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Home » ARTS AND CULTURE » CONNECTICUT » The Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington, Connecticut
The Algonkian Village
The Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington, Connecticut

By Mark B. Oliver | December 23, 2011

Come visit the Institute and discover the fascinating history of the indigenous peoples of New England.

The Institute’s origins date back to the late sixties and early seventies when Edmund ‘Ned’ Swigart led the Wappinger Chapter of the Connecticut Archaeological Society, which later became the Shepaug Valley Archaeological Society.   With their collection of artifacts growing and no place to exhibit them, co-founders Ned Swigart and Sidney Hessel raised funds to create what became the Institute.

The Institute's Main Entrance

In 1975 the Visitor Center opened and a longhouse classroom and research library opened three years later.   In 1979 a replica Algonkian Indian Village was recreated.

The facilities have since been upgraded with a Research and Collections building which was completed in 2002.   This houses a state of the art climate controlled storage facility, laboratory and conference Hall.   The research and education libraries are also housed here, and are open to the public by appointment.

The Institute has thousands of school children visit each school year, and runs summer day camps too.   Archeology programs have proven extremely popular wit the public and workshops and lectures are well attended as the Institute educates all those that visit.

There are numerous exhibits, both indoor and outdoor, to entertain and educate everyone from young children to seniors.

Part of the Quinnetukut Exhibit

Quinnetukut: Our Homeland, Our Story

Connecticut was originally known as Quinnetukut, the place of the long water, and the indigenous people of the region have lived here for thousands of years.   This fascinating exhibit follows the 10,000 year long story of Connecticut’s Native peoples right up to the present day.   It provides the visitor with an extraordinary insight into their cultures, technological and artistic accomplishments as well as their spiritual connections to Mother Earth.

From East to West: Across Our Homelands

This exhibit focuses not just on Connecticut, but on the entire North American continent.   The homelands of the Native peoples stretched from the east to the west coast, and the indigenous population comprised many different peoples, all with a unique cultural identity. For thousands of years these people traded and shared ideas and materials with one another, traveling over ancient paths and trade routes that connected them.

The Longhouse Room

The Longhouse Room

This is an indoor recreation of an Algonkian sachem’s house (commonly referred to as a longhouse) and contains both original and replicated artifacts together with a mural depicting the daily life of Algonkian peoples prior to the arrival of Europeans.

Digging into the Past

Connecticut contains thousands of archaeological sites spanning 10,000 years.   This child-friendly exhibit teaches us how even the smallest of finds can alter the perceived history of the region.

Additional indoor exhibits include the Children’s Discovery Room, an interactive exhibit which demonstrates to kids what life would have been like for them had they been a Native living in the Woodlands 600 years ago.   The Reservation House is a partial recreation of a typical home on a reservation in the early 1900’s.

The sachem’s Wigwam or Longhouse.

The Algonkian Village

This impressive exhibit faithfully recreates an Algonkian village.   One of the structures is a sachem’s wigwam.

The sachem was the leader of the community and lived in the longhouse with his family.   The Algonkian culture is democratic, and the sachem’s residence was used for public meetings to discuss important issues.

There is also a bark-covered wigwam, a reed-covered wigwam, and a dugout canoe (which were invented by the indigenous population).

A Three Sisters garden can also be found here.   This traditional Native technique, involved the inter-planting of corn, beans, and squash together, a trio often referred to as the “three sisters.”

In a three sisters planting, the three partners benefit one another. Corn provides support for beans. Beans have bacteria living on their roots that help them absorb nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form that plants can use, which particularly benefits the corn, which requires a lot of nitrogen to grow.   The large, prickly squash leaves shade the soil, preventing weed growth, and deter animal pests.

There is also a Simulated Archaeological Site and many Nature Trails, along which the trees and plants are identified.   In addition to the Three Sisters Garden in the village, there is also a Healing Plants Garden, featuring plants that indigenous peoples would use for various medicinal purposes.

The Institute is an ideal place to educate and entertain both old and young alike.


38 Curtis Road, Washington, Connecticut 06793

(860) 868-0518


The museum gift shop is fully stocked with craft items, jewelry and art from across Native America.

Hours of Operation:

Mon – Sat: 10AM - 5PM

Sun: 12PM - 5PM

IAIS is closed on the following holidays: New Year’s Day (January 1), Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day (July 4), Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas (December 25).

Admission Fees:

Adults: $5

Senior Citizens: $4.50

Children: $3

Free for Members and active service members

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