Wabanaki Tribes Growing Heirloom Seeds for Heritage & Health

wabanaki ancestral squash

Maine’s Passamaquoddy people are once again growing and eating ancestral crops and saving the often rare seeds. These simple yet significant acts are tied to new research that sheds light on the sophisticated agriculture and accompanying plant-centric diet of the early Wabanaki people of northeastern North America, who lived and farmed in what we call Maine for 12,000 years before the European migration and colonization…

Planting these heirloom seeds is part of a wider effort by the Passamaquoddy to increase the amount of food produced on tribal land.  All the ancestral seeds have been linked to tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy, which includes the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet, Micmac and Abenaki.

In 2014, Koasek Abenakis, the Seeds of Renewal Program and retired Johnson State College humanities professor Frederick M. Wiseman, who is Abenaki, gave these ancestral seeds to the Passamaquoddy tribe at Motahkokmikuk. The following spring, the seeds returned to Passamaquoddy soil and flourished.

Read the full article in the Press Herald here.

 

Wanascatok: Wanaskatekw

wanasquatok wanaskwatekw

A deep, green pool at Broad Brook, toward the top of the main gradient, near the site of one of the first mills in Guilford, Vermont. 

Wanascatok (sometimes, later, as Wanasquatok) is the name historically attached to Broad Brook, which flows from the heart of today’s Town of Guilford, Vermont into the Kwenitekw just below the Brattleboro/Vernon line. It is recorded thus in the 1687 colonial land deed, the last of several that together constituted the Town of Northfield, Massachusetts. The deed covered an area of about 65,000 acres identified as Nawelet’s land, and was signed by that person, identified as a chief of the Squakheags, along with Gongequa, Aspiabemet, Haddarawansett, and Meganichcha (as recorded). The legality of these deeds will be discussed elsewhere; suffice it to say this document is a good primary source on several counts.

1687 nawelet wanascatok northfield deed

A transcription of the 1687 Northfield land deed by Nawelet with four others, from Temple and Sheldon’s “A History of the Town of Northfield, Massachusetts: for 150 Years, with an Account of the Prior Occupation of the Territory by the Squakheags.”

A contemporary Abenaki spelling would be Wanaskatekw, which roughly translates as “end of the river” or even “the rivers meet.” Wanask- signifies ‘an end’ or ‘a meeting’ and -tekw is ‘river’, as in ‘flowing, moving water.’ The reason for applying this name to this particular place requires a little exploration, informed by some familiarity with the lay of the land. Broad Brook is a medium-sized tributary of the Connecticut, with a watershed of 23.8 square miles. Since it is obviously not at the end of the Connecticut, the reference is likely to the end of Broad Brook itself – in other words, the point of its confluence with the larger river, the place where they meet. This, in turn, indicates that Wanaskatekw is not the name of the brook after all, but indicates the specific location at its mouth, as a landmark. This fits with its use in the 1687 Northfield deed to denote the northernmost bound of the land running up the west side of the Connecticut. For some reason,  later historians (not Native speakers) presumptively chose to spell the word as ‘Wanasquatok’, adding the ‘qua’ or kwa’ sound, but this is not the original form.

It follows that this location was familiar to the Sokwakiak inhabitants, and, by extension, the earliest Euro-colonizers (more on this elsewhere); amateur collectors, known to include Jason Bushnell, and probably Walter Needham and John Gale, were active in this immediate vicinity in the last century. The topography has all the hallmarks of a good site: fresh water, a confluence, good visibility, well-drained, sheltering hills to the west, and readily defensible. There are substantial wolhanak (rich alluvial planting lands) immediately adjacent, much of which are now submerged since the 1909 construction of the Vernon hydroelectric dam four miles downstream.

Bushnell Old Red Mill Vernon VT

A postcard for Jason Bushnell’s museum at the Old Red Mill in Vernon, VT, where he displayed his life’s collection of “Indian relics” and oddities. It burned down in 1962.

