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  • Courtesy photo

    A wigwam at Plimouth Plantation.
  • Courtesy photo

    A colonial building at Plimouth Plantation.
  • Courtesy photo

    The framework for a wigwam.
Sunday, January 9, 2011

Here’s where to go to find out more about the Pennacook

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last in an occasional series about the Pennacook Indians, who lived in this area before the city of Nashua was formed.

Over the last year, I’ve been writing about the history and culture of the Pennacook people, who lived here long before there was such a thing as Nashua, a New Hampshire or even a New England.

During this time, quite a few people have told me they want to learn more and asked where they could visit to gather this information.

With this final article in the series, I want to give all of the readers this much wanted information. Here is a brief description of the places I’ve found helpful over the years. All are within a four-hour drive of Nashua, starting with the closest and working my way outward.

Manchester Millyard Museum

Located in one of the old mill buildings that stretch along the banks of the Merrimack River in Manchester, the Millyard Museum has much to offer.

Despite its relatively small size, the museum covers life along this stretch of the river from pre-contact Native habitation right up to modern times. There are many Pennacook artifacts on display.

Amoskeag Fishways

Run in cooperation with many organizations, the Amoskeag Fishways in Manchester is devoted to teaching the public about the natural way of life and man’s part in it along the Merrimack River.

More than just showing artifacts, although it has its share, the Fishways teaches visitors how the Pennacook, and later the European settlers, interacted with the river.

The Fishways also hosts numerous Native speakers throughout the year.

Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum

Located at the base of Mount Kearsarge in Warner, this museum is one of the best of its kind. A visit here will take you through the worlds of different Native people from coast to coast. There are many items on display from all of these people.

The museum is “dedicated to connecting people of today with 20,000 years of Native American cultural expressions.”

Penobscot Nation Museum

Heading north to Maine is the Penobscot Nation Museum, located on Indian Island, near Bangor. The museum is “dedicated to preserving and sharing the rich cultural heritage of the Penobscot and Wabanaki people.”

This museum houses artifacts that span thousands of years and gives examples of Wabanaki culture.

Abenaki Tribal Museum

The Abenaki Tribal Museum is in Swanton, Vt. It was designed by Fred M. Wiseman, an authority on Abenaki and Wabanaki culture and a person I look up to, and houses many items traditional to the Abenaki people.

This museum and the Penobscot in Maine are especially important when studying the culture of the Pennacook people, because the Pennacook fled to the Penobscot and the Abenaki during the colonial expansion of the late 1600s and early 1700s.

Tribal Museum of the Mohegan Nation

The Tribal Museum of the Mohegan People is in in Uncasville, Conn. The Mohegan and their ancestors inhabited this part of Connecticut long before the arrival of the Europeans. This small, yet intimate, museum is a must-see.

Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center

The Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center is in Mashantucket, Conn. This museum “presents the rich history of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the histories and cultures of other tribes, and the region’s natural histories and cultures through a series of innovative presentations.”

The exhibits are amazing, and the museum has changing specials throughout the year. A visit here is well worth the drive.

Plimoth Plantation

Plimoth Plantation is in Plymouth, Mass. The plantation is a truly living museum. The visitor can experience both a colonial village and a Wampanoag home site. Both allow visitors to immerse themselves in New England in the 1600s.

While none of the museums are Pennacook exclusive, you’ll get a feel for New England as it was prior to and just after the arrival of Europeans.

You must remember that there were no state lines dividing the peoples of this area prior to the arrival of the Europeans, who parceled off the land with no regard for the Native inhabitants.

The Native people of the Northeast traded freely with each other, exchanging ideas and customs, as well as material.

They also were at war with each other at times. Even members of different Wabanaki nations fought among themselves.

What we call New England wasn’t a utopia, as many people would like to think. There were times of sickness, death, hardships and warfare.

The idea of the “noble savage” is just as wrong as the idea of Native people being little more than animals that needed to be “saved” by European culture.

In some cases, the Native people were more “civilized” than the Europeans who swore to “save” them.

I encourage all of you to learn more about the Pennacook and other Native people. Our present culture wouldn’t be the same without them. After all, we’ve always been here, and we aren’t going anywhere.

Dana Benner, who grew up in Hudson and lives in Bedford, is of Penobscot/Micmac descent and is a member of the New Hampshire Inter-tribal Council. He has been studying and researching Native American history and culture for more than 25 years. His research has taken him throughout the Northeast, Alaska, the Plains and Hawaii. He has given seminars to schools and civic groups on the Native history of New Hampshire. He is also working toward a Bachelor of Arts in U.S. History and Native Culture from Granite State College.