FAQ for the Nipmuc Indian Association of Connecticut
Nipmuc Indian Association of Connecticut, Inc.

Q. Traditionally, did Nipmuc Indians live in a tipi? Were they nomadic hunters?
A. No, Nipmuc people lived in a dome-shaped lodge called a 'wetu', called 'wigwam' by other Algonquian speaking peoples. A 'wetu' is constructed from a frame of criss-crossing saplings bent in a u-shape, which is then covered with woven cattail mats or sheets of pealed hardwood bark, leaving a smoke hole at the top. A wetu was complete with low sleeping platforms and was big enough for an extended family to live in. Nipmucs were never exclusively 'nomadic hunters'. Even their ancestors twelve thousand years ago arranged themselves on the landscape according to a very deliberate and calculated seasonal schedule. It requires an intimate knowledge of the regional environment, not haphazard luck, to know exactly when and where to move to the most abundant resources. Although large game animals were a very important food resource to Nipmucs and their ancestors in Connecticut, they were also gatherers and fishermen. In addition to the meat procured from deer and other large mammals, the Nipmucs relied equally and perhaps more heavily on plant and fish resources. By the time Europeans invaded, the Nipmucs were living in semi-permanent villages (at least for a season) and were practicing fundamental maize-bean-squash agriculture.

Q. Are the Nipmucs a Nation? a Tribe? a Band? Why are there so many different groups with different names calling themselves Nipmuc?
A. This is a difficult question to answer. The word Nipmuc translates into English as 'Fresh Water People'. Before European colonization, Nipmucs did not live along the coastline of southern New England, but rather set up their villages along interior rivers, lakes and large swamps. Overland travel and communication was more difficult between areas removed from the coast or off the main waterways, but interior groups were not faced with the fierce territorial competition of coastal Tribes. Among the highly organized Tribes like the Pequot, Mohegan, Nehantic, Narragansett, Wampanoag and others, by European contact there was strict defense of traditional shellfishing beds and other coastal resources. It is not surprising that the Nipmuc and other interior groups would develop a unique social and political relationship, different from coastal groups. It is likely that the Nipmuc were organized into a loose confederation or alliance of related villages. This is not to say that the Nipmuc did not have a designated leader, only that a single leader would have difficulty managing the daily tribulations of a area covering hundreds of square miles. Villages or bands probably acted politically as a unit, making major decisions as a tribal unit, when faced with situations on a regional scale, but these villages were predominantly independent in their daily lives and subsistence activities. Today there is no single organized Nipmuc Tribe. There are however, several Nipmuc groups (such as the Hasinamisco and Chaubunagungamaug Bands in Massachusetts) which have survived the centuries and remain active in the Native American community.

Q. Are any groups of Nipmucs 'recognized' as a Tribe by the U.S. Federal Government?
A. Currently there are no bands of Nipmucs that are recognized as a Tribe by the Federal Government. Federal recognition is a difficult, if not impossible process! A petition for federal recognition for an Indian Tribe must satisfy seven specific governmental criteria which involve proving continuous social, political, and geographic organization as a traditional Native American group since before European colonization, even through the centuries when European invaders made it illegal for such a group to exist! The combined Chaubunagungamaug and Hasinamisco Bands of the Nipmuc are among five tribal groups in Massachusetts currently seeking federal recognition.

Q. My family tells me that an ancestor of mine was Nipmuc. How can I verify this information? How can I get more information regarding this Nipmuc ancestor?
A. Genealogical research will provide you with a great deal of information. Genealogical research is quite time consuming, requires some special resources AND patience! You must do it on your own or hire someone to do it. The name of the ancestor may be recognizable as Nipmuc. Native American genealogical research has some unique challenges. It hasn't always been in a person's best interest to identify themselves as a Native American, and the information may not appear in written historic records, but instead was passed down through oral family histories. Talk to all your relatives, they may know more than you assume. If you are lucky enough to find the name or birthplace of a particular ancestor, to that place and look through the written records of local town halls, churches and historical societies. Birth, marriage and death records are excellent sources of information; property deeds, tax accessor records and census reports can also be quite useful. There are many genealogical research aids right on the Internet, several of which cater to Native American research.

Q. Your membership blank includes a section that asks for a "Certificate # (if any)". What does that mean? Who is eligible for such a certificate? From whom do you receive such a certificate?
A. The Nipmuc certification program is defunct. Nevertheless, it has led to knowledge of many generations of people whose heritage is Nipmuc.

Q. Am I or my children eligible for membership in your tribe?
A. NIAC is a nonprofit organization, not a tribe. Read about NIAC membership on the Home Page.

Q. Where can I find out more about your current activities and where they are held?
A. There is now a current list of NIAC's upcoming program activities that is updated quarterly as the NIAC newsletter is published. Specific locations of the activities are not provided, as most activities are for NIAC members only, and NIAC's public programs often require advance registration. If you are interested in attending any of the program activities... fill out a membership form and join our community!

Q. Are members of your organization available to provide demonstrations of crafts, storytelling, or of traditional dancing or drumming?
A. While many members of NIAC have a personal interest in these areas, the organization does not currently have representatives available for outside public programs. Occasionally NIAC will sponsor public or membership-only program activities and/or socials which involve crafts, storytelling, dancing and drumming. NIAC is in a 'developmental stage' of organization; the focus of our energy is in preserving Nipmuc history, material culture, sacred lands, and in rebuilding a sense of community among Nipmucs living in Connecticut today. But who knows what the future holds...

If you have other questions, you may write to:

Joan Luster, President
Nipmuc Indian Association of Connecticut
Box 411
Thompson, CT 06277-0411

We appreciate your interest!

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