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Battlefield conference burnishes Pequot museum’s profile

September 27, 2018

Mashantucket — Given the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe’s early history, it seems somehow appropriate that the tribe would host a major conference on battlefield archaeology.

That the tribe’s doing so within weeks of the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center’s 20th anniversary is just a coincidence, though, Kevin McBride, the museum’s director of research, said Wednesday before welcoming an audience to the 10th Biennial Fields of Conflict Conference.

The conference, which is open to the public, features some 90 presenters representing 28 countries and five continents, and continues through Sunday.

While European academics have been studying battlefield archaeology far longer than the Mashantuckets have, McBride noted that the museum has had a keen interest in the subject since 2007, when it launched its “Battlefields of the Pequot War” project, an ongoing study of the 17th-century conflict between the tribe and the English.

“We’ve been increasingly interested in Fields of Conflict,” he said. “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could hold it here?’”

The museum, which opened Aug. 11, 1998, won a grant a couple of years ago to help defray the cost of the conference and spent the last 18 months preparing for this week’s event, McBride said.

Two of the previous nine Fields of Conflict conferences were held in the United States, including the 2014 event, which the University of South Carolina hosted, and the 2004 event in Nashville, Tenn. The 2016 conference took place in Dublin, Ireland. Earlier ones were held in Scotland, Finland, England, Belgium, Germany and Hungary.

“This is one of the many events that gives the museum exposure,” Rodney Butler, the Mashantucket tribal chairman, said. “The museum’s selection (as host) says something about the facility and our team here. It sends a message that this is a world-class facility.” 

The museum celebrated its anniversary last month by unveiling a new exhibit of the works of 20 local Mashantucket Pequot artists. Open through early December, the exhibit showcases traditional and contemporary Native works, including wampum, beadwork, illustrations, baskets, rattles and gourds, videography, photography, poetry and modern makeup artistry. Demonstrations of basket-weaving, beading and moccasin design will be on display throughout the duration of the exhibit.

In late August, the museum hosted the inaugural Intertribal Food Sovereignty Summit, a three-day event.

The museum financially has struggled in recent years and has been without a director since Jason Mancini abruptly resigned in December. Butler acknowledged that the tribe is in “search mode,” seeking to fill several key positions including the top museum post, as well as that of tribal chief of staff, which oversees the museum.

Butler, who is serving as interim chief executive officer of the tribe’s Foxwoods Resort Casino, said the tribe still intends for the museum to operate “more like a traditional nonprofit” with a board of directors. He said a permanent replacement for the former Foxwoods CEO, Felix Rappaport, who died unexpectedly in June, also is being sought.

Addressing the conference Wednesday, Butler touched on the importance of McBride’s team’s archaeological research into the Pequot War and its pivotal battle.

“When you think about the story that’s been written compared to the story we (now) know, they’re completely different,” Butler said. “Until we started doing this research, we wouldn’t have known that my ancestors fought back valiantly. ... We are all rewriting history.”

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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