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Rhody Radio episode transcription has been been made possible by the American Rescue Plan: Humanities Grants for Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association (ALA) made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

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The Education Powwow: Showcasing Pequot Museum's Living Exhibition

A dancer at the Pequot Museum education powwow, wearing a ribboned and beaded headdress and outfit.

Emily: [00:00:00] You're listening to Rhody Radio, Rhode Island Library Radio Online.


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Each Friday and Saturday, July 8th and 9th, people from all over New England will gather at the Pequot Museum in Mashantucket, Connecticut for a bustling live exhibition, the annual Education Powwow back after a few years suspended during the pandemic. The Pequot Museum Educational Powwow is a living exhibition showcasing Native American dancers and the significance of this cultural gathering for indigenous people. Gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the Powwow experience and how it helps sustain a sense of community for America's first people.

The event is included with regular-price admission to the museum, and Rhode Islanders can get a discount by borrowing their local libraries museum pass. The Pequot Museum pass available at various libraries around the state offers half-price admission for two adults and two children under the age of 18, or one adult and three children under the age of 18. It usually checked out for a few days before needing to be returned. Museum passes are a great way to explore our areas many amazing offerings while on a budget. This week, Emily from the Rhody Radio team sat down with Nakai Clearwater Northup from the Pequot Museum.

They talked all about the museum and what it has to offer and got a sneak peek at the Education Powwow this coming weekend. [00:02:00] Serving as Powwow manager, run of show, and all-around hype man, Nakai serves as the head of education at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. Where he spent more than 10 years developing educational programming on Eastern Woodland tribal history, and culture for visitors of all ages. Nakai is the vice chair of the tribes natural resources protection committee. He also serves as a board member of the Stonington Historical Society, an avid hunter, and fisherman.

Nakai is a frequent speaker and lecturer on historic preservation, environmental indigenous activism, food sovereignty, and teaching traditional Eastern Woodland histories and lifeways. Having both Mashantucket Pequot and Narragansett bloodlines, Nakai has spent his entire life on both reservations and is a passionate advocate and activist for Native American rights. With a strong love for his tribal communities and is a father of two beautiful children, Nakai is dedicated to preserving tribal histories and passing down cultural traditions to younger generations.

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[00:04:00]

Hello, Nakai. Thank you so much for joining with me today to talk about the Pequot Museum. Would you like to introduce yourself and your connection to the museum?

Nakai Clearwater Northup: Absolutely. My name is Nakai Clearwater Northup. I'm a member of Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and Narragansett Nation. I am the manager of public programs and outreach here at the Pequot Museum. I've been working here for about eight, nine years now and been in the community my entire life. I've been coming to this museum forever.

Emily: For the people who haven't been or are unfamiliar with the museum, can you talk a little bit about what your focus is, and if they were to visit, what they might expect on a visit?

Nakai: Our focus here at the museum is Pequot history-- Mashantucket Pequot history, but we do cover a wide range of Eastern Woodland communities throughout the Northeast. We try to be an advocate for all indigenous voices in the world. What to expect is roughly 20,000 years of history that we cover working from the last ice age up until the present times.

Emily: That's incredible. Are there any special exhibits or programming that you have going on right now or this summer?

Nakai: Getting ready to jump into our thematic calendar for the summer. Wednesdays will be workshop Wednesdays where we'll be each day doing two different programs for the public free with admission. Thursdays will be virtual Thursdays where we'll do different book readings for children and some different virtual programs that we have to offer. Friday will be field trip Fridays which we will have a layout in our gathering space upstairs at the museum with different interactive tables for everyone to come and enjoy. Saturdays will be seasonal Saturdays where we'll either be out taking a hike together, or I will be doing cooking demonstrations on our farmstead area outside.

Emily: For the hiking toys that you're doing, so there's the ones that you lead. Can people come [00:06:00] and hike on the grounds on their own time as well or is it always guided?

Nakai: No. We have a trail that runs behind museum-- all the blue trail. It's a marked trail that cuts through some of the reservation land. Also on reservation, our hiking trail is Lantern Hill which is one of the highest peaks in the area.

Emily: For your virtual exhibits, can you talk a little bit more about those and how people access those?

Nakai: For the most part, we're going to be doing it via Zoom for people who will be posting the links on our social media. We are in the process of having all of our exhibits 3D shot and scanned so that we're going to be able to bring the exhibits to you while you sit at home and you don't have to travel all the way to the museum to come see it. You'll be able to access it via our website and have interactive tours given by the public programs.

Emily: We've asked you here today to talk specifically about this weekend. You've got coming up the annual educational Powwow which hasn't happened in a couple of years. Can you talk a little bit about what that is, where that's come from, how long it's been going on?

