The Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum, which closed for renovations two months ago, is open for the season with updated exhibits. Visitors literally can take a walk through Shinnecock and woodlands Indian history, starting 10,000 years ago in the Paleolithic era and traveling all the way through to contemporary times.
The museum, first opened in 2001, is reaping the bounty from the infusion of a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Administration for Native Americans. The bulk of the money is being used to complete a 2-acre "living history village" that will highlight the tribe's history from 1640 to 1750 and serve as another portal to draw visitors to the reservation in Southampton.
"I think people are intimidated to come to the reservation when there isn't a powwow," says Andrea Godoy, the museum's assistant director. "We really want to unlock their curiosity and share the experience."
WHAT YOU'LL SEE
The museum's log cabin appearance is deceiving, only hinting at its 5,000 square feet that covers two floors and includes bronzes, portraits, murals and a walk-through timeline stretching back 10,000 years.
Murals depict different aspects of life over the centuries and serve as a backdrop for era-specific artifacts. You'll see 3-foot-long spears, early cooking and grinding implements and even a canoe.
"When you walk through the museum, you get a sense of how they lived," says Sarah Acton, 53, of Huntington, visiting on a recent afternoon.
Early and commercial whaling also is covered -- a topic that may seem to have an unlikely association with the Shinnecocks and other Native Americans.
"It was Native Americans who taught first Dutch, then English, settlers how to hunt whale," says David Martine, museum director and curator.
The whaling exhibit includes tools, carved whale bones and baleen that had many commercial uses.
Museum-goers can view more than 20 striking bronze sculptures, all donated to the museum by the estate of Frederick DeMatteis. "They're highly realistic," Martine says.
HISTORY COMES ALIVE
The museum's 2-acre "village" opens Memorial Day weekend, but one of its marquee attractions is already in use: a full-fledged wigwam.
"It is designed for visitors to come in and experience life in the wigwam as we would have," explains site manager Matauqus Tarrant. Large enough to accommodate 10 people, it includes seating and an open fire for cooking. Artifacts common to the period are abundant, such as fishing nets, axes and skins for sleeping.
On a recent afternoon, tribe member Beverly Gwathney was demonstrating the art of basket-weaving in the museum's multipurpose room, explaining the differences between patterns to patrons wandering by. This kind of interactivity is an integral part of the museum's mission, staffers say. Visitors may encounter tribe members doing beadwork, finger weaving or any number of other skills that have been passed from generation to generation.
INFO 631-287-4923, shinnecockmuseum.com
ADMISSION $8 ($4.75 ages 5-12)
UPCOMING EVENT Native Earth Day, 2-4:30 p.m. April 19, includes a 2 p.m. guided tour with Shinnecock elder Elizabeth Thunder Bird Haile and a 3:30 p.m. children's workshop with hand-on activities