By Annette Hinkle
Conversation with Matauqus Tarrant, site manager and assistant curator at the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum in Southampton.
Two weeks ago, a fence and shed near the Wikun Living History Village, which opened in May at the museum, was vandalized and spray-painted with graffiti. What was the nature of the messages painted on the fence?
There was no common theme. There were some vulgar drawings, a racial slur and obscenities, some initials and slang terms. I don’t think they had an agenda, it seems like it may have been kids who were just lashing out for no reason.
Have there been any updates about who might have been responsible for the damage?
What was your immediate response to the graffiti?
For me it was quick. As site manager and assistant curator at the museum, I have the ability to make judgment calls in where we go with our message. I wanted it to be documented that it occurred and cleaned up and the perpetrator brought to justice and the community healed. The first two things needed to be done in one day. We’re a business and have operational hours – it occurred on a Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning we found the damage. We’re closed on Wednesdays, but we the have museum staff come in who have responsibilities to get things done. I’m not happy it happened, but I’m more happy it happened on a day we’re not open. If a school group had come in and seen the words, we would have had to explain what had happened.
So clean up began immediately?
We have a fairly large part time staff, they were all present and even if they were not scheduled, came in to help clean. We reached out to One Source Tool to donate a power washer, which they gave us. Currently our funding is under a grant for Native Americans, but it only funds the cost of the village itself. We can’t use the monies for something else, so this was an unexpected cost and a big burden on the museum.
What sort of help is the museum seeking in connection to the vandalism?
We’re really reaching out for donations. A few people have come to the door and put cash in the box. We also have a link on Facebook to raise money and would like to have a mural in place on the fence. Our director, David Bunn Martine, is an artist. We’ve raised about $100 so far.
Do those of you who run the museum see this as an opportunity to turn it into a positive?
I do want to have a time to reflect on what this all meant. To me it would be more meaningful to have the mural done and have a symposium at that time. This happened two weeks before our pow wow and all the focus has been getting that together. It does need to be revisited given our mission of awareness and understanding of Shinnecock history and culture.
It’s the nature of our vulnerability at the edge of the reservation. There was a time 20 years ago when the Shinnecock Reservation was closed to the outside world in the transfer of information. By having the museum at edge of the reservation we express our point of view and story in a respectful way. The museum itself is a cultural center for the Shinnecock people and a learning tool for the world at large. All the research at the museum is supported by architectural data and scientific in approach, but as a holistic Native American point of view too. It’s not representative just of a culture of people who have gone before, but who we are.
For whoever did this, if they see or experience who we are and what we do, it’s part of their own personal healing process too. They’ll have to take this around for the rest of their life and hopefully grow from it. It’s part of the rehabilitation process.
The annual pow wow is this Friday to Monday. How did the event start?
The first official pow wow was in 1946 and started by my great grandfather Chief Thunderbird and women of the church. They were family sponsored events here at Shinnecock neck and a few other locations. Native Americans from upstate and out west moved to New York City in the beginning of the 20th century to work. They could come out here and be with Indian people.
What’s the pow wow energy like?
It’s good – it adds a degree of vitality to the area. We’re unique and have the only designated pow wow grounds in the country. It’s the biggest pow wow on the East Coast.
it’s definitely a great exchange of knowledge and culture. It’s more than just observing native people, you can actually participate in whatever way you want. We’ve made lifelong friends who aren’t Native because they walked through the gate and had a conversation with us.
At the museum, I’ve been running everybody like dogs – but it’s a chance to step back and realize the efforts that have been put forth, from the museum staff and my own personal perspective.
The museum is open pow wow weekend on Saturday and Sunday. We’ll have a satellite exhibit at the grounds and people can buy tickets for the museum at the pow wow.
The 67th Annual Shinnecock Powwow runs Friday, August 30 to Monday, September 2 at the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton. Grounds open at 3 p.m. on Friday and 10 a.m. from Saturday to Monday.