The New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts region has an abundant Indigenous history. This November, we’re celebrating Native American History Month with a series of features centered around Native American tribes and their people.
According to the U.S. Department Bureau of Indian Affairs, Native American Heritage Month is a time to, “celebrate the traditions, languages and stories of Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and affiliated Island communities and ensure their rich histories and contributions continue to thrive with each passing generation. This November and every month, we celebrate the culture and heritage of these remarkable Americans who deeply enrich the quality and character of our Nation.”
We’ve done some research and provided some history below on the Native American tribes that originated on the lands we live on today in New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
Prior to the European colonization, the first major tribe in the area was the Mohican tribe (also spelled Mahican), an Eastern Algonquian Native American tribe which inhabited land along the Hudson River and in the northern valley, including the Mohawk River (where present-day Albany is located), and east into Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont.
Their name translates to mean “the people of the waters that are never still.” The largest concentration of Mohicans were located between the Hudson River and the Housatonic River. The Mohicans called the Hudson River “Muhheakantuck,” which translates to “the river that flows both ways,” a reference to the fact that the Hudson River is an estuary in which oceanic saltwater combines with freshwater.
In the 1660s, the Mohican were at war with the Mohawk, and they were forced to move out of Schodack to the area that is now Stockbridge in Berkshire County, MA.
Another large tribe are the Munsee Lenape, a subtribe and one of the three divisions of the Lenape (sometimes known as Delaware or Lenni Lenape). Munsee Lenape are another Algonquian tribe and were related to the Mohicans. The name Lenape roughly translates to mean, “real people” or “original people.”
They were originally located in the lower Hudson Valley and in the Minisink Valley, where New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania meet the Delaware River Valley. They were bordered by the Mohican, the Wappinger, and fellow Lenape.
According to Scenic Hudson, “Lenape and Mohican ancestors lived rich, complex lives that varied by season. They farmed, trapped, fished, and hunted for a tremendous variety of food, tapping maples, smoking fish, and drying berries for later use. Winter was considered domestic time. People prepared for the active warmer months by weaving baskets, shaping pottery, repairing hunting gear, and making clothing. They also told stories. Those stories taught listeners about everything from the stars, to how to live peacefully with their extended families.”
In the late 18th century, some of the Munsee Lenape and Mohican tribes combined in Stockbridge, and later became a federally recognized tribe known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community or the Mohican Nation Stockbridge-Munsee Band. After moving westward to flee European invasion, the modern day Stockbridge-Munsee Indian Reservation is located in the towns of Bartelme and Red Springs in Shawano County, Wisconsin.
The Munsee Lenape were in three bands in both Canada and the United States during the 20th and 21st centuries. The first are a part of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, the second were the Chippewa and Munsee located in Franklin County, KS, and the third, the Munsee-Delaware Nation, formerly known as the Delaware Nation at Moraviantown and Munsee of the Thames, located in Ontario, Canada.
The Wappinger were another Algonquian-speaking tribe located along the east bank of the Hudson River, from Manhattan north to Poughkeepsie, and east along the lower Connecticut River Valley. Wappinger translates to “easterners” or “people of the east lands.”
According to Brittanica, “Pressure from Dutch settlers caused the Connecticut Wappinger to sell their lands and join other Algonquian-speaking tribes elsewhere in what are today the United States and Canada. The western bands refused to do so; they fought the Dutch between 1640 and 1645, suffering severe losses. In 1756, the majority of the Wappinger remaining in Westchester County joined the Nanticoke in Chenango, NY, then merged with the Delaware; others joined the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe.”
The Mohawk are an Iroquoian-speaking North American Indian tribe at the easternmost tribe of the Iroquois Confederacy, also known as the Five Nations, and later the Six Nations. The Iroquois were pivotal in New York State during the 17th and 18th century, and played an important role between the French and the British during colonization.
Mohawk translates to “People of the Flint,” and were considered to be the “keepers of the eastern door,” for the Iroquois Nation. They were located in multiple villages in the area of what is now Schenectady in New York.
According to Brittanica, the Mohawk “warred frequently against neighboring Algonquian-speakers,” and played a significant role in pushing the Mohican eastward towards the Berkshires.
The Greater Mohawk Nation currently resides in Ontario and Quebec in Canada, and at the Mohawk Nation at Akwesasne, a native reservation that borders the international border between New York and Canada, as well as the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and both banks of the St. Lawrence River. The portion of the reservation located in New York state is federally recognized as the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, while the portion located in Canada is known as the Akwesasne.
The name Akwesasne translates to “Land Where the Partridge Drums,” which refers to the wildlife in the area. Akwesasne has a total of 12,000 residents – the largest population and land area of any Mohawk community.
The Schaghticoke are an Algonquian-speaking tribe originally located through the Hudson Valley and Harlem Valley Regions in New York, through Western Connecticut, and north to Massachusetts. They are one of five state recognized tribes in Connecticut.
Schaghticoke translates to “the mingling of waters,” and likely referenced both the joining of rivers – as they built their homes around the Housatonic River and the Hudson River – as well as the merging with other Algonquian tribes.
As a result of colonization, many Schaghticoke were displaced or removed from their native lands, particularly in the Hudson Valley and Harlem Valley regions. According to Schaghticoke First Nations, “As a result of settler colonization, tragic massacres, land grabs, and forcible removals, there was no central gathering place to call our own in New York. This changed in 2019 with the Schaghticoke First Nations acquisition of 73 acres of land in Columbia County. While the Schaghticoke are now largely diasporic peoples, which added challenges to organizing around the issues our community prioritizes; the land in New York, now called Caskoak, hopes to change this dynamic.”
In the 1980s, the tribe split to become two groups named Schaghticoke Indian Tribe and the Schaghticoke Tribal Nation. Currently, the Schaghticoke reservation is located in Kent, CT.
Early Localization of Native American tribes in New York, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons