This Land is Home A Seasonal Round in Native New England

Wuneekeesuq | Welcome

Pronounced: (Woo-nee-key-suck)

Today we'll learn about the Native peoples of New England, their Algonkian (Al-gone-key-an) relatives, and how they provide for their communities through the seasons.

We'll learn:

  • Directly from Native people
  • That Native people still exist and practice their culture locally and abroad
  • How Native communities have continued their cultural practices
  • How the environment affects people and how people affect the environment
  • How Native communities are gathering, gardening, hunting, and fishing, using their traditions to provide food for their families

The Haffenreffer Museum acknowledges that Brown University currently resides on the traditional homelands of the Narragansett and Wampanoag peoples, who have stewarded this land through the generations. We recognize and respect their enduring relationships to this place, in the past, present, and future.

To learn more about land acknowledgements, check out page 7 of the Educator's Guide.

Let's get started!

Native or Indigenous? What terms should we use?

When we talk about the people of New England, we say "Native" or "Indigenous." When talking about people from many different communities or nations, we also use "Native" or "Indigenous." If we know a particular person's community or tribe, we use the name of their tribe.

Indigenous: naturally existing in a place or country rather than arriving from another place
Native: relating to the first people to live in an area
Tribe: a group of people, often of related families, who live together, sharing the same language, culture, and history
Tribal flags of some of the tribal nations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. From left to right: Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Narragansett Indian Tribe, Nipmuc Nation, Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribe

Did you know?

Tribes are organized into governments just like the town and state you live in. Think about the town or city you live in. It may have a mayor, a council, a housing department, a doctor's office, a police station, a school—and your town or city includes citizens, the people who belong to your community.

That's how a tribal government works. A group of citizens vote for their leaders and participate in their community. Tribal community members in the United States are citizens of their tribe, their town, their state, and the United States. Tribes can have a sachem, governor, chief, chair, or mayor, and a council. These are their leaders. Tribes also can have schools, police departments, fire departments, housing departments, hospitals, and doctors' offices.

Not all Indigenous people have the same culture, believe in the same things, or have the same languages. Many of the tribes that we'll learn about today share a similar culture, but also have differences. They are different nations. They are not all the same people, but they all share the same resources of the Northeast. They are sometimes referred to as Woodland People.

Culture: a way of life of a group of people including the behaviors, beliefs, values, symbols, and choices in materials that they accept

Let's name some of the tribal communities and nations that we'll learn from today. Try saying these names out loud! Do any tribal names sound familiar to you?

  • Aquinnah Wampanoag
  • Mashantucket Pequot
  • Mashpee Wampanoag
  • Mi'kmaq
  • Nehiyâw (Cree)
  • Nipmuc
  • Narragansett
  • Odawa
  • Ojibwe
  • Passamaquoddy
  • Penobscot

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?

Images courtesy of Google Maps and Native-Lands.ca

The first image is from Google Maps, so it may look familiar to you. You can see state borders, the names of towns, and highways. The second map outlines the traditional homelands, or territories, of the Native peoples of New England. Did you notice that there are no state lines? There is no “Rhode Island” or “Massachusetts” or “Connecticut.” This is how Native communities view their homelands. Often, certain parts of the landscape created borders between tribes. One such border is Narragansett Bay, which creates the boundary between the Narragansett People and the Wampanoag People.

Who are the Narragansett and Wampanoag Peoples?

Wampanoag means "People of the First Light."
Narragansett means "People of the Point"

The best way to learn about Native people is to hear from Native people! Watch the videos below to learn more about our Wampanoag and Narragansett neighbors.

The Cycles of the Seasons

As with all cultures around the world, the changes in the seasons play an important role in how people live their daily lives. Let's explore how the Native peoples of New England use the cycle of the seasons.

Watch the video below to see the changes that the land goes through in just one cycle of the seasons.

Here in New England, we have four seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Listen closely for different sounds between the seasons. What do you hear?

In fall and winter, the days get shorter. It gets colder. Ice forms on ponds. Animals hibernate and the earth is quiet. In spring and summer, the buds push forth, the insects emerge, the birds and fish migrate, new life emerges, and the earth is green again.

What different activities do we do in different seasons?

Think about what your family does in the spring, summer, fall, and winter. Do you wear different clothes for each season? Do you eat specific foods in each season? What holidays do you celebrate? What season are they in? Do you decorate your home?

