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.”

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.
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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.
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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.

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

 

 

Kwenitekw – The Long Story

kwenitekw-prospect-wantastegok-may-2016

It is a traditional understanding that Creation is continual – the only constant is change. What we see now was once something else, and what may come afterward will only be known when it is here. All that we encounter is made of the same substances… combining, recombining, transitioning, growing, fading. It has all “always been here” and it is still here. We are each a part of everything else in this whole we call Creation, in a very pragmatic manner, and even now there is change underway: things will be different afterward but Creation continues.

To state that something is “exactly this or that” is to not see the situation as it truly manifests itself. This is the mind of separation and objectification – the illusion of control – which, after all, is the process of colonization, and the (literal) force that has been and is having a great effect upon our existence here on this Earth. When we step out of a recognition that we are in a continually evolving relationship with everything around us, we move away from balance and toward increasing disarray and dysfunction. We are no longer fulfilling our roles and responsibilities.

We see the world in part, for at least several reasons. Internally, our individual life lessons color our experience; in other words, we can only understand the world in terms of what we already know of it, and if we encounter something unfamiliar, we either learn from that moment, or not. Externally, our cultures frame our worldview; they provide the tools, including language, by which we make meaning and interpret our intersections with our surroundings. And, on a practical, material level, our degree of perspective is necessarily limited by both the physical location at which we are situated, and by how much attention we devote to the moment. We see what is before us, if we are present there and then, using our full senses – and those need not be limited to the basic five. There are many ways to be “sense-itive.”

west-river-december-brattleboro-2018

All of this suggests that there are multiple, equally valid experiences of existence – many ways of being – and all of these entities are experiencing each other at the same time. There are layers of relationship, always in motion and shifting, seen and unseen, moving between forms and effects, all present at once and energized by the Spirit within. There is no “one objective way of being,” since all is in constant flux and centered on the interactions of that moment. This is not license for carelessness and anarchy, but a call to recognition and responsibility.

This is an Indigenous view of the world. This is why Place is so important. These interactions and overlapping realities are shaped by the ways that the entities of a particular place are relating to each other, in the moment – they are present, together, in that Place. In any other location, there would be necessarily be a different set of actors, interacting in different ways. The dictionary definition of an Indigenous person is “ the original people of a place.” The critical characteristic here is the landscape within which the People (and every other entity there) are connected; the Place is the lens through which they define themselves. They, and the Place, are the same thing. It is no accident that the Abenaki word “tôni” means both “where” and “how.” The setting matters that much.

rock-dam-connecticut-river

Quite often, this is the way that Aln8ba8dwaw8gan (the Western Abenaki language) works… A word may evoke more than one meaning at the same time, since there is more than one possible reality, and the language allows for that. A term may have a direct, descriptive significance, and at the same time it may make a metaphorical reference. It can be a launching point for a deeper exploration of significance or suggestion, totemic for an entire story or understanding. That the language structure itself is polysynthetic – combining smaller, individual root words, known as morphemes, to add inflection – means that a single word can express a complex concept.

This is the case with Kwenitekw (KWEN- ee – took – uh, the last syllable almost voiceless), the Abenaki word for today’s Connecticut River. On a pragmatic level, it is usually taken to mean “Long River”. The two morphemes that impart inflection in this word are “kwen-” and “-tekw”, with the “i“ connector. “Kwen-“ is an adjectival modifier suggesting extended length and usually translated as “long” or “tall”, a spatial dimension. And “-tekw” is a bound suffix, used for water in the form of rivers, tides, and waves. At first examination, this results in the straightforward “Long River.” And it is a long river – the longest in the region – flowing southward over 400 miles, from the eponymous series of Connecticut Lakes at the US/Quebec border to the Atlantic Ocean at Long Island Sound. But it doesn’t stop there.

connecticut-river-confluence-dummerston-canoe-brook

It has been said that the Abenaki did not focus on the idea of the River as an object unto itself, a stand-alone geographical feature. Of course, in the grand web of inter-relatedness, it certainly is not. Rather, it is a unifying presence, a vast watery web of connections, drawing together the rainfall, snowpack, brooks, ponds, vernal pools, marshes and swamps, and tributaries of an 11,260-square-mile watershed. Where today we see a dividing boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire, the Kwenitekw is more inherently the central heart of a vast community of communities, the Abenaki homeland of Ndakinna.

