snowshoes are an important tool in many Native cultures where snow is prevalent in the winter. Here in New England, snowshoes are woven by Native people for the purposes of walking on top of deep snow. Both adults and children use snowshoes. Snowshoes are made from a bent wooden frame, and often from rawhide or animal gut and are woven into distinct patterns. There are different styles of snowshoes for different types of snow. Modern snowshoes can be found in many sporting goods stores, but are made from metal frames now.
Watch the video of Anishinaabe youth race in snowshoes.
Moccasins is the Algonkian word for "shoes." They are typically made out of animal hide from deer, moose, elk, or sometimes bison. Moccasins provide protection for your feet, just as your shoes do. They keep the moisture and cold out. People's moccasins are as different as their personalities. They often are decorated with lovely designs that could represent a person's interests, their family, or even the tribe that they come from.