Correcting the Corrections

Editor of the Reformer,

This note is in reference to a letter to the editor of the Reformer published Friday, June 28, 2020, headlined “Historically inaccurate attack on Ethan Allen.” The missive purported to address perceived inaccuracies in a previous letter of June 18, “The Allen brothers are symbols of wrong done to Abenaki.” Without belaboring the politics, I must cry foul on a few of the respondent’s assertions, made to bolster the tarnished reputation of a justifiably-deflated folk hero. The response is rife with its own inaccuracies. It is indeed good to “learn abut history” and then work toward positive change.

1. Allen’s sending of Capt. Daniel Nimham, Stockbridge Mohican, to the Seven Nations in May 1775, wasn’t as much to recruit the Abenaki to the American side as it was to assure their neutrality. Further, the emissaries never made it to Caughnawaga; they were captured, convicted as spies, and nearly hung. Ethan Allen never was a true friend of the Abenaki; when members of the Missisquoi band returned to Swanton after the war, Allen ran them off, claiming it belonged to him.

2. The writer continues to work the Stockbridge Mohican angle – for some reason – claiming their territory ran up Lake Champlain to Missisquoi and east to Middlebury Center. Rather, it is widely understood – including by the Native nations themselves – that Mohican homelands meet those of the Abenaki near the juncture of lakes George and Champlain – nearly 100 miles further south.

3. The Stockbridge Mohican brigade never fought at the Battle of Bennington. They set off for the engagement late, and upon receiving word, turned back to their homes to (sadly) fight another day elsewhere.

4. Vermont’s granting in 1781 of what became Marshfield, Vermont to the Stockbridge for war services rendered was no solace or gain; they immediately were forced to trade it for debt payment to Capt. Isaac Marsh, tavern-keeper back in Stockbridge. For their troubles, most of the tribe eventually found themselves displaced 750 miles to the west.

5. Ethan Allen went before the Continental Congress in person more than once. Examples are easily documented: On June 23, 1775, Allen with Seth Warner appeared in Philadelphia to ask that the Green Mountain Boys be recognized as a regiment.

6. The Green Mountain Boys, in their several iterations, cannot be conflated with Roger’s Rangers, but there certainly was significant overlap. Members of Allen’s original Boys as well as former Rangers served together in Warner’s Extra-Continental Regiment in the Revolution.

Rich Holschuh,

Wantastegok/Brattleboro, June 29, 2020

>>This letter ran in the Brattleboro Reformer on July 7, 2020.

Elnu Abenaki Statement on Northampton, MA Roundabout Project

Full statement below, pdf here: Elnu Abenaki Northampton statement.

July 2, 2020 Concerning the dialogue about the proposed highway project at the intersection of Hatfield St. and Rts. 5 & 10 at Northampton, MA: Elnu Abenaki, a Vermont State-recognized Tribe, offers the following comments with regard to the ongoing situation and the parties involved.

 Kwai mziwi – greetings everyone,

This statement is on behalf of Elnu Abenaki, representing our understandings and council, grounded in the perspective of a Native community that has ancestral ties through both kinship and relationship with Ndakinna, our homelands.

  • Abenaki have a direct, ancient association with the mid-Kwenitekw/Connectict River valley, by proximity and through diplomacy and kinship. As a result of the process of colonization, it is well-known that the dispossession of Indigenous people that traditionally call today’s Northampton and Hatfield home resulted in many joining the Abenaki at Schaghticoke, Missisquoi, Odanak, and elsewhere. Their descendants are among us today.
  • Similarly, Abenaki have longstanding relationships with Nipmuc – for the identical reasons, as neighbors, allies, and kin – and who are subjected in like manner to the destruction of colonization. We stand with Nipmuc and their own previous sovereign statements.
  • We have been following the progress of this project for over a year. To the best of our knowledge, the NHPA Section 106 process has followed protocol, and cultural resources have been surveyed, documented, and impacts addressed according to requirements.
  • The laws being what they are, we acknowledge and appreciate that at least one Federally-recognized Tribe has actively participated as cultural monitor, in the person of Mark Andrews of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Meaningful inclusion of Native voices with regard to Indigenous cultural concerns is paramount and should be foregrounded and expanded
  • We concur that any ancestral materials should return, or remain, in the Earth, our Mother, who is the holder and provider of everything.
  • We are grateful for the consideration and care of others that have stepped forward from the several Native communities to intervene and clarify this confusing situation, and for the support and interest of allies.
  • We maintain that, going forward, the best means of finding balance and peace, and minimizing these situations – recognizing that the inevitability of change is embraced through responsibility and relationship – is to prioritize inclusion and awareness. We aspire toward a better way of being here together and that includes recognizing where change is needed.