Close your eyes. Imagine that you and your family lived hundreds of years ago. There are no grocery stores or pharmacies. You don't have a vehicle to travel around in. You have to build your house.

  • How would you survive from season to season?
  • What foods would you eat?
  • How would you shelter yourself?
  • What materials would you use to make tools?

You need to use the seasonal round to provide for yourself and your family.

Seasonal Round: a pattern of movement from one gathering area to another in a cycle that is followed each year

Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back

Today, many of us get food from the grocery store, our medicine from the pharmacy, and our clothes from the department store. For thousands of years, Native people followed the cycle of the seasons and some families still do today.

All humans rely upon the land for our food, medicine, shelter, and clothing to live. Many people today call these "natural resources," however, many Native communities think of these resources as gifts of the land and waters. Many Native families use the cycle of the seasons to provide their families and practice hunting, fishing, growing, and harvesting.

Each gift has its own special time based on what is happening in the environment, and Native communities look towards the sky to tell when seasonal changes will happen. The Turtle helps us to do this. The Turtle acts as a reminder for when to do things, just like a calendar.

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.

1. Fishing Moon 2. Planting Moon 3. Strawberry Moon 4. Berry Picking Moon 5. Green Bean Moon 6. Green Corn Moon 7 Harvest Moon 8. Cranberry Moon 9. Hunting Moon 10. Freezing Moon 11. Ice Fishing Moon 12. Thawing Moon (when the bears wake up from hibernation) 13. Maple Sugaring Moon (sugar shack)

Native New England Cycle of the Seasons

Watch the video below to learn more about how Native families of both past and present follow the changes in the seasons. Pay careful attention to what's happening in the environment and what people are doing in that season.

Just like traditional sister and contemporary sister in When the Shadbush Blooms, Native New England communities continue to embrace traditional seasonal activities as well as live in the modern world. Think about the activities that you and your family do doing certain times of the year.

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?

Unless stated otherwise, all photos courtesy of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.

Seequan | Spring

Pronounced: See-qwan

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.

Maple Sugaring

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.

Maple sap was traditionally collected in birchbark pails such as this one that comes to us from the Odawa people and then transported to a large pot and boiled down and processed into maple syrup and maple sugar. Haffenreffer Special Fund Purchase (HMA-84-62)

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.

This is a netting needle. This netting needle is a design that can be found in many cultures around the world. Here in Southern New England, Native people would make netting shuttles out of wood. These needles are used for weaving nets. Look at the design and shape of the shuttle. Netting would be wrapped around the needle and the weaver would pass the pointed end through the net to create the knots used to secure it. Courtesy of Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University (HMA-98-15-27)
Philip (Mashpee Wampanoag) stands in a mishoon while using a dip net to catch fish at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum. Photo courtesy of Plimoth Plantation.

Note: the following video includes some minor technical glitches.


These are the seeds of corn (top), beans (right) and squash (left). These seeds are planted in the spring, grow through the summer, and are harvested in the late summer and early fall by many Native communities. Courtesy of Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University

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.

You can see Danielle (Mashpee Wampanoag) working in the garden here at Plimoth Plantation, a living history museum. Photo courtesy of Plimoth Plantation.

Neepun | Summer

Pronounced: nee-pun

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.

This is a peach basket woven out of ash splints. It comes from the Wampanoag Nation. This basket was used for carrying peaches when picking them. Rudolf F. Haffenreffer Collection (HMA-61-69)
Leah (Narragansett) and her son Tristan (Aquinnah Wampanoag/Narragansett) picking berries at the time of the full moon in June. Photo Courtesy of Leah Hopkins.
This is a decorative basket made by Passamoquoddy basketmaker, Clara Neptune Keezer. It's in the shape of a strawberry! Many Native artists honor the gifts of the land and water through their art. Haffenreffer Special Fund purchase (HMA-92-65)

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.

This alliance collar was made by Aquinnah Wampanoag artist, Elizabeth James-Perry. She carefully fashioned the beads so they are all the same size. They are woven in a special way called a bias weave. Haffenreffer Special Fund purchase (HMA-2018-24-1)
Quahogs are an important ingredient in many soups and stews and can be smoked and dried to preserve them. The inside of the shell is used for wampum. Photo courtesy of Leah Hopkins.

Taquôk | Autumn

Pronounced: Tah-quawn-kuh

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 Harvesting

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!

In Native communities, cornhusks are soaked and formed into cornhusk dolls, a toy which children can play with. This doll was made by Narragansett artist Dawn Spears. Courtesy of Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University (HMA-2013-8-1ED)

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.

Deer provide many gifts. Click on the image to learn about what deer can provide.

Native families also traditionally hunt moose, a deer relative. Scroll to learn more about how hunters attract these huge animals.

This Algonquin moose call is made out of etched birchbark. These moose calls help hunters attract moose. Unknown Artist. Gift of William and Michelle Tracy (HMA-75-222)

Watch the video below to hear a moose call. What do you think it might sound like?

Pupoon | Winter

Pronounced: Pu-poon

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.

This snowshoe was made by a Passamaquoddy snowshoe maker during the 1800s. It's made out of wood, rawhide, wool, leather and metal. In Memory of Eva T. MacFarlane (HMA-82-80B)

Watch the video of Anishinaabe youth race in snowshoes.

Making Moccasins

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.

These Mi'kmaq children's moccasins are decorated with beadwork. Like many moccasins, they are made out of animal hide. These have red wool. Rudolf F. Haffenreffer Collection (HMA-68-10007)

Kutâputunumuw | Thank You

Pronounced: koo-tap-uh-tun-uh-moo

Now you have learned a little more about the Indigenous people of the Northeast and their traditions. We hope that you enjoyed learning about the seasonal round!

Before you wrap up, think about the following question: What is one thing you learned today that you want to share with a friend or family member?

All of the objects that you saw today are from the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology's collection and were all made by Native artists. To see more from the collection, you can click the link below.

If you have any questions, ask your teacher to email Haffenreffer_Programs@brown.edu. We're happy to answer any questions we can!

About the Author

Leah Hopkins is a citizen of the Narragansett Indian Tribe and is the Community Engagement Specialist at the Museum. She is responsible for working collaboratively with Indigenous and Tribal communities, museums, other institutions, and Brown students and faculty to develop, implement, and evaluate programming and education initiatives that best improve the visibility and promote the perspectives of Indigenous populations in New England.

© 2020 Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Brown University


Created with images by Elisabeth Lindsay - "untitled image" • Andrew Buchanan - "untitled image" • Kevin Long - "Sunset over the water in Cape Cod." • Chris Lawton - "untitled image" • Marcus Dall Col - "untitled image" • Joshua J. Cotten - "Turtle on a log in Oneal Lake at the Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge." • Linda Robert - "Fish" • Adrian Infernus - "untitled image" • Oliver Hale - "Strawberry Plants" • Markus Spiske - "Made with Canon 5d Mark III and loved analog lens, Leica APO Macro Elmarit-R 1:2.8 / 100mm (Year: 1993)" • Cyrus Crossan - "untitled image" • Katherine Volkovski - "untitled image" • Patrick Donnelly - "Pumpkins, gourds on display at a local market." • Joanna Kosinska - "untitled image" • Laura College - "In New Braunfels, Texas, the deer often flood the golf course and surrounding residential yards around sunset. The locals feed them, and they love the grass on the golf course. This buck was kind enough to pose for me long enough to take several shots. He looked so regal that I couldn’t resist him, and I loved the symmetry of his antlers." • Roman Kaiuk - "Morning nature. Sunrise in Ukraine" • Jacob Campbell - "I was skeptical of going out on the frozen reservoir. I’d never done anything like it before and on top of that, there was no one really around. Out of nowhere a man came and showed me the ropes of ice fishing even though I was just there for photos. This was his gear pack he had." • Chris Geirman - "driving along and saw a family of bears along the roadside. The mother bear seemed entirely unconcerned as I snapped this shot of her cub" • Mike Petrucci - "untitled image" • 2 Bro’s Media - "Canadian geese landing into a river" • Taylor Cowling - "untitled image" • Thomas Lardeau - "Let's walk in the woods of Mont-Orford park." • Jack Cohen - "Autumn vibes. 🍂" • Marek Okon - "Early morning while visiting Niseko, Hokkaido, Japan, I awoke to an early winter snow storm. The sky was dense with fluffy clumps of snow, gently felling from above, accumulating quickly across the region as people slept in their mountain homes. I grab my camera and hopped into my car, knowing that I would be the first on the road to witness a snow fall I haven’t experienced for more than a decade." • Daniil Silantev - "Forest stream water"