Mashantucket Pequot Museum Library and Archives Blog

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Frequently Confused Tribal Designations

Image: distribution of Algonquian languages,
Source: Wikipedia commons
Algonquian (Algonkian) Vs. Algonquin (Algonkin)

The term Algonquian (pronounced al-GON-kee-in) refers to a language family- that is a group of related languages- spoken from Northeastern North America to the Rocky Mountains. Peoples speaking one of these Algonquian languages are sometimes referred to as Algonquian Indians, which is a broader term than their specific tribal name, such as Mi’kmaq, Ojibwa, Wampanoag, etc. This broader term, Algonquian Indians, is often subdivided geographically, as in Eastern Algonquian and Central Algonquian, each of which includes many different tribes. The Pequot, for example, are considered an Eastern Algonquian tribe.

The term for the language family was derived from the name of a specific tribal people, the Algonquin. According to Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, 3rd Ed. (Carl Waldman, Editor. New York: Facts on File, 2006), the Algonquin currently consist of nine bands with reserve lands in Quebec and Ontario, with the Abitibi as a subtribe.

Both are sometimes spelled with a ‘k’, instead of ‘qu’.

Mahican (Mohican) Vs. Mohegan

The tribal names Mahican (Mohican) and Mohegan are similarly confused. Each is a distinct tribe, though their histories share a relatively close geographic area.

The Mahican historically lived in what is now New York (northern Hudson Valley), and also in the areas of southern Vermont, western Massachusetts, and northwestern Connecticut. In the 18th Century, various Mahican bands relocated or merged with other Algonquian tribes. The Stockbridge-Munsee tribe of Wisconsin is the result of the merger of the Munsee band of Lenni Lenape and Stockbridge band of Mahican. They now use the spelling Mohican, with an ‘o’.

The Mohegan is a Connecticut tribe, culturally and historically related to the Pequot. Their present day reservation is in Uncasville, Connecticut where they operate Mohegan Sun Casino.

The fictional Mohican people, featured in James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans, is a creation of the author, which draws on elements of both the tribes mentioned above.

Note: There is also a group calling themselves “Western Mohegan Tribe and Nation”, located in Greenfield Park, New York. Though they use the name Mohegan, they claim historical connection to the New York/Vermont Mahicans mentioned above. They were exposed as fraudulent in 2004 ( See New York Times article, June 3, 2004: )

Eastern Pequot Vs. Western Pequot

The history of the Pequot Tribe and their ultimate division into Eastern and Western factions has been well documented (see especially Campisi, Jack. “The Emergence of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe”. In The Pequots of Southern New England: The Rise and Fall of an American Indian Nation, Hauptman and Wherry, eds. University of Oklahoma Press, 1990.) To summarize, after the Pequot War, the resulting Treaty of Hartford forbade the Pequot to remain as a tribe and divided its members among the tribes allied with the English, primarily the Mohegan and Narragansett. Over time, the Pequots violated the treaty and regrouped, then becoming generally divided into two bands, the Eastern Pequot near the Paucatuck River in Stonington, Connecticut, and the Western, or Mashantucket Pequot located themselves originally near the Thames River in New London, Conn.

The following passage, from The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation, edited by Laurence M. Hauptman and James D. Wherry, provides more detail:

"At the close of the Pequot War, the tribe faced annihilation, a majority of the tribe having been killed and the remainder enslaved. In disposing of the few survivors, the colonies sent some Pequots to the Narranganxetts, the Mohegans, and the Eastern Niantics. In addition, a few were sold into slavery and shipped to Bermuda, or given to local English settlers to work on their farms.

These arrangements did not last, partly because the English quickly realized that they had unwittingly strengthened their potential foes, and partly because the enslaved tribal members were unwilling to accept their condition. By the 1650s the two groups of Pequots under the control of the Narrangansett sachem Miantonomo and Uncas, sachem of the Mohegans, had achieved independence from their captors. Having freed themselves, the Pequots again presented a problem to the English: what was the colony of Connecticut going to do with them? Its answer was to establish four Indian towns supervised by two Pequot "governors". Under this arrangement Robin Cassacinamon, who headed the Western or Mashantucket Pequots, as they later were called, controlled Nameag and Nawpauge, while Caushawashett, also known as Wequash Cook and Harmon Garrett, leader of the Eastern Pequots controlled Pauguatuck and Weepauge."

Today the Mashantucket Pequot are a federally recognized tribe whose reservation is in Mashantucket (Ledyard) Conn. The Eastern (Paucatuck) Pequot are based in North Stonington, Conn.

Note: The Eastern Pequots split in early 1980s into two factions: Eastern Pequots and Paucatuck Eastern Pequots. The BIA recognized the groups as one in the same in a 2002 decision, but revoked federal recognition (along with the Schaghticoke) in 2005 following pressure from local interest groups. They now are united as one under the name Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation. See “Schaghticoke and Eastern Pequot Decisions Reversed” Indian Country Today, October 19, 2005.

Sources consulted

Hauptman, Laurence M. and James D. Wherry, eds. The Pequots in Southern New England: The Fall and Rise of an American Indian Nation. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1990.

Guilette, Mary E. American Indians in Connecticut, Past to Present. Connecticut Indian Affairs Council, 1979

Swann, Brain, ed. Algonquian Spirit : Contemporary Translations of the Algonquian Literatures of North America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, c2005.

Waldman, Carl, ed. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Trigger, Bruce G., ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Vol. 15, Northeast. Washington : Smithsonian Institution, 1978.


Anonymous said...

There is still one tribe of mahicans in New York State and they are know as the Hudson River Indians there They are decedents of "Toanunck" aka John VanGilder of Sheffield Ma.

nikkitembo said...

Posts like these are important for those people who are not well versed with different tribes. It is a great way to educate the public.

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