Wliwni – thank you,

Sôgmô Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief Elnu Abenaki

Jim Taylor, Councilman Elnu Abenaki

Rich Holschuh, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Elnu Abenaki

Change, and the Lack Thereof

Deed_1661_signed_at_Rehoboth_Massachusetts_Indian_land_sale

…Thinking again about the repetition of parallel patterns in contemporary America (as a political construct) and its direct predecessors in Colonial policy right here in the mid-Kwenitekw valley. The link is the continuance of colonization as policy.

The dogmatic appeals to “Law and Order”, rather than justice, equity, and human decency distinctly echo the dispossession of Native land and the commodification of life here through the imposed structure of English (now, American) law. Social interactions between Indigenous people and Settler society were subject to English legal standards, heard in colonial courts, with self-affirming repercussions. Even more overtly, concepts of land usage and entitlement were built upon the same imposition of invasive legal/religious/social values and the reinforcing structural systems that backed them up.

When “might makes right” rather than “respect recognizes rights”, there is a self-serving abuse of power and domination. An exploitive system needs constant “taking.” It happened then, it is happening now. For Indigenous people, it is always about the Land. Right here, in this place – that fact has never changed. While we clearly recognize and oppose the injustices so clearly on broad display around us, and rightly so, do we see that continuing under our own feet? Does “charity begin at home” or not? The system is still protecting what it has taken.

Elizabeth Sadoques Mason

elizabeth sadoques mason 1897 1985

From the Keene Sentinel June 1, 2020

“Elizabeth Sadoques Mason (1897-1985) studied nursing in New York and received her certificate as a registered nurse in 1919. Mason was a full-blooded Abenaki Indian. Her sister Maude also became an RN. They were members of the well-known Sadoques family of Keene, recently commemorated in a Walldogs mural in the city. Elizabeth worked as a nurse in Keene until the late 1950s. According to the winter 2008 issue of Minority Nurse magazine, Elizabeth Sadoques Mason may well have been the first Native American registered nurse in the United States.”

“Put In a Way to Hunt the Indians with Dogs”

“…they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs…”
-D. Trump (May 30, 2020)
Northampton’s Col. John Stoddard – and his father before him, Rev. Solomon Stoddard – officially recommended the use of large dogs to hunt the Abenaki in the environs of Fort Dummer. Tactics haven’t changed much.
-Col. John Stoddard to Gov. Wm. Dummer (Mar. 27, 1724)
-Rev. Solomon Stoddard to Gov. Jos. Dudley (Oct. 21, 1703)

