SOUTH WINDSOR – Behind the Wood Memorial Library in South Windsor, visitors will find a wooden fence with a sign reading ‘Nowashe Village’. This fence marks the entrance to the village of Nowashe Podunk, a Native American exhibit that shows visitors what the Native American settlements in the area looked like.
According to the library’s executive director, Carolyn Venne, the library had been educating visitors about Native American heritage for years and had a makeshift wigwam. This unique exhibit then developed into a replica of an entire colony.
“This is what it looked like when settlers first moved up the Connecticut River,” Venne said.
The village, completed last year, now consists of two wigwams, a “three sisters” garden and a sachem house. There is also a large gathering space where common fires are held.
The village was first funded by a $ 75,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. The library then had to cover 25 percent of that amount, bringing the cost to six figures, Venne said.
The opening was delayed due to damage from a storm last year, and this is the first year that the village has been operational.
The replica of the village is near the Connecticut River where many small tribes lived, according to Venne. One of these tribes would have been known as the Podunk tribe.
“There is a bit of a mystery as to whether they were called the Podunks,” Venne said, adding, “We don’t know if that was a name given to them by the settlers.”
The aim of the exhibition is both to teach about the past culture of Native Americans in the region, but also to teach how their culture influences us today.
“It’s not just about learning about people in a static environment at the time,” Venne said.
“They have adapted over time and have influenced the way we use things a lot today. Native American studies are not like studying dinosaurs, she added.
An example given by Venne is that studying Native American culture can teach people to use their natural environment.
All buildings and structures are made from local plants and woods. The only artificial part is the realistic rubber tree bark that makes up the wigwams, which will outlast the real bark.
The Three Sisters Garden also shows visitors how Native Americans took advantage of the different attributes of plants to simultaneously grow corn, beans and squash.
Squash plants spread out and shade the roots of corn plants, according to Venne. When the corn grows, the bean plants are able to climb the corn plants. This method of gardening is known as traditional companion planting.
The exhibit also features plants that Native Americans used for medicinal purposes and weapons. Witch hazel is one such herb that can be good for people’s skin. Arrowwood is another useful plant, as the natives used the stems in spears.
The village exhibit will serve as a destination for school trips, where students will learn archeology and stone tool making while walking through the woods through the exhibit.
Students will also learn about the oral tradition of the Amerindians. According to Venne, storytelling was a big part of their culture as they did not have a written language.
The exhibit also often hosts Native Americans who demonstrate their crafts such as basketry and pottery.
Venne wishes to draw more attention to modern Native Americans and their culture.
“So many students are visiting who don’t even know Native Americans still exist,” she said.
The exhibit will host an event to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday. Experts will be there to talk about stone tools through time, as well as a nurse experienced in the use of medicinal plants such as those grown in the exhibit.
Dylan and Andrew Smith from the Shinnecock / Montauk / Unkechaug Tribal Nations will also be there to answer questions about Native Americans today.
“This is an opportunity to ask questions that you might be too afraid to ask,” said Venne, who said there would be question prompts available to people.
The library will also show films focusing on cultural appropriation. These films were created by the library during the pandemic as “virtual field trips,” according to Venne.
“Part of our goal is to involve people in what it means to be Native American today,” Venne said.
The event will be free for all visitors. The exhibition will also be open on Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. until November 13.
Ben covers Coventry and Tolland for the Inquirer Journal.