wantastegok n'dakinna my river

A New Year

Notably amongst the northeastern Algonquian tribal territorialities, the W8banakiak have been described as a riverine people. The various band’s homelands are centered on watersheds – a river and its dependent streams, lakes, marshes, and floodplains.  Whereas many other tribes would reckon their lands in terms of primarily terrestrial landmarks such as mountains, rivers, lakes, and perhaps a certain forest or clump of trees, denoting borders within which they circulated, the Abenaki centered themselves within the waters, ranging out through a branching, interconnected bowl [sources: Speck, Snow]. As an example, in this place I dwell, known today as Brattleboro – near where the states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts converge – the annual cycles of life revolve around the gathering of the Kwanitekw, Wantastekw, and Azewalad Sibo (Connecticut, West, and Ashuelot Rivers), with their respective tributary brooks, lakes, and ponds pitching down from the valleys and ranges .

A family’s hunting territories, above the plantings flourishing upon the floodplains and river terraces (the wolhanak), were bounded by these watery, connecting sinews, and stretched up into the hills and mountains to the next ridge top division. A person would describe their homeland as n’sibo, my river, allying with that flowing, veined world as a part of their own identity, a unity, all the same. Intimately familiar with the land, and its fellow dwellers – whether animate or inanimate – a person saw themselves as a continuous part of the spirits there, with roles to play and responsibilities to honor, inconceivably separable.

This merging may perhaps be seen in the phrase n’dai, which can mean “I am” – describing oneself – as well as “I live” – in a certain place. An understanding of this can help to inform the depth of the relationship between the homeland and its people, one so profound they merged into a single entity. The people are the land, and the land is the people. To separate them, as recent history has so graphically inscribed, is to assault the meaning of life itself, leaving it broken and futile. Healing can be found only in a restoration of relationship, a re-balancing through reciprocity among the community of beings. Note the prefix “re-” occurring in all of these words, meaning “again” and speaking of cycles, and the Great Hoop of Life.

This healing comes through an awareness of what is lacking, or what is interfering, with the flowing continuity of the river of life, and then addressing that lack, or obstruction. At the beginning of the New Year –  Alamikos – with the winter solstice and the return of the sun, the Abenaki have a custom of asking for forgiveness, and a fresh start in the new season. As elder Joseph Elie Joubert tells us: “The new year’s forgiveness time is called Anhaldamawadin = The act of forgiving. We would go to the house of the people we offended during the past year and say the following: “Anhaldamawi kassi plilawawlan”. It is basically saying “Forgive me for the many wrongs I did you.”

wantastegok n'dakinna my river

N’sibo, my river, is Wantastekw, where it meets Kwanitekw. N’dai Wantastegok, Sokwakik, known today as Brattleboro. And so I say, to all my relatives here:

N’didam n’dal8gom8mek Wantastegok: Anhaldamawi kasi palilawalian.

Please forgive any wrong I may have done to you in the past.

It is a new year. Alosada, mina ta mina. Let us walk together, again and again.

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richholschuh

The world is a big place. This is how it appears to me. Your results may differ.

2 thoughts on “A New Year”

  1. G’day–

    My name is Trevien Stanger– I’m a writer and tree-planter up here in the Champlain Valley. I published an article in the Free Press the other day called “Thinking Like a Watershed,” wherein I riff on some of these same concerns/ideas you’re expressing here. It’s a joy to read your words and your descriptions of a sense of watershed-as-an-organizing-priniciple. I really, really love how you’ve described it here.

    Feel free to check out my site trevientravels.com to see how our work convergences in multiple streams, and perhaps we can share / do more together around these ideas some day.

    mountains and waters,

    Trevien

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trevien – Thank you for your kind words and empathy. For the same reasons, I very much enjoyed your article “Thinking Like a Watershed” in the Free Press. I sensed a kindred spirit, and your mention of the Abenaki toward the end clinched it! I have followed your WordPress blog and look forward to further exchanges.
      My own personal work, as you may have sensed, is to learn what it means to be in this place where I dwell (Wantastegok/Brattleboro), to truly dig in and become a part of it. It rapidly became apparent to me that my best teachers were the Earth itself, and the indigenous people who called this place home for thousands of years. This immersion is beginning to take root and give understanding to some modern-day issues, both here and further afield, be they economic, environmental, social, etc. As a local exercise in seeing and experiencing, I also have an iphone photography blog https://richholschuh.wordpress.com/
      I look forward to exploring this more with you!

      Like

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