On This Day, May 30, 1723: Dummer’s Interest

gov william dummer massachusetts bay colony
Brief background, adapted from Wikipedia: William Dummer (16777-1761) was lieutenant governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay for fourteen years (1716–1730), including a period from 1723 to 1728 when he acted as governor. He is remembered for his role in leading the colony during what is sometimes called Dummer’s War, which was fought between the British colonies of northeastern North America and a coalition of native tribes in what is now New Hampshire, Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Dummer was born into a wealthy Massachusetts merchant family, traveling to England as a young man to participate in the business. Upon his return to Massachusetts in 1712 he entered provincial politics, gaining a royal commission as lieutenant governor through the efforts of his brother Jeremiah. He served during the turbulent tenure of Governor Samuel Shute, in which Shute quarreled with the assembly over many matters. Shute left the province quite abruptly at the end of 1722, while it was in the middle of a war with the natives of northern New England.
*****
The following date is brought to our attention through the efforts of Brian Chenevert, Nulhegan Abenaki citizen, who has compiled a timeline of events significant during the colonization of Ndakinna by European invaders.
May 30, 1723
Massachusetts commissioners meet with Albany commissioners and representatives from the Five Nations (Haudenosaunee) and outline a proposal from Governor Dummer for the terms in which Massachusetts wanted the Five Nations to join it in fighting the Abenaki. The terms were: For the further Encouragement of your Warlike people Massachusetts will pay 100 pounds for the scalp of every male enemy Indian of twelve years or older, and 50 pounds for the scalps of all others killed “in fight.” Massachusetts will pay 50 pounds for each male prisoner. The Five Nations may keep female prisoners and children under twelve, as well as any plunder taken. The Massachusetts government will supply the Five Nations with any needed provisions or ammunition, but the value will be deducted from the money paid for scalps.
*****
Commentary by Sokoki Sojourn:
  • William Dummer’s name, of course, was affixed to Fort Dummer (Wantastegok/Brattleboro) – built in the winter of 1724 by order of the Governor and the Assembly immediately after this recruitment attempt. The Vermont town immediately upriver and north is named Dummerston, also in attribution to this historical figure and his outsized influence.
  • As with most politicians of the colonial period, not unlike those of today, politics and money (power) went hand in hand. William Dummer came from a wealthy family and made his own substantial fortune, in great part through land speculation – land being the transactional weapon of settler colonization. As a publicity move, he forewent his salary as Lieutenant Governor (also reminiscent of a certain current politician) while he accumulated more significant profits elsewhere.
  • Gov. Dummer had direct personal interests in protecting the Connecticut River frontier above Northfield, at what became the VT/NH/MA tri-state border. He was one of the joint purchasers of the 48,000-acre-portion of the Equivalent Lands on the west bank of the mid-Kwenitekw, Sokoki Abenaki homelands.
  • One of his fellow “investors” was William Brattle, Sr., who – with his son William Brattle, Jr. – similarly lent his name to a town that was chartered later by NH. Gov. Benning Wentworth. Another member of this land speculation pact and a highly  influential politician was Anthony Stoddard, Esq., whose cousin Col. John Stoddard of Northampton was the actual designer of Fort Dummer. John, himself, was an investor in some of the “Equivalent Lands.” As with many people, most of these parties solidified their business and social relationships through marriage as well.
  • The Abenaki resistance which Dummer and his colleagues attempted to obstruct and suppress was a direct response to the continued encroachment of British settlers on Wabanaki territories, both in the Connecticut River valley and (what became) the Maine coast, then part of Massachusetts Bay Province. Coastal and inland Abenaki groups, typically allied with Britain’s empire-building-counterpart  France to the north, sought to keep the British contained.
  • William Dummer – along with William Brattle and many other politicians/officers/investors and their extended heirs – had significant personal financial interests in the Eastern Abenaki homelands also.
  • This series of militant actions was known as Dummer’s War, along with other, more localized theater referents. In the valley of Kwenitekw, it is often known as Greylock’s (or Gray Lock’s) War, in memory of the Western Abenaki war leader Wawanolet (or Wawanolewat) who led many raids and war parties from the north. While most other Abenaki bands to the east and north made peace agreements of a sort with Massachusetts after awhile. Wawanolewat never surrendered and died an old man among his people, around 1750.
  • The clear conclusion to be drawn from these circumstances is that William Dummer (and his cronies, in the clearest sense of the word) was using public resources, influence, relationships, and funds to protect and enhance their personal interests. This included blood money for men, women, and children. One hundred Pounds was worth a fortune, over $26,000 in 1723. Not a lot has changed. The patterns of much-less-than-admirable human behavior that make up most of today’s headlines are stories that continue to play out here as well, with lasting effect.

Something to Think About

Here’s a basic general juxtaposition, upon which I will expand at some further point. It concerns intentionally-built earth structures: what is their original purpose/premise and how are they understood (or, more typically, not) by those who come after?

silbury hill neolithic mound wiltshire

First, a well-known example at Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, England near “the stone circles of Avebury and a few miles from Stonehenge.” You can read a basic overview here, from which I extract the following (evolving) observations:

“Dr Jim Leary, English Heritage archaeologist, said the creators were building the mound as part of a ‘continuous story telling ritual’ – and that the final shape of the mound may have been unimportant… the final form of the Hill did not matter – it was the construction process that was important. …It was a place that was heavily inscribed with folk memories that recalled ancestors and their origins.

‘What is emerging is a picture of Neolithic people having the same need to anchor and share ideas and stories as we do now, and that built structures like Silbury Hill may not be conceived as grand monuments of worship but intimate gestures of communication.’ “

*****

And, continuing in a comparable morphology and much closer to home in Sokoki country, a somewhat similar circumstance and response, is this item from Brattleboro’s Vermont Phoenix newspaper of August 6, 1897:

“The Guilford mound, which has long been supposed to contain Indian relics and which was to have been opened by some Brattleboro men, was opened by some Guilford men last Saturday. The mound was about 50 feet square and 15 feet high and was covered with a thick growth of trees, some of which were four inches through, with roots large enough to impede somewhat the progress of the shovels, nevertheless the men were undaunted and set to work energetically, determined that if within the sides of the mound there were any articles which would interest the world in general they would have the credit of discovering them. They began at the side of the mound, digging a hole large enough for them to stand up in, and penetrated the mound ten feet. No relics were unearthed and six more feet of excavation were made, but still no relics. Then the men began digging on top of the mound and descended 10 feet. At this point the sides of the last excavation caved in and the relic hunters shouldered their shovels and concluded that the secret of that pile of dirt would forever remain unknown so long as they were depended upon to reveal it.”

Not too surprising… you find what you’re looking for – or you miss it completely.

Valley Post: Comments on Northern Hydro

From a contribution to a column by Eesha Williams (Editor) in the Valley Post, linked here.

Native Americans are trying to stop a plan to send hydro-power from Canada to Massachusetts. They have a web site at www.NorthEastMegaDamResistance.org.

