Mid-December, 2018. Forty seven degrees, sun is shining.
Kejegigihlasisak w’m8jalinton – chickadees singing.
Remembering again for the first time.
N’mikwalm8nowak – we remember them.
Photograph from Northfield Echoes, Volume 1, A Report of the Northfield Conferences for 1894, D.L. Pierson, ed., E. Northfield, MA, The Conference Bookstore, 1894, p. 360
Last month, on October 23, 2018, I attended a Moody Center event held on the grounds of the former Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, a school founded in 1879 by famed Christian evangelist D.L. Moody, who was born (1837) and raised in the village of Northfield, Massachusetts. The Northfield Seminary was founded specifically to serve girls from poor families who had limited access to education. In time, the school developed a reputation as an excellent academic institution, and it began accepting students from all socioeconomic classes. Two years later (1881), the Mount Hermon School for Boys was established on the other side of the Connecticut River in Gill, MA, the current site of the consolidated Northfield-Mount Hermon (NMH).
The majority of the buildings and some acreage now belong to Thomas Aquinas College, a Roman Catholic, California-based liberal arts college that plans to open an East Coast campus there in 2019. Plans call for it to eventually serve 350 to 400 students. Some additional acreage and 10 other buildings are now owned by the aforementioned Moody Center, a nonprofit organization honoring the legacy of NMH founder D.L. Moody.
The Auditorium, Northfield Seminary, circa 1904, built 1894. Detroit Publishing Co., from the Library of Congress collection
The event was styled the official public launch of the Moody Center and an announcement of its plans for the future at the campus. It was held in the Auditorium, built in 1894 with a capacity of 2500 people, and situated on a height of land at the easterly edge of the grounds. Thousands of classes, conferences, concerts, and church services have been held inside this imposing edifice in its 125 years. Conducted as a joint public announcement and evangelical Christian service, the October 23rd event was to include a rededication of the gravesite of Dwight Moody (died 1899) and his wife, Emma Revell Moody (died 1903), situated on a small knoll known as Round Top, immediately to the south of the Auditorium. Round Top, often referred to as “the most hallowed place in Northfield,” figured largely in the life story of Moody and the many others that have gathered at the school over the years to join in the various religious and educational activities there. A search online makes its significance in this regard abundantly clear.
A contemporary view of the Dwight and Emma Moody gravesite at Round Top, ali nkihl8t, looking westward (Western Abenaki).
“Round Top,” wrote J. Wilbur Chapman, “has ever been a place of blessing. . . . Each evening, when the conferences are in session, as the day is dying out of the sky . . . students gather to talk of the things concerning the Kingdom. . . . The old haystack at Williamstown figures no more conspicuously in the history of missions than Round Top figures in the lives of a countless number of Christians throughout the whole world.” source
More on that “old haystack at Williamstown” in a bit…
Back to the event: the program was structured in two parts, the first a worship service, some history to preface the announcement of the launch, an explanation of future plans, a recognition award, and then an intermission. The second part was to include additional worship, a keynote address, and then dismissal to nearby Round Top for the rededication ceremony. I sat in one of the many seats in an audience of scores of supporters and the curious public, for the first hour and a half, and then stepped outside at the break.
Thinking I had probably absorbed enough and would head back north toward home, I walked over to the gravesite knoll, where a photographer was setting up for the imminent rededication. I had in mind (even before I came there that day) the aphorism that disparate cultures may find the same geographical sites notable, and even sacred, and that Round Top may have been a significant location to the indigenous Sokoki, for any number of reasons within their own cultural values. There is often a pattern of displacement and replacement – intentional appropriation, both symbolic and physically – overlaid on these places, a site-specific instance of the land dispossession that defines colonization. For more, see Jean O’Brien’s excellent analysis of the wholesale application of this practice in Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England.
Round Top postcard, circa 1902, Detroit Publishing Co.
A light precipitation had begun to fall from the darkening sky and the breeze was picking up, as I approached the small prominence. The twin gray granite gravestones stood on the rise, surrounded by an iron chain with ornate posts, and sheltered by a small grove of tall white pines and stately white birches. I took in the open prospect before my eyes, looking up and down the valley of the Kwenitekw/Connecticut River, the wolhanak/intervale meadows, and the hills rolling off into the west, toward the Pocumtuk, Mount Greylock, and the Green Mountains on the horizon, where the sun would end its traverse shortly.
