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Niantic Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Niantics for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to look through our main Niantic page for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Niantic pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.




  Niantic Tribe

How do you pronounce "Niantic?" What does it mean?
Niantic is pronounced "Nee-ANN-tick." It comes from a Mohegan-Pequot placename, which means "people of the point."

Were the Niantic Indians part of the Narragansett tribe?
Not originally. They spoke related languages and shared similar cultures, but the Niantic and Narragansett used to be distinct tribes, each with its own leadership. But after Europeans arrived, many Native American people of the east coast died from disease and warfare. The survivors merged together, and many of their original tribal distinctions were lost. This happened to the Niantic and Narragansett. Today, they share a single tribe.

Where did the Niantics live?
The Niantics are original people of Rhode Island and Connecticut. Most of their descendants are still living in Rhode Island today.

How is the Niantic Indian nation organized?
The Narragansett and Niantic Indians share a reservation in Rhode Island. A reservation is land that belongs to an Indian tribe and is under their control. The Narragansett tribe has its own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. But the Niantics and Narragansetts are also US citizens and must obey American law. There are about 2500 members of the combined tribe today.

What language do the Niantics speak?
Niantic Indians all speak English today. In the past, the Pequots, Mohegans, Niantics, Montauks, and other tribes of New England all spoke the Mohegan-Pequot language. This language died out more than 100 years ago, but some young people are working to revive it. You can read a Mohegan-Pequot picture glossary here.

What was Nipmuc culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. On their site you can learn about the heritage and traditions of the Narragansett and Niantic people.

How do Niantic Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have cornhusk dolls, ball games, and toys such as kid-size bows and arrows. Niantic mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here is a website with pictures of cradleboards and other Native American baby carrier technology.

What were men and women's roles in the Niantic tribe?
Niantic men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Niantic women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, Niantic chiefs were always men, but today a Niantic Indian woman could be chief too.

What were Niantic homes like in the past?
The Niantics didn't live in tepees. They lived in small round houses called wigwams. Here are some pictures of Algonquian wigwams like the ones Niantic Indians used. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for shelter. Most Niantics live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Niantic clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Niantic women wore knee-length skirts and the men wore a breechcloth and leggings. Shirts were not necessary in the Niantic culture, but Niantic people did wear deerskin mantles in cool weather. Niantic men and women both wore earrings and moccasins on their feet. Here is a picture of Niantic clothing and some photographs and links about traditional Indian dress in general.

The Niantics didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Usually they wore a beaded Native American headband with a feather or two in it. Sometimes a Niantic chief wore a headdress of feathers pointing straight up from a headband, like this. Niantic men, especially warriors, often wore a Mohawk hairstyle or shaved their heads completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on top of their heads.) Niantic women usually had long hair. Here is a website with pictures of Native Americans' hair.

Today, some Niantic people still have a traditional headband or moccasins, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Niantic transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Niantics made dugout canoes by hollowing out large trees. They used them for transportation and for ocean fishing trips. Here is a website about Native canoe styles. Over land, the Niantics used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Niantic Indians used sleds and snowshoes to help them travel in the winter. (They learned to make those tools from northern neighbors like the Cree Indians.) Today, of course, Niantic people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Niantic food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Niantics were farming people. Niantic women harvested corn, squash and beans and also gathered nuts and fruit to eat. Niantic men did most of the hunting. They shot deer, turkeys, and small game, and went fishing on the coast. Niantic Indian recipes included soup, cornbread, and stews. Here is a website with more information about American Indian corn and other foods.

What kinds of weapons did the Niantics use?
Niantic hunters and warriors used bows and arrows, spears, and clubs. Fishermen used pronged spears, nets, and bone hooks. Here is a website with pictures and information about Indian ancient weapons.

What are Niantic art and crafts like?
The Niantic tribes were known for their American Indian beading and basketry. Like other eastern American Indians, Niantics also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What other Native Americans did the Niantic tribe interact with?
The Niantics liked to trade with other Algonquian tribes of southern New England, such as the Narragansett, Wampanoag, and Mohegan tribes. Although they were closely related to each other, these tribes were not always friends. The Pequot tribe was one tribe that often fought with the Niantic tribe.

What kinds of stories do the Niantics tell?
There are many traditional Niantic legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Niantic Indian culture. Here's one legend about the Makiaweesug, who were mythical creatures like brownies or fairies. All the Mohegan-Pequot speaking tribes told stories about little people like these..

What about Niantic religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about New England Algonquian traditions and symbols or this site about Native American religion in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
I don't know of any good books specifically about the Niantic tribe, but the Niantic culture was always very similar to the Narragansett culture and is even more so today, so maybe you will enjoy reading one of these books about the Narragansetts. If you like scary stories, you can try Whisper in the Dark, which is a suspense novel by an American Indian author about a Narragansett girl confronting a traditional monster. Younger kids may like reading Nickommoh, a book about traditional Narragansett Thanksgiving festivities. If you want to know more about Niantic and Narragansett culture and history, The Narragansett is a good choice for kids. You can also browse through our recommendations of Native American books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2013.

Thanks for your interest in the Niantic Indian people and their language!

Learn More About The Niantics

Mohegan Tribes
Historical overview of the Niantic and other Mohegan-speaking tribes.

Niantic Language Resources
Niantic Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Niantic Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Niantic Indians past and present.



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