The Pequot War has long been an obscure event in the historical perspective of the general public. The film is intended to increase public understanding of the significance of this event, not only for northeastern Native Peoples and descendants of the English and Dutch colonists who settled the region, but also for Native Peoples across America and for all Americans today. Broadcast will be sought on public television, with distribution to schools and educational institutions on videotape.
The producers' intent is to make the documentary as historically accurate and as unbiased as possible. A responsibly balanced representation of viewpoints is essential. Not only has the project relied on a broadly-based Advisory Board, but it also has utilized scholars, Native Americans, and descendants of the colonists to help tell the story and provide their own personal and often passionate viewpoints.
The film does not seek to characterize the War solely as a conflict between the Pequots and the colonists for control of territory, but rather as a struggle between different value systems that included not only the Pequots, but a number of Native American tribes, most of which allied with the English. It not only present s facts, but also seeks to help the viewer better understand on a human level the people who fought the War. It does not seek to sympathize with or condemn any particular group, but rather to increase our understanding of the groups involved and the forces that precipitated the War.
The documentary examines the underlying human motivations and cultural/religious differences that led to war and explores how the legacy of the Massacre at Mystic and the Pequot War still affects the lives of Native American and Puritan descendants in the region today.
Basic Themes of the Documentary
Cultural Value Systems and Religious Perspective
Native Americans and the English Puritans saw the world around them in entirely different ways, especially with respect to land ownership and warfare. Natives believed land could be occupied and used, but they had no real concept of land ownership. The English believed they had divine rights (through patents from the King, purchase, occupation of unused land, or rights of conquest) to possess the land.
Compared to European warfare, Native warfare was conducted on a small scale. Although capture, torture, and other foul deeds were routinely exercised on individuals, large numbers of people were not killed in conflicts. The Natives were not prepared for the kind of unlimited warfare practiced against them by Europeans.
Natives saw themselves as being in communion with other peoples, animals, and indeed all of nature as part of a world embraced by Manitou, the living Spirit in all things. The Puritans saw themselves as the chosen people of God establishing a "New Jerusalem" in the wilderness of America, surrounded by people they saw as savages. The Puritans feared that their very survival in that wilderness was at stake. Ultimately, they believed that their ability to survive and overcome threats from heathen savages was a measure of their own righteousness before God.
Misconceptions and Miscommunications
Neither the Natives nor the Puritans completely understood what their actions meant to the other culture. Language differences and lack of understanding about how each culture practiced politics and negotiation contributed to the problem.
The Puritan English clearly feared for their survival. The Puritans were acutely aware of the 1622 Powhatan uprising in Virginia, in which Indians had killed hundreds of English settlers. The stories the New England settlers heard from most of the other tribes in the region, many of which had been subjugated by the Pequots, in their mind clearly showed that the Pequots were powerful, hostile, and devious. Most of these tribes ultimately fought with the English against the Pequots, somewhat dispelling the notion that the War was exclusively a "conflict of cultures."
The Legacy of the War
From a historical perspective, the War was an important early test of the "Indian Policy" of European settlers in America. Some Native Americans believe the legacy of the War is still with us, reflected by the greed, bigotry, racism, and intolerance they see around them. To them, the Pequot War is not over.
Creative ApproachA primary objective of the project is to present a balanced view of the historical events and their interpretation for us today. To achieve that objective, we present often highly divergent opinions, including both Puritan and Native American viewpoints. Although the program is characterized as a documentary, dramatic elements also will be used to involve the viewer. The documentary uses paintings, historical documents, and reenactments of events, with narration, and interviews with scholars and descendants of the people who fought the War. Photography utilizes both 16-mm film and video. Because of its perceived archival image quality, film is used for historical and dramatic segments to covey a sense of looking backward in time. Because of its "here and now news" quality, video is used for interviews and photography of locations as they appear today.
The documentary is intended to appeal to a broad pre-adolescent, adolescent, and adult audience, encompassing various demographic characteristics, including education level. Since the story deals with inter-cultural conflict and fundamental human motivations and emotions, it is "placeless" and "classless" in many respects. Its subject matter, however, may appeal more to those people with interests in colonial and Native American history, as well as Native American Issues.
Interested audiences should not be geographically limited, because the documentary deals with the clash between Native Americans and European-American settlers in the New World, a theme not limited to seventeenth-century New England.
Nationally, broadcast will be via American Public Television, with Rhode Island PBS serving as the presenting station. DVD/videocassette distribution will be via The Cinema Guild. Since it deals with early European (English and Dutch) colonization of America, the documentary also should be of interest to audiences in Europe, especially Great Britain, Ireland, and The Netherlands.
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