The gentle mound of earth, at the height of land rising from the terraces, did indeed seem like a natural gathering place. In sight were Pachaug Meadow to the northwest, Great Meadow below, Natanis southwest at Bennett Meadow, and Moose Plain, across the River. The Great River Road following the east bank at the bottom of the immediate slope has now become Massachusetts Route 63. Thinking back to what this place may have looked like several hundred years ago, before Puritan captive Mary Rowlandson made her slow way northward past this very spot in 1676, I could picture fertile planting fields, grasslands regularly cleared with controlled burns, and wigwams on the higher ground around me. The scattered raindrops began to get larger and more frequent. I laid tobacco at the base of a twin birch, said good-bye to the photographer, wishing him well with the weather, and walked back to my car.
Since then, I hadn’t thought much more of it. But this week, I received by email a Moody Center newsletter, authored by Board Member Dr. Edwin Lutzer describing his participation as the keynote speaker during the October program. The newsletter is entitled “Standing Where D.L. Moody Stood – and Reviving His Legacy.” Several excerpts stood out as unexpected anomalies within an otherwise didactic and altogether familiar narrative (familiar because I grew up immersed in evangelical, fundamentalist Protestant Christianity, replete with plentiful references to D.L. Moody).
Here are the excerpts from Rev. Dr. Edwin Lutzer that caught me by surprise (or not…):
My keynote address was given in the original auditorium, built in 1894, while standing where D.L. Moody often stood to preach and where his funeral service was held in 1899. I began with a question — “Can these dry bones live?”…
After my message, the plan was for me to lead our 200+ guests to a nearby hill on the property known as “Round Top,” which is where D.L. Moody and his wife, Emma, are buried. In Moody’s day, this was referred to as the “Olivet” of the region, because Moody himself liked to gather students in the nearby valley and teach them the Scriptures. He even said he would like to be buried at the picturesque Round Top. Thankfully, his wishes were honored.
In the many decades since D.L. Moody’s death, students have continued to gather at Round Top for times of visiting and religious services. Word also has it that witches came to the property, representing their religion. Another board member shared that, as he walked up the hill many years ago, he saw what appeared to be a witch at Moody’s grave. She was dressed in all black and was chanting until she saw someone approaching and began to run. This is why a brief ceremony was planned for Round Top as part of the launch event, thus renouncing the past and rededicating the property to Jesus Christ and the furtherance of the Gospel.
Then it gets even more interesting:
Near the end of my address, I could hear the rumbling of thunder and wind was blowing rain against the outer windows of the auditorium. For the safety of our guests, a decision was made to keep the ten-minute rededication ceremony in the auditorium instead of proceeding to Round Top. After leading everyone in a final prayer of commitment, I opened my eyes and saw sunlight streaming through the windows…
As the service concluded and music filled the auditorium, guests began to leave and were immediately greeted with a double rainbow. Not only was the sun shining — but there was not a cloud in the sky! Some interpreted this as a sign of God’s blessing. He speaks through the thunder (see II Samuel 22:14; Psalm 77:17); but after the thunder comes the blessing of sunshine.
A thunderstorm sweeps over the Valley: Thomas Cole, The Oxbow (The Connecticut River near Northampton 1836).
I will end this interesting juxtaposition with several circumstantial observations:
Note: this is an anecdotal observation of a place-based intersection of spiritualities in Squakheag/Northfield, a center of Sokwakiak culture. Food for thought.
Perhaps you have heard a story of Ishi. He is considered to have been the last of his people, the Yahi of the Yana, whose homelands are the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada, in today’s California. I won’t go into the story here; it is oft-told and readily available. I would like to think about a particular aspect, which helps to inform the rest, of course.
I learned of Ishi’s story many years ago… it is powerful, haunting, and telling – a cautionary (true) tale of how humans can become separated, estranged from each other and the earth.
I have always been deeply moved by the statements encountered in the introductions to the stories: “Ishi means “man” in the Yana language. The anthropologist Alfred Kroeber gave this name to the man because [it is said] in the Yahi culture, tradition demanded that he not speak his name or that of anyone who was dead. When asked his name, he said: “I have none, because there were no people to name me,” meaning that no Yahi had ever spoken his name.”
