November is American Indian Heritage Month, and New England offers several wonderful Native American exhibits at museums and living history sites. Here are four to explore.
The Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology at Harvard University in Cambridge exudes a feeling of reverence. Perhaps it’s the tribal music playing softly in the background, or the filtered light. As you venture forth, there’s a sense that the past is a mystery to explore and respect.
Kids are attracted to the dioramas of long houses, round houses, pueblos, teepees and igloos. The Legacy of Penobscot Canoes: A View from the River, explores the importance of rivers and canoes in Penobscot tribal life and the relationships they had with non-Indians.
As you step deeper into one room, massive totem poles with carved wooden faces light up on automatic light sensors, representing stories or events from Native American culture. Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology (Harvard University), 11 Divinity Ave., Cambridge. 617-496-1027; peabody.harvard.edu.
Following the trail at Plimoth Plantation, you can search for the Wampanoag Homesite. At a clearing, a cooking fire crackles near a traditional wetu (house). A man dressed in 17th-century deerskin clothing uses fire and tools to carve out the insides of a canoe. He invites us to look inside the wetu, to touch the woven bulrush mats and furs. Unlike the Plantation’s 1627 English Village, this man is not an actor re-enacting history. He’s a native Wampanoag living nearby and working at Plimoth Plantation to share his culture. Plimoth Plantation, 137 Warren Ave., Plymouth. 508-746-1622; plimoth.org.
Well to the north is the unexpected treasure of the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, 20 minutes northwest of Concord, N.H. The museum is divided into galleries showcasing Native Americans of the Northeast, Southeast, Southwest, the Plains and the Northwest Coast. Each highlights the diverse lifestyles of the tribes, from their shelters, tools and clothing to their crafts and ceremonial artifacts.
Take the Connect the Circle Tour and go on a guided walk of Medicine Woods Nature Trail, where you’ll learn about native plants that the Indians used for food, medicine and shelter. During the year, the museum offers special events and celebrations that include Native American craft demonstrations and traditional performances. Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, Kearsarge Mountain Road, Warner, N.H. 603-456-3244; indianmuseum.org.
The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem is known for its maritime and East India trade collections. Since its founding in 1799, the museum has also amassed thousands of Native American artifacts, from headdresses, beaded moccasins, spear points and clay pipes to contemporary paintings, sculpture and crafts. After viewing the Native American Art gallery, the Contemporary Native American Art gallery allows you to see how today’s natives view the past, present and future through their artwork. Peabody Essex Museum, East India Square, Salem. 978-745-9500; pem.org.