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Whose Land is It?

Woody Guthrie sang “This land is your land, this land is my land… this land was made for you and me” in their hit song “This Land is Your Land.” It’s a catchy American classic, but it may overlook a very important question: whose land is it really? 

Not surprisingly, we find that this land is not ours, nor was it made for “you and me.” 

The land belongs to those who lived here long before we even knew there was land across the Atlantic Ocean. We live on Indigenous lands, but we’re often negligent of that fact, partly because it would require us to face the inexplicable harms we caused in order to settle and create the society we live in today. While Native Americans still occupy the region, their populations were greatly reduced from Western diseases, war and conflict, taxes imposed by the Europeans, and slavery. 

Like the U.S., Connecticut has a rich Native American history that experienced devastating losses as the Europeans arrived. In fact, the word Connecticut has Indigenous roots, and is Algonquain for “long river,” referring to the Connecticut River.1 Tribes that originally inhabited Connecticut are: Mahican, Minisink, Mohegan, Wipmuc, Sequin, Matabesec or Wappinger Confederacy, Pequot, Nipmuc, and Quiripi.1-3 Within these tribes include bands of smaller tribes with their own leadership, territory, and unique language. Native culture in Connecticut was heavily agricultural, with primary crops including maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, artichokes, and tobacco.2 

Image Description: Map of Indian Tribes prior to colonization in the New England region (Graphicscoursenetwork.com). Does NOT include all tribes that existed, but includes major tribes.

However, when the Puritans, led by Thomas Hooker, settled in Newtown (now Hartford), they took over Indigenoous lands for their proximity to water and agricultural land.2 Those remaining were forced to flee as a result of King Philip’s War (1675). Yet, not all conflicts contributing to Native American declines in CT were between the Europeans and the Natives. Prior to 1637, the Pequot were considered the “most dreaded tribe.” 2 The Pequot were known for their warlike nature and invaded other Indigenous lands, forcing them to flee or merge into other tribes. The Pequot’s “land grabbing” was further perpetuated as settlers colonized Indigenous lands, resulting in more invasions to acquire land.2 Moreover, the Pequot engaged in conflict with the Europeans, attacking the settlers and providing refuge to the Block Indians who raided John Oldham’s vessel in 1636.2 This resulted in The Pequot War, in which the settlers raided Pequot Villages for their role in settler attacks, killing many and forcing the remaining Pequots to flee toward the Hudson River.2 It is estimated that approximately 70 Pequot were killed during the war, not including those captured and executed.2

Despite Connecticut’s long standing Indigenous history, only two tribes have federal recognition: the Mashantucket Pequot Nation and the Mohegan Tribe.1 However, the Eastern Pequot, Paucatuck Eastern Pequot, and Schaghticoke Tribes still remain in the state.1 

The loss of Indigenous culture across the United States had numerous consequences, especially for environmental management. Indigenous views of nature and the environment work within set boundaries, meaning they never take more than they need, something lost in our current exploitative approaches. When the settlers arrived, they saw the New World as “untouched” and “wild,” which is a prominent narrative in conservation and environmental science. However, the land was not “untouched” nor “wild,” rather it was a product of Indigenous sustainable land management.4 The notion that the land was wild and thus needed taming by Europeans meant that the Europeans lost an opportunity to learn from the first environmentalists in the United States, despite history telling us other figures, such as John Muir, were the first of their kind. Indeed, John Muir was not the first environmentalist, and the land in Yosemite that now bears his name was originally known as Nüü mo Poyo, which displaced the Ahwahneechee Tribe that occupied the National Park.5 

CFPA acknowledges we are on the traditional lands of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the Mohegans, the Eastern Pequot, Schaghticoke, Golden Hill Paugussett, Nipmuc, and Niantic peoples. We pay our respect to the Indigenous people who are no longer here due to colonization, forced relocation, disease, and warfare. We thank them for stewarding this land throughout generations. We recognize the continued presence of Indigenous people on this territory who have survived attempted genocide, and who still hold ties to the land spiritually and culturally. We shall be good stewards of the land we all call Quinnentucket, Connecticut.


Claire Nichols (she/her) studies Environmental Resource Management and Geographic Information Science at Arizona State University. She is a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar at Yale University and is passionate about policy, transit oriented development, and environmental justice.

References

[1] Native Languages. (n.d.). Native American Tribes of Connecticut. 

[2] Women's History Blog. (n.d.). Native Americans in Connecticut. 

[3] CT State Library. (n.d.). Native American Research. 

[4] Patterson, S. (2019). What Native Americans Can Teach US About Sustainability. Off the Grid News. 

[5] Moye, J. (2018). Jaylyn Gough Asks: Whose Land Are You Exploring? Outside. 

[6] Native Governance Center. (n.d.). Indigenous Land Acknowledgement. 

[7] Graphic Coursework. (n.d.). A Description of the yYellow-knives a Small Tribe of Indians.

[Image]. 

Resources:

Interactive Map:

Native Land. (n.d.). Find Out What Tribal Land You’re On. 

Reading:

Akomawt. (n.d.). Educational Initiative.  

Connecticut History. (n.d.). Native Americans.

The Institute for American Indian Studies Museum and Research Center. (n.d.). The Institute for American Indian Studies. 

Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions. 

Lavin, L. (2013). Connecticut’s Indigenous Peoples: What Archaeology, History, and Oral Traditions Teach Us about Their Communities and Cultures. Yale University Press.

LaFleur, S. & Smart, T. (2010). Going Native: The Sustainable Choice. Native Plants.

Marchand, M. E. (2013). The River of Life: Sustainable Practices of Native Americans and Indienous Peoples[dissertation]. University of Washington.

Native American Nations. (n.d.). Connecticut Indian Land Cessions. 

Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. (n.d.). American Indian Responses to Environmental Challenges.

U.S. EPA. (n.d.). Environmental Justice for Tribes and Indigenous Peoples.

Wong, A. (2021). Green job’s path to middle class, sustainability largely blocked to Native Americans. USAToday. 

Listening: 

Nagle, R. (Host). (n.d.). This Land. [Podcast]. Crooked.

Walker, C. (Host). (n.d.). Missing and Murdered. [Podcast]. CBS Media Centre.

Wilbur, M. & Keene, A. (Hosts). (n.d.). All My Relations. [Podcast].