I don’t think it’s as simple as a basic omission or quid pro quo. That is a shallow observation, true on the surface but much more complex than a verbal exchange with social proscriptions. I see this situation with a vastly wider underlying significance. Simply put, our names are not who we are as an individual. They are what we are called by others (I am called… Abenaki: Nd’elewizi… ), ideally by our own community, the people who know us best. Humans do not exist by themselves. Not for long. We are social creatures. Without his people – the Yahi, with their cultural understandings derived directly from their homelands, a context within which to make reference to a sense of being- to call to him, to create that relationship of knowing, seeing and being seen, Ishi had already been dealt the ultimate separation. Outside of community, he was no one. There was no context, no one to know him for who he was, a being in relationship to a place and all of its other beings. “There were no people to name me.”
This rattles me to the core. As it should.
From the article by Harmony Birch in the Brattleboro Reformer, May 9, 2018:
[Alex] White Plume visited Vermont Hempicurean on Saturday to share stories about his fight with the Drug Enforcement Agency to grow hemp, and to talk about Oglala Lakota-U.S. relations… The saga with the DEA, White Plume said, relates directly to the genocide of native American peoples.
“On the East Coast here there’s no more natural Indians. They were wiped out because they have 511 years [of colonization].” Local Native Americans have had their cultures wiped out, White Plume said. “We’ve only had 200 years of contact so we’re still real,” he said of the Lakota. “Our language is real, our ceremonies are real. We’re still alive; we still remember.”
This, coming from a Lakota man, shows the extent and depth of the darkness surrounding the stories about “here”; and then, further, in the article, another perspective from mainstream society:
Common Sense director Kurt Daims…wants to raise $1 million to distribute among local Native American groups. Brattleboro Common Sense has an anonymous council working out how the organization can move forward with the project. “There are four parts,” Daims said. “Money, a committee on determining certification, an education component requiring education about the American genocides in high school, and [possibly] considering a new form of currency to be used on reservations.”
None of the components are written in stone, Daims said. When approaching people to join the council, Daims said he wanted to include diverse voices. He wasn’t aware of committee members’ ancestry before asking them to join the council, but many of the people he approached happened to be of Abenaki descent, he said. “People say [of the Abenaki] ‘we’re here but you just don’t see them,'” he said. Still, Daims said he doesn’t think all Native Americans will be in favor of reparations. Daims said he spoke to one local Abenaki leader who said he didn’t think people were ready for reparations…
My perspective on this (I believe I may be the person to whom Kurt Daims refers) aligns with that of Native author Tommy Orange, as quoted in this recent NY Times article about his new novel, “There There.” “…Tommy Orange’s polyphonic debut novel, takes its title from Gertrude Stein’s cutting line about Oakland, Calif: “There is no there there.” …For native people, Mr. Orange writes, cities and towns themselves represent the absence of a homeland — a lost world of “buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, un-returnable covered memory. There is no there there.”
And, then, at the end of the review, the explanatory words with which I concur:
“Mr. Orange struggled for several years with the structure, puzzling over how the characters’ lives fit together, and discarded hundreds of pages and entire chapters delving into different characters’ family histories. Eventually, he settled on an unconventional form: The novel opens with a series of brief and jarring vignettes revealing the violence and genocide that indigenous people have endured, and how it has been sanitized over the centuries.
Mr. Orange said he felt like he couldn’t move the story forward without first going back. “As native writers, there’s a certain feeling that you have to set the record straight before you even begin,” he said. “It’s been told wrong, and not told, so often.”
This is why we are not ready for suggestions for reparations. It’s not that simple, it’s not appropriate. The story is not yet told, much less heard. I spoke briefly with Alex White Plume while he was here, greeting him and assuring him he was welcome in these homelands, but his remarks to the Reformer reporter demonstrate that even our fellow indigenous people do not clearly understand the situation here. It will be hard, it will take awhile. The stories are only now beginning to be told. There is much to learn. The past is with us and creates the present. We cannot know where we are going until we understand the places we have been. We are the dreams of the ancestors, and we ourselves are dreaming the next generations into being. We must acknowledge first, accept, and allow. Only then will we know the way.