Native Languages of the Americas: Mohegan (Pequot, Montauk, Niantic, Metoac)
Language: The two Algonkian languages
Mohegan and Mahican are related
and have similar names, but are linguistically distinct. The Mohegan language was once spoken by several allied
tribes, including the Pequots, Montauks, and Niantics. A third language,
Narragansett, was spoken by two other tribes,
the Narragansetts and the Nipmucs; this language may have been distinct or may have been a dialect of
Mohegan or Massachusett. None of these languages
is still spoken natively today, but the Mohegan and Pequot tribes are working actively to revive their shared language.
People: The name "Mohegan" probably originally referred to a particular Pequot clan, which eventually fought its
way to control of the Pequot Nation. Today, however, it is used as a broad rubric referring to several originally distinct
eastern tribes: the Pequot, the Montauk (Metoac), the Narragansett, the Shinnecock, the Niantic, and the Nipmuc, among others.
This would all be confusing enough without James Fenimore Cooper's book "Last of the Mohicans," which incorrectly
merges the Mahicans and Mohegans into a single, extinct
tribe. In fact neither group is extinct, and though they are kinfolk, the similarity between their names is due to coincidence
and European mispronunciation--"Mahican" comes from the word Muheconneok, meaning "people of the Hudson River,"
and "Mohegan" comes from the word Mahiingan, "wolf." Today there are about 5000 Mohegan Indians in southern
New England, counting the Pequots, Montauks, and Narragansetts together, and another 3000 Mahicans.
History: The Pequot, Montaukett, Narragansett, Niantic, Nipmuc, Shinnecock, and other tribes referred to indiscriminately
as "Mohegan" in history texts were originally distinct tribes, each with several autonomous bands. However, due to heavy
population losses and aggressive colonial expansion, the Indian tribes of New England were scattered, merged, and
assimilated to such a degree that they lost their languages and much of their individual tribal characters. Though the
Mohegan tribes for the most part quietly assimilated into New England society, they never gave up their Indian identity,
and have retained several small reservations in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Long Island. In recent years the Connecticut
Pequot and Mohegan tribes have become some of the wealthiest Native American bands due to successful management of tribal