Native Peoples in New England

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Native American history spans tens of thousands of thousands of years and two continents. It is a multifaceted story of dynamic cultures that in turn spawned intricate economic relationships and complex political alliances. Through it all, the relationship of First Peoples to the land has remained a central theme.

Though Native Americans of the region today known as New England share similar languages and cultures, known as Eastern Algonquian, they are not one political or social group. Rather, they comprised and still comprise many sub-groups. For example, the Pequots and Mohegans live in Connecticut, the Wampanoag reside in southeastern Massachusetts, while the Pocumtucks dwelt in the middle Connecticut River Valley near today's Deerfield, Massachusetts.1

Like the elders of other Native communities, Algonquian elders have traditionally transmitted important cultural information to the younger generations orally. This knowledge, imparted in the form of stories, includes the group's history, information on origins, beliefs and moral lessons. Oral tradition communicates rituals, political tenets, and organizational information. It is a vital element in maintaining the group's unity and sense of identity.

Creation stories, for example, help to define for the listener a sense of how human beings relate to the Creator and to the world. A creation story of the Pocumtucks explains the origin of the Pocumtuck Range, located in present-day Deerfield, and Sunderland, Massachusetts. The story tells of a huge lake in which lived a rapacious giant beaver. The people complained to the god Hobomok that the beaver was attacking them and consuming all of the local resources. Hobomok decided to kill the beaver. Following a titanic struggle, Hobomok vanquished the beaver with a club fashioned from an enormous tree. The body of the beaver sank into the lake, turned to stone, and formed the Pocumtuck Range.

Such stories and their settings establish the Native American presence on this land from time immemorial by relating how the Creator placed the First Peoples in their traditional homelands. Homelands are stable and permanent cultural and physical landscapes where Native nations have lived, and in some cases, continue to live to the present day. (Handsman 13). Creation stories thus reflect the central place their relationship with the land occupies in the culture and hi...

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...e relatively positive relations that characterized early trade relations between European traders and Native Americans quickly deteriorated. Cultural clashes and disputes over land escalated as English towns grew and population pressures intensified colonists' demand for more land.

The English settlement of Springfield is an example of how first European trader and then settlement affected pre-existing Native American trade networks and political relations. Settled in 1636, Springfield was the first English settlement in the middle Connecticut River Valley. Englishman William Pynchon and his son John quickly established a lucrative fur trade with local Native peoples. Native hunters traded furs for European products, while the English sold their furs back to England for high profits. By the 1650s, however, hunters had exhausted the fur supply of the region. Tensions between Native communities flared into open hostility as hunters traveled further into territories outside their homelands to find beavers. Warfare between the Kanien'kehaka (Mohawks) of the Haudenosaunee from Eastern New York and the Pocumtucks in 1664 pushed many Pocumtucks from the central area of their homeland.
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