Agreement marks new chapter in Yale-Mohegan relationship
Yale University and the Mohegan Tribe today finalized an agreement to transfer hundreds of objects of tribal origin from the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History to the tribe’s Tantaquidgeon Museum, the oldest Native American owned and operated museum in the country.
Leaders from Yale and the tribe signed the agreement during a ceremony in Woodbridge Hall on the university’s campus, marking a new chapter in a collaborative relationship that spans centuries.
“Today we celebrate an exciting moment in the long-standing relationship between Yale and the Mohegan Tribe,” said Chief Many Hearts Lynn Malerba. “This transfer completes a sacred circle for us. The Mohegan people are now able to welcome the spirits of Chief Uncas and Lucy Occum home with the return of these significant cultural objects. We are joyous at the return of these spiritual objects and thank Yale University and the Peabody Museum for their thoughtfulness in creating this unique opportunity.”
The agreement comes as the tribe develops a Mohegan Tribal Cultural Preservation Center to facilitate research and scholarship within its collection of eastern woodland Indian artifacts.
“This agreement is the result of collaboration and mutual respect between a very old Connecticut institution and an ancient sovereign nation,” said Yale President Peter Salovey.
The objects being transferred have been in the Peabody Museum’s collections for decades. They include a wooden succotash bowl from 18th-century Mohegan matriarch Great Lucy Occum, a wooden mortar, and a doll, as well as hundreds of archaeological objects from Fort Shantok in Uncasville, Connecticut, the site of a Mohegan settlement from 1636 to 1682 and the sacred ground of Uncas, the tribe’s Great Sachem. The archaeological objects include stoneware, glass beads, iron knife blades, and pipe bowls, shells, and bones.
In addition to Salovey and Malerba, the agreement’s signatories include Peabody Museum Director David Skelly, Mohegan Chair Kevin Brown “Red Eagle,” Council of Elders Chair Laurence Roberge, and Mohegan Medicine Woman and Tribal Historian Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel. Under the agreement, Yale will transfer the objects to the tribe within 90 days.
“You will notice that the signers of this document are traditional leaders and governmental leaders; both male and female. This is representative of balance and equality in our relationships with the local, state and federal government; one that is a time-honored tradition,” said Malerba, who earned a doctorate of nursing practice from the Yale School of Nursing in 2015.
This agreement signifies the evolution of the long-standing relationship between Yale and the Mohegan Tribe. During the 1700s, Yale President Ezra Stiles studied Mohegan language and spirituality.
“I can speak for all of the curators and staff of the museum in saying that we are very excited to see these objects going to the Mohegan Tribe,” said Skelly. “We have a great partnership with the leaders of the tribe, and the Tantaquidgeon Museum is a fantastic institution. We look forward to further collaboration around our shared interest in the history and future of the Mohegan Tribe.”
The institutions have cooperated on the Yale Indian Papers Project (YIPP), a collaborative research initiative that locates, digitizes, transcribes, and annotates materials by or about New England Indians, publishing them as an online resource. In 2014, YIPP researchers discovered historically significant writings by two noted tribal cultural figures: Samson Occum, an 18th-century Mohegan minister and preacher, and Fidelia Smith Fielding, the last known speaker of the Mohegan Pequot language.
In 1994, the late Gladys Tantaquidgeon, a pioneering anthropologist and a founder of the tribe’s museum, was awarded an honorary degree from Yale.