Rich Holschuh lives in Brattleboro and, with seven other people, [serves on] …the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. That’s part of the state government. In an April 30 interview with the Valley Post, he said, “Indigenous people worldwide share the common experience of colonization. Colonization is the process of appropriating a place for one’s own use, exercising control by force for the benefit of the newcomer…. The original inhabitants of a place consider themselves to be a single entity: the people and the land are the same. It is a network of sustained, interdependent relationships overlapping with others in a balanced, self-supporting continuum. This balance is disrupted and harmed when those relationships are disregarded, by manipulation and appropriation for externalized profit. Colonization is not a historical event; it is an ongoing system, with lasting damage to the subjects while continuing to accrue benefit to the takers.”

Holschuh continued, “What is happening in the northeastern reaches of this continent, with massive hydroelectric development and export of energy to markets elsewhere, much of it in New England, derives from the same mindset that created the antecedent hydro facilities here on the Kwenitekw (Connecticut) river, and across the continent in the realization of so-called Manifest Destiny. The natural abundance of earth — the gift of Creation — has been coerced, privatized, commodified, extracted, and sold, without due regard for the lasting effects of that interruption of the sustaining cycles. The indigenous people of these places are implicated equally, left outside of consideration, with the network of relationships that constitutes their existence grievously harmed.”

Holschuh said, “The northern mega-dams may seem out-of-sight, and thus out-of-mind, not important or impactful to lives proceeding apace to the south in New England. Vermont, in its claims to cleaner, greener policy, derives a significant portion of its electrical energy demand from facilities such as those of Hydro-Quebec. This is projected to increase as the state adjusts its goals away from less-desirable sources through the Comprehensive Energy Plan. The issue has been raised with Lt. Governor Zuckerman’s Vermont 2050 Planning Group — it’s a very real exacerbation of an existing policy flaw. A reliance on imported energy, and its associated human and environmental costs, has been a contested issue in the past, and it should/will be again soon. This is not a problem in somebody else’s backyard. It is a problem of our own making and it is a repetition of what has and is happening right here in the homelands of the Abenaki and their kin. If we are being honest, this connection and the dynamics that effect it are easily recognized. What happens to one, happens to us all. And so, I recognize All My Relations and ask that together we seek balance and exercise compassion, seeing that there is a better way.”

On a Hillside

cupules guilford large center hole

A compilation of some information about anthropic holes created in native rock, for future learning about the ways of ‘being here.’

Pictured above are cupules, which are circular man-made hollows on the surface of a rock or a rock slab, in a bedrock deposit of local Waits River marble. The holes are in a vertically-split slab of the formation, which is a common sight here lying in beds running north-south some distance west of the Connecticut River. It is very soft and easy to carve, and always covered with a heavy growth of moss and lichen, because of the high calcium levels. It weathers to dark brown.

While Waits River marble is easily eroded, and often assumes the most fantastic shapes because of this weathering – I’m quite familiar with it in this region – these holes look to me to be human creations. My first thought was bullet holes, given its exposed flat face, but there is no shatter as would be expected. They are rather deliberate cup-shaped depressions, with well-defined edges. As a first impression, I noted that there was a cluster of three, encircled by a rough ring of other holes, about 270 degrees around (not quite a full circle). There are a couple other single holes that don’t seem to fit a pattern, at first blush.

Here’s a Wikipedia article on the subject. The article is generalized and worldwide; practices would necessarily differ depending on the associated place-based culture. It is my understanding – very incomplete, but expanding – in this landscape (Sokwakik/Sokoki country) that these creations are a product of ceremony, a direct accessing of knowledge held inside the rock, and centered only in certain locations. It is a form of petroglyph, which function similarly. As I understand, each hole is a symbolic entrance into the underworld/spiritworld and the past, to facilitate transfer of power into the present through the intermediation of a medicine person.

cupules guilford close up

I am still learning how to understand these ways, in this specific landscape. The evidence of these actions is, I feel, necessarily place-based and not randomly transferable, at will. While there are some generally applicable explanations for the methodologies (the how/what), it is much more challenging to understand the reasons they are focused in discrete areas (the why/who/when). Certain people went to certain places at certain times for certain reasons. What makes these places a destination? What are the associations that create the recognition that these are places of certain power?

These are not the only rock carvings in the area. There is another site a couple thousand feet away. The prospect from here is roughly east to southeast, on a slight hillside, looking across a small valley with a sizable brook. I happen to be aware from research that the first Euro settler in this town established himself nearby, in the valley immediately below; that is usually a significant clue that the area was known as significant and utilized in some manner. As a matter of course, there is a Native trail passing nearby.

Various scholars have undertaken to study this practice, with all of the usual differences in approach and conclusions. Some probably draw closer to the sources than others. An entire conference was organized in the last decade around cupules. Here are two papers from that conference’s presentations:

The Interpretation of cupules by Robert G. Bednarik

The ambiguity of depressions in rock art by Maarten van Hoek