What is a Land Acknowledgment, and why have we created one?
A Land Acknowledgment is a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigineous Peoples as traditional stewards of our land, and the lasting relationship that exists between Indigineous Peoples and their traditional territory. We have created a Land Acknowledgment as a way to express our gratitude and appreciation to those people who lived, worked, loved, and thrived on this land long before us. It is important for us to understand the history that brought us to live on this land, and to understand our place within that history. This process helps us to cultivate mindfulness, kindness, and our sense of community responsibility, here in the place we live.
Our Land Acknowledgment
The staff, students, and parents of our Emerson-Williams Elementary School community would like to formally and sincerely acknowledge the fact that our school rests on the ancestral land of the Wongunk Tribe of Wethersfield, Connecticut. The Wongunk were teaching and learning on this land first. We honor and respect this land, and we are grateful to all the people who have cared for this land throughout the generations.
The Wongunk were Eastern Algonquin indiginous people who lived along the Connecticut River in central Connecticut. Their main village, Wongunk (meaning “where the river bends”) is also how the tribe got its name. The Wongunk village was located on the east side of the river, but they had at least a half a dozen villages on both sides of the river. While the name Wethersfield came from the European settlers, the Wongunk referred to our town as Pyquag.
The Wongunk Tribe has many name variants (Wangunk, Wongum, Mattabesett, Mattabesch, Pyquag, River Indians, Middletown Indians, and Sequins.) They lived in Wethersfield and cared for this land during the early part of the 1600s. While the Wongunks lived in Wethersfield, they also had major settlements in Portland and Middletown.
While it is not clear exactly when the Wongunks first came into contact with the Europeans, the first recorded contact was in 1614. In subsequent years, the Wongunk land became a focal point for the European fur trade. The tribe’s location along the Connecticut River, provided close access to nearby inland forests, where fur-bearing animals thrived. Marsh hay in the low meadows and the rich soil attracted many settlers who planted their farms on the terrace above the river. The forests also provided tremendous timber for houses. Like many other Native American tribes, the Wongunk fell victim to English colonization. In 1634, English colonists began to settle in Wethersfield. With English colonization, the Wongunks also suffered diseases, broken promises, and enslavement. It is likely the Wongunks were the first enslaved people in Wethersfield, in the early 1600s. While the Wongunks sold the land in Wethersfield to the English, the land deals between the Wongunks and the English contained broken promises that led to conflicts between the Wongunks and the English.
It is interesting to note that the Wongunks operated under a system of Matrilineal Kinship, where the tracing of kinship was done through the female line. The Wongunk women shared responsibilities and power within this tribe.
While the Wongunks today are not recognized as a tribe by either the United States federal government, nor the state of Connecticut, we would like to honor them for living on this land and caring for this land prior to the arrival of the European settlers.