Smoke billowed from a small fire last Thursday, May 2, as members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation and Southampton Town officials cut the ribbon on Wikun Village—a new living history phase of the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum.
Despite the mix of mist and smoke, and with rumbles of thunder rolling in the distance, the community was not dissuaded from celebrating the tribe’s success in opening the first Native American-operated living history village on Long Island.
“Over time, it is difficult to see the realization of our efforts, but today is that day,” said Winonah Warren, the president of the museum’s board of directors. “This is not just a political world we live in, it’s also a cultural world, and the cultural piece is much more powerful than the political.”
The museum’s director and curator, David Bunn Martine, snipped the purple ribbon, and a flood of familiar faces, political and otherwise, entered the re-created village, where a wigwam sat waiting for completion. Just a few yards away, the visitors admired a small “three sisters” garden, in which were growing beans, corn and squash, and a hand-built canoe that took two weeks to carve from a white pine tree.
Once the village opens to the general public, visitors will watch and take part in demonstrations on everything Shinnecock, from how to make a canoe to basket weaving, making pottery and cooking traditional meals. Tribal members won’t be role-playing but will be dressed in period-correct clothing to create an authentic opportunity for visitors to learn about the Shinnecock culture.
“I envision school buses lined up from everywhere to learn about our culture firsthand—not from the first four pages of a history book,” said tribal elder Elizabeth Thunder Bird Haile. “I’m very proud.”
Not only will students, tourists and the Southampton community learn about the intricacies of the Shinnecock Nation and its culture, those who will work inside Wikun Village will have a fuller knowledge of the life their ancestors lived. For the past year, volunteers from within the tribe have been brushing up on Shinnecock tradition.
Ultimately, the tribe will have experts in traditional finger-weaving, twining, tool-making, and in a multitude of trades and skills that will be passed on to others.
“This is part of our heritage, and it’s being passed on to future generations,” Ms. Haile said with a grin as a young man in regalia began chopping wood a few feet away. “I love to see the young people working.”
Hard work hasn’t fallen only to the volunteers but to the Shinnecock Museum’s staff and board members. The village was a goal from the start when the museum opened in 2001 but didn’t get off the ground until the Administration for Native Americans, a department of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, awarded the museum a two-year, $700,000 grant, according to Andrea Godoy, the museum’s assistant director.
To keep the project going, the museum is launching a $2.5 million fundraising campaign, slated to be raised by August 15.
“We’re not done yet,” Ms. Godoy said. “It takes a whole lot more to raise a village and keep it going.”
Wikun Village will be open this week, through Monday, May 20, for a free preview for those who want to get a first glimpse at what it was like to live in a late 17th or early 18th century Shinnecock Village. The village’s grand opening will be held Memorial Day weekend, from Saturday, May 25, to Monday, May 27, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Regular hours will be 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday.
Following the free preview, admission starts at $6.75 for children over 5 years old, $7.50 for students and seniors and $10 for adults. For more information, visit www.shinnecockmuseum.com.