Nakai: Absolutely. The educational Powwow I always tell people is like a Powwow with captions. It is giving you a rundown of everything that's going on and what to expect when you attend an actual Powwow. We hold our annual community Powwow at the end of August. At one point, it was the largest Powwow in the world. Schemitzun is the indigenous world championship of song and dance with over 500 nations represented. This Powwow is much smaller scale. We have local dancers from our region and our MCs of the Powwow.

We'll go through a traditional run of show of Powwow, but our MCs will do the duties of breaking down each category and what they're representing, and how [00:08:00] their origins started. This event has been going on now for about 15 years-- 15, 20 years I'd say. We've done single-day events. We've done two-day events. This year we brought it back to the two-day events and we'll also be showcasing Eastern social songs, songs that are more traditional to our areas. Getting into more of the modern Powwow style music and dance.

Emily: Where does it take place?

Nakai: It's going to take place right here at the museum. This year we're going to have it in our gathering space. It's going to be an indoor event. We're going to have different vendors from food, and arts, and crafts, and it is a great space. The space is a big open windowed room, so you'll be able to see outside and see the forest all around you as well.

Emily: Cool. Do you take a role in the Powwow and what is that like for you?

Nakai: I help participate with planning the Powwow each year, and reaching out, and trying to source local tribal members to dance and participate in the event. This year I'm also going to be the arena director. Making sure the run of show is going smooth and each category is coming up when it's time, and making sure everyone's participating and having a good time. That's pretty much my job-- make sure everyone is having fun.

Emily: Great. It sounds like a great place to be. What's the energy like during the Powwow?

Nakai: It's really hard to match the energy. Anytime we have the drums around and the people dancing. Everything that a Powwow truly embodies is that feeling that you'll feel when you hear those drums and you'll see people who are dancing. These dancers are telling stories. These dancers are dancing in a way to express self. Everyone has their own unique style and own twists that they add to their dances [00:10:00] and the songs as well. Different drum groups will have original songs that they've composed. It's just an all-around good day. You'll definitely leave feeling energized and well and hopefully feel positivity.

Emily: What should people know if they attend? Are there any expectations that they should come with? Anything, in particular, that you would like people to know who come for the first time?

Nakai: Yes. First time I would definitely recommend getting a good seat. The room does fill up relatively fast. There is enough space to stand around, but we will have Bleacher seat in the gathering space and come and get a good seat. The events will be going all day long. We'll have breaks in between at one section and that's a good time to go around and get food and check out the vendors, and things along those lines. We'll have a lot of stuff for the crowd to interact with. Anyone who is coming, I am going to be walking around and saying, "Come on, come join in with us." This is a family-owned and operated business. This institution we thrive on relationships. Crowd interaction and allowing everyone to participate in our events is something that we really enjoy.

Emily: Speaking of the food and vendors, what is going to be there? Can you give us a sneak peek of any of the food or the people that are going to be there?

Nakai: Yes. We have some different tribal food stands from different sister tribes, local areas here which you can-- most likely expect from these vendors is some seafood for sure. I'd expect there to be some venison and some Indian tacos which is if you haven't had one it's pretty much chili on top of a fried breaded dough boy. With [00:12:00] the fixings for a taco which is always really delicious. We'll also have participation from Uncle D's Blazin barbeque. We're in the process of trying to get some more food trucks to come as well.

Emily: What's it like for you putting on this living exhibition as opposed to some of your more still life things at the museum?

Nakai: The thing I love most about it is to show that our people are still here. We're still practicing and growing and evolving our culture and our traditions and our ways of life. A lot of people when they envision indigenous people, they think of us in the past, and this is to show that we are a modern and contemporary people still today. We just honor and practice our traditions.

Emily: Do you have a favorite moment during the Powwow that happens or a favorite memory from one in the past?

Nakai: Yes, favorite moment, I really enjoy Northern traditional dances just because those are styles that I've loved since I was a young child. The fancy dance is also one of my favorites because the crowd loves it. The fancy dance was-- the origins were created for entertainment. A faster pace dance with lots of tricks and oohs and aahs. It's fun to see the crowd be involved in that. I also really enjoy the Eastern social songs, and these traditional songs that our people were singing for long, long time that is specific to our region and area because Powwow it's universal. There's Powwows everywhere.

Emily: Do people travel for this Powwow?

Nakai: Yes. Yes. People-- we get a pretty large participation from the Northeastern region to come out and participate.

Emily: Cool. [00:14:00] There's this one that's coming up this coming weekend in July, and then there's also the Powwow in November that you have to honor veterans. Can you talk a little bit about that and how maybe they're similar and how they're different?

