by Jessica Warzeniak
Rain was predicted, but luckily the Great Spirit blessed us with sunshine for the tenth anniversary of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum & Research Center (MPMRC) on August 11. The smudging ceremony was performed by Kenneth M. Reels, Vice Chairman, as he did on the opening day in 1998. Lori Potter gave the blessing. Bill Satti emceed, welcoming town officials and dignitaries.
“It is a monumental day for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation,” said Kimberly Hatcher-White, Executive Director. “It would not be as special without the people who have supported the museum over the past ten years.”
“Tell me a story,” she said “It’s a part of our everyday conversation. Storytellers pass down this art from one generation to another. Parents, family, and elders share knowledge to ensure history and culture stay alive.”
“Often these stories are cautionary tales. Our story was told many times over by newspapers, TV, radio, in Congress, and in smaller rooms. The story was told by those who not only witnessed it, but were involved in its birth. This dream came from the hopes of those individuals.”
“On August 11, 1998 the dream became a reality. Today, we are joined together, in the aptly named Gathering Space, to celebrate the tenth anniversary. The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation accomplished many firsts since [then], including this building.”
Kim informs the audience of plans for the next ten years: ensuring up-to-date standards, improving the mission, being a vehicle to education the public and being a safe and welcoming place.
“Next summer the second floor is getting a new exhibit: Pequots in the Lost Century: 1870-1970… There is new archeological, cultural, and historical evidence that challenges the misconceptions for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the MPMRC. And the story continues.”
“I can’t believe it’s been ten years,” said Vice Chairman Ken Reels. “It’s a beautiful thing. On behalf of the Tribe, I would like to thank everyone for coming. The most important part of what we do, and what we continue to do, is to share our rich, vibrant heritage with the world.”
“History is not complete unless his story, her story, and the whole story is told… Our goal here is to not show a bias towards anything but our version of the story.”
“We are not here to force our history. We are here to blend in with museums around New England. To encourage our children and Tribal members to tell their story, to write books…. We should all tell our history and live in harmony.”
“I would like to thank each and everyone of you for helping maintain what we have today,” said Joyce Walker, Vice Chairwoman, Tribal Elders Council.
“Each and everyone of us has a story,” Joyce continued. “Many elders did not live on the Reservation. Our parents or grandparents were born here, but through the years we had to live elsewhere to find work. We are blessed to be able to come back.”
During interviews after the ceremony, Dr. Jack Campisi, Dr. Kevin McBride, and Kimberly Hatcher-White talked to Alexis Ann, editor & publisher, The Resident, about their continued role in the museum.
“It goes back to Federal Recognition. One of the aims of Skip [Hayward] was to build a museum,”said Jack.“The executive director of Indian Rights Association recommended me to Skip because of my work with the Mashpee, Gay Head, and Narragansett Tribes.”
Skip and Jack met in 1978 and by January of 1979, “I was writing the Petition for Federal Acknowledgement. The difference is the President acknowledges and Congress recognizes.” The petition was vetoed by President Ronald Reagan, and Jack started working on Congressional approval of the Mashantucket Pequot Indian Land Claims Settlement Act.
“The Tribal members did a lot of research – Skip, Terry [Bell], and Loretta [Libby], going through records at courthouses and legislative buildings, studying the community, interviewing members, tracing lineages, finding evidence of community activities, and even digging up old phone bills.” said Jack.
In 1983, Skip approached Kevin about conducting archaeological research on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation. At the time, Kevin was Director of Public Archaeology Survey Team, Inc., and an Anthropology Research Associate at UConn in Storrs.
“Really, I met Skip and Bill Starna from the Federal Recognition process. Skip and the Tribe had a vision, a dream, a goal to build a museum. History depicted the Pequots as extinct. He wanted to build a museum to convey their story. He valued research, partly for the Federal Recognition process, but also because he understood that archeology helps find people’s past – to be a resource to do their own research.”
“The museum now supports one of the best archeology programs in the country. The facilities are state-of-the-art to promote the learning of culture – of any one.”
Kevin, now the Director of Research for the museum and an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UConn, explains that the State was closing in on the 200-acres the Tribe had left. “They could have been bitter. They could have told it their way, but they used the museum to tell the larger story in a way that engages the community from multiple perspectives. The agenda is to help people understand.”
Kimberly Hatcher-White, Executive Director, tells Alexis her plans for the next ten years. “I want to improve on what this institution does to impact the community,” said Kim. “Our current exhibit RACE: Are We So Different? is an opportunity for people to come together and talk about issues in a safe environment – it’s a vehicle to bring people together to help understand each other.”
“After ten years, museums can get stale. But it’s not the case here because in the museum world we are the baby.” A new exhibit will be underway next summer to the second floor: “Pequots in the Lost Century: 1870-1970.” Kim continues, “There is a gap where information is limited… During that period the thought was nobody was here on the Reservation, but we are finding there was a lot more going on than people believe and think.” Jason Mancini, senior researcher, is in year one of the research for the five year project.
The third part of the plan is to get the museum accredited. “It’s very difficult for Native museums,” said Kim. “We already go by museum standards. We should be an accredited institution.”
Kim started her career in 1994 pushing a cart at Foxwoods, selling coins. “I wanted to work my way up,” she said. When Kim got the chance to go to school, she jumped at the opportunity.
Kim earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology with a minor in Anthropology from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2002 and started working at the museum in the collections department under her mentor, Meredith Vasta.
When Terry Bell announced her resignation in 2006, Kim was encouraged to apply for the job. Terry sponsored Kim as her replacement. In September 2006, six months before Terry left, Kim became the deputy director. “In October 2006, I hit the ground running,” said Kim.