There was a convergence of trails here also. The primary north-south path on the west side of the Kwenitekw – the Great River Road – ran parallel to the Connecticut, hugging the bottom of the closely encroaching hills. And there was a path running west from here up the narrow ravine of Broad Brook itself, which rises in a steep gradient of about 200 feet in a mile and a half, to a lush valley nestled in the uplands. It is recorded that the earliest British settlers of what is now Guilford Town took this trail to stake their claims, first among them being Micah Rice at Weatherhead Hollow in 1761; it is the only ready access point to the uplands from the Long River and became the first road.

It should be kept in mind that place-name references in Algonquian language usages are nearly always directly descriptive, referring to observable natural attributes. Any place that matches a set of general descriptives may carry a similar toponym, in its own context. The name Wanascatok, or a variant, appears in several other places in New England. It fits here, once one is familiar with the circumstances.

The Welsh Not

the welsh not

From a Facebook post by Angharad Wynne, November 17, 2019.

Colonization is a worldwide disease. That commonality is the reason behind the naming of Indigenous Peoples’ Day: a plural joint possessive. When we fall into the trap of singling out one group over another, we enforce the separation, and the anthropocentricity – as if ‘it’s all about us.’

The grounding, unifying center of the healing answer to this destructive imbalance is the Land. This is how Indigenous People envision their identity – they and the Land are the same. And this is why Indigenous People are the prime obstruction to – the target of – colonization.

And it is why the answers are necessarily Place-based, each to itself, and in the traditional knowledges of these Places, held by the Original People of those Places. The work starts ‘at home’, in Place, dismantling the oppression of the Land and the People.

The past of this Place, and all Places, is embedded in this Land. It didn’t “go somewhere else.” It is here. Everything that has happened in this Place remains. The present, then, is created from the past, in the fullest sense of the word. And the future, in turn, is created from what we choose to do today. There is the essence of our mutual and individual responsibility.

This is the path to rebuilding the connections that lead to vitality, health, caring, respect, and gratitude. In a word, balance. Miss this critical starting point, and the whole effort collapses – the chaos and destruction continues.

#decolonize #StartHereAndNow

Quinneh Tuk Camp

quinneh tuk camp northfield kwenitekw

An advertisement in Arthur Percy Fitt’s “All About Northfield” (Northfield, MA, Northfield Press, 1910), found on page 108.

The Quinneh Tuk Camp for Boys, Northfield, MA:

A remarkable (rare) near-perfect phonetic transcription of Kwenitekw (kweni- + -tekw = “the long river”), the original name of the Connecticut River in Aln8ba8dwaw8gan, the Western Abenaki language.

The colonial name for Northfield, of course, was Squakheag (various spellings) which is itself a fairly faithful phonetic iteration of Sokwakik, the Abenaki name for the mid-Kwenitekw valley, viz. sokwa- + -ki + -k = “at the separated land.” We use this word today in the form “Sokoki.”

Mzatanos: Freezing Current One

west river first freeze approaches

This month the full moon falls on November 12, 2019, if one consults the modern Gregorian calendar. It is the middle of the lunar cycle that began with the new moon on October 27 and which will renew on November 26. Once again, the lunar moon comes close to aligning with the calendrical month within this cycle, as we progress through Tagu8go, the Autumn season.

The eleventh moon of the Western Abenaki solar year is the Freezing Current One/Maker, M(e)zatanos, following the preceding tenth month of Penibagos, the Leaf Falling Maker Moon. The days are growing much shorter, the vibrancy of summer has come to the end of its cycle. The trees are bare, the geese are gathering to move toward the south, and at the edges of the water ice crystals begin to form. As all things on the surface slow down to sleep, thoughts turn inward.

With the usual Algonquian compounding format, the name of the moon is a combination of smaller roots: “mza-” which signifies “freeze” or “frozen” combined with “ta” as an abbreviated form for “current”, and at the end we have “-os” for “the one who”. These individual morphemes combine to create the sequence “mza-ta-nos,” pronounced meh-ZAH-tah-nohs, the Freezing Current One.

As winter draws nigh, with the certain shortening of the sun’s daily journey across the sky, we ready ourselves for the final moon of the year: Pebonkas, the Winter Maker.