Nakai: Yes. The differences right off the bat are honoring the veterans Powwow is a full-scale Powwow where you're not going to get the full educational proportional style and category of dance. We're not going to fully break down like each regalia and traditional clothing item. With educational Powwow that's the fine details. We're going to be filling you in on a lot of that. A Pequot person has participated in every American war up to date. Indigenous people as a whole, we have strongly fought and honored our veterans, but we also honor all veterans. This Powwow isn't just specific to indigenous people. It's non-indigenous as well.

Any veteran who wants to come and participate will have a time for you to RSVP, and we will give you free admission for you and a guest. We'll also do a feed. We'll make sure you have a meal while you're here. There'll be a special intermission where we'll be able to get you a nice meal. We're also going to gift you with some traditional medicines of our people to honor you. There'll be a ton of honor songs and veteran songs that we'll sing because those are very common in Indian country. People composing songs for veterans and these honor songs.

Emily: Sounds like a really powerful event to be at.

Nakai: It's a good one. Yes.

Emily: If people would like to attend in November but can't make it to the Educational Powwow in July, and they've never been to one before. What might they need to know when they go to the one in November?

Nakai: In November, I would just try to be a [00:16:00] fly on the wall. I would try to just really pay attention and just see how everything's going. We do, of course, add some educational proponents and you will get a good idea of what's going on, but just pay attention and watch because it really is a beautiful experience. It's a great event for our veterans.

Emily: Is there anything else that you'd like to share about the museum, your work, your research, or the Powwows that we didn't cover so far?

Nakai: Yes. We're going on our 25th anniversary next year, and we have a large-scale wampum exhibit in the works that is really going to embody a ton from old-style wampum belts-- pre-contact belts in some cases. Even covering like the biology and the life cycle of a quahog and covering the shell because of its vast importance to the people here. That's something to be on the lookout for as well. Another thing like we've mentioned earlier is the virtual programming and viewings of the museum will be increasing.

We're also going to be looking for feedback on what the public would like to see and what are things-- ways that we can be allies and ways that we can help educate the public because that's who we're here for. That's what we're all about is to serve the tribal community and our family and friends. That's what we've added to our mission statement and the general public, and our communities throughout the Northeast are our family and friends.

Emily: When do you expect that the wampum exhibit would begin?

Nakai: Yes. The wampum exhibit is going to open next August. We have a Pequot women's exhibit coming in the fall of this year. That will be another interesting one. [00:18:00] Currently we have our basket exhibit running which is a great exhibit which we'll have some programming for in the near future as well.

Emily: How can people connect with you online if they can't quite come to the museum, or they want to learn a little bit more before they come?

Nakai: Absolutely. My best recommendation is to just go to the pequotmuseum.org, our website. We have just updated our website it was a dinosaur and we finally brought it at least updated a bit. It's a lot easier to access and move around and navigate. Go on the website, you can get contact numbers there, and you can reach out to us. Any questions you might have, we are open and willing to field and try to give the best response that we can. Feel free to reach out that way. Also, we have tons of information on the website to help answer any questions.

Emily: Yes, I will say when I looked at the website before our conversation there's a lot there to go through and to learn about. The virtual exhibits are really fun to scroll through-- really dynamic. I think it's a beautiful website. Well done to whoever did that. The other thing I noticed on the website actually was that you can host events in the Pequot Museum in multiple gathering spaces. Can you talk a little bit more about that? What's that like for people?

Nakai: Absolutely. The museum is a very beautiful facility located right on the edge of the cedar swamp. It's a beautiful forest behind us. The building offers a lot of beautiful views. We have a green top terrace or roof, which we offer a space for rentals, which we've had everything from weddings to baby showers out there. The gathering space, the space where we hold the Powwows that you'll be able to attend. We host [00:20:00] weddings, proms, corporate events. It's going to be the space for our gala. It's an amazing space. Like I mentioned, it's fully windowed so you really get that immersive experience with nature. We also have a 320-seat auditorium, and then we have two theaters-- 110-seat theaters also that we rent out, and we have a couple smaller classrooms if you want to do any programming.

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Emily: Thank you to the Pequot Museum and Nakai for sharing with us today, including our thematic music 2014, and 3 Beat from Nakai's family's group, Wicozani. Check the show notes for links and more information about the Powwow. Rhody Radio is proud to be a resident partner of the Rhode Island Center for the Book and brought to you by library, staff, and community members all around the ocean state.

This episode was made possible by the American Rescue Plan, Humanities Grants for Libraries, which is an initiative of the American Library Association made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. You can find more from Rhody Radio on Twitter and Facebook. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe to Rhody Radio and give us a review on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcast, or wherever you listen to help us reach more Rhode Islanders.

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[00:21:48] [END OF AUDIO]

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