The First Literature Project To Open At Guild Hall, Featuring VR Media Produced In The Shinnecock Language

Guild Hall in East Hampton presents the First Literature Project, developed over a two-year period by Guild Hall Community Artists-in-Residence Wunetu Wequai Tarrant and Christian Scheider. The Project will be presented in Guild Hall’s Marks Family Gallery South from May 18 through July 15 and features the first VR media produced in the Shinnecock Language.

First Literature Project proposes to support Native nations in their efforts to maintain and further their languages, narratives, and oral traditions, making them available to their tribal communities and surrounding areas. By utilizing FLP’s new immersive storytelling platform in Virtual Reality, advanced 3D technology is repurposed to recreate an important tradition — sitting face-to-face with a storyteller.

“The significance of having a platform to share our history cannot be understated,” said Wunetu Wequai Tarrant. “A wealth of knowledge is left out when the only accounts of Indigenous cultures available are written by outside anthropologists and authors. The FLP’s method will bring our stories into the 21st century, using our voices, our faces, and sharing our perspectives.”

The exhibition will utilize the newly released Apple Vision Pro headset to present the story Padawe, originally written in English by Elizabeth Chee Chee Thunderbird Haile, now newly translated and narrated in the Shinnecock language by Wunetu Wequai Tarrant, Chee Chee Haile’s granddaughter. The exhibition will also feature video works by members of the Shinnecock language revitalization collective Ayim Kutoowonk, Kaysha Haile, Ahanu Valdez, and Cholena Smith-Boyd, and interviews with members of the Shinnecock Nation through a collaboration with The Padoquohan Medicine Lodge.

First Literature Project has received several prestigious grants, which have enabled Tarrant and Scheider to fully realize their ideas as part of Guild Hall’s Community Artist-in-Residence program.

In 2022, the project received the Creatives Rebuild New York Artist Employment Grant. As 1 of 98 projects awarded, the CRNY AEP grant provided full employment to Tarrant and Scheider and, through additional project support, forged a partnership between Guild Hall and the Padoquohan Medicine Lodge. This partnership resulted in two years of filmed interviews with several members of the Shinnecock Nation, including Denise Silva-Dennis, Rebecca Genia, Keith Phillips, Andrina Wekontash Smith, Christina Tarrant, Holly Haile Thompson, Margo Thunderbird, and Ruben Valdez. Their video interviews will be featured as part of the exhibition.

“This was a long process that had to move at the speed of trust. To begin, we were invited into homes, into gathering places, into backyards, and when we arrived, all we did was turn the cameras on and listen,” said Christian Scheider. “In close to 100 hours of footage, we asked only a handful of questions. That is always the sign when you know you are where you need to be. There was so much that needed to be said — there still is. Our role, even more than creating this new format, is to listen and to remember what we hear.”

In 2023, the project received additional funding from the Long Island Community Foundation to review the interviews, to invite several interviewees to re-record their orations in the project’s new 3D video format for VR.

“We have this saying at Guild Hall – ‘Let Artists Lead The Way,’” said Anthony Madonna, Guild Hall’s Patti Kenner Director of Learning + New Works. “The CRNY AEP grant allowed Guild Hall to fully embrace this edict. The opportunity that the CRNY AEP grant not only gifted Wunetu and Christian the headspace to fully immerse themselves in their creative process but the immense support gave Guild Hall the ability to attract additional funding — allowing the First Literature Project to be fully produced from ideation to exhibition. The CRNY AEP grant is a prime example of longitudinal support for artists and community-based work — a practice shared by Guild Hall.”

In 2023, the project received funding from the Library of Congress’ Connecting Communities Digital Initiative award, part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path initiative. The award allowed Tarrant to form the language revitalization collective, Ayim Kutoowonk. Working alongside Tarrant and guest lecturers Christina Tarrant, Conor McDonough Quinn, and Kaylene Big Knife, Ayim Kutoowonk members have created their own multi-media projects and learning tools in the Shinnecock language. The projects have been developed by studying various primary source documents, including the “Eliot Indian Bible,” held in the Rare Book & Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress.

Published between 1660-1663, the “Eliot Indian Bible” was the first complete Bible printed in America and was translated from English to the Niatick dialect of the North East Algonquin Tribes. The Bible holds significance for the Shinnecock language. Shinnecock ancestor, Caconoe D’Long Island was a primary contributor for “The Book Of Genesis,” and is currently the only document in Shinnecock within the collection of the Library of Congress.

As part of the CCDI award, the work of Ayim Kutoowonk will be submitted to the Library of Congress for consideration as part of the Library’s digital collection — making it the only primary source in the Shinnecock language that is by, for, and about Shinnecock people.

“Language holds meaning when it is truly understood,” said Ahanu Valdez, a member of Ayim Kutoowonk. “By connecting the pieces gathered, We, Ayim Kutoowonk, are regenerating the Shinnecock language. These videos were crafted with the intention of teaching Shinnecock Tribal members our language. Each word spoken and every verse recited serves as a bridge linking the past to the present, ensuring that the understanding within our shared cultural identity is celebrated.”

In 2024, the project received $70,419.00 in grant funding from The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation to present the work of First Literature Project as an exhibition at Guild Hall. The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation grant specifically supports the equipment purchase and technical development of the VR Work through a collaboration between Christian Scheider and Khora, a leading Scandinavian Virtual & Augmented Reality production studio, and their co-founder, Peter Fisher.

To learn more and register for the public programs, visit

An East End Experience

2024 © James Lane Post®. All Rights Reserved.

Covering North Fork and Hamptons Events, Hamptons Arts, Hamptons Entertainment, Hamptons Dining, and Hamptons Real Estate. Hamptons Lifestyle Magazine with things to do in the Hamptons and the North Fork.