The Abenaki (and the Wabanaki, by extension) see themselves as river-centric people, using the place-based paradigm of indigeneity, applied to their various dwelling places in the lush, well-watered mountains of the Northeast. Scholar Lisa Brooks makes mention of this in her relation of the Native leader Polis, who lived on the Presumpscot River in the early 18th century. When he travelled to Boston, protesting colonial abuse and usurpation of the Presumpscot, he referred to it as “n’sibo” – “the river to which I belong.” Each band of Abenaki people had their own river, or other body of water, each with its own associated name – which typically became their name for themselves as well. The tributaries of the Kwenitekw provide examples: Wantastekw, Ammonoosuc, Ashuelot, Mascoma, Ompompanoosuc, Nulhegan, Pocumtuk. These places (often at confluences) were centers unto themselves, a network of relations connected by the River, but also by kinship, trade, culture, diplomacy, seasonal gathering, and more, down through the generations.

connecticut-river-summer-sunset-brattleboro

By allowing these cultural understandings to illuminate underlying concepts of the two constituent morphemes, the name Kwenitekw can evoke something much more encompassing and suggestive than simply Long River. “Kweni-” can also suggest “duration”, as in a continuance – a length of space/time. An ongoing, sustained series of connected moments: a story line. A cognate, perhaps, to what the Aboriginal People of the Australian continent call a dreaming track or a songline. And the suffix “-tekw” more closely means means “flow” as in “water in dynamic motion” – thus, it is used for rivers, tides, and waves – but not lakes, ponds, and bays. Rather, it is water as the essence of life – moving and shifting, transitioning from one place to another – it is imbued with power.

So, while Kwenitekw can be seen to express the “Long River” as a rather straightforward toponym, it can also describe an expansive concept. In sentence form, it might be expressed as “a continuous, connecting flow of spirit-power in transition.” One might think of it as an Abenaki expansion of the expression attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus “No man ever steps in the same river twice…” When this broadened perspective is absorbed, it begins to inform many other concerns, such as relationship, change, presence, responsibility and balance, to suggest a few. This is the way of it.

connecticut-river-sunset-february-ice

This essay appeared online in the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum blog on March 25, 2020. I encourage you to visit them, in Warner, NH, when you have an opportunity.

The Return of Pia8dagos

pia8dagos falling branches moon

The second month of the Abenaki annual cycle has come around again, as we continue peboniwi (in the winter). The new moon following Alamikos (also known as  Anhaldamawikizos) occurs today here in Sokwakik, on January 24, 2020 by the Gregorian calendar.

In the Western Abenaki lunar cycle, Pia8dagos means “makes branches fall into pieces” or ‘falling in pieces branches maker.” The days grow a little longer as Grandfather Sun edges higher in the sky, but we know there will be more snow and cold before the maple trees begin to lift their sweetness from the earth.

Shad Above Kchi Pontekw

w8bimagw shad 1939 illustration

It is conventional historical knowledge that, when the American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) made its prodigious late-spring spawning runs up the Kwenitekw, the silver flood of fish was stopped at Kchi Pontekw (the Great Falls), between today’s Bellows Falls,VT and North Walpole, NH. This was said to be the northernmost point on the Connecticut River for the annual migration. The  49-foot drop of the River there (over a short stretch of rapids and falls) was said to be an effective block to the passage of the shad, but not to the accompanying Atlantic Salmon who were also seeking their natal tributaries. This claim can be found in 99.9% of the sources, over a long period of time. Here’s just one recent example, from the NH Fish & Game Department:

Fish passage has been provided at the first three dams on the Merrimack River, although shad have difficulty navigating the fish passage facility at the Pawtucket Dam in Lowell, MA. On the Connecticut River, fish passage for shad is available at the three mainstream dams up to the historic limit of upstream shad migration at Bellows Falls.

There is much that can be related about this particular and significant ancient place, with respect to the seasonal gifts of sustenance and the intersections of spirit there, but those many stories will be explored elsewhere. In this post, I would like to simply document differing statements about the extent of the anadromous shad run, drawing from a local history 40 miles upstream at Lebanon, NH. In the 1908 “History of Lebanon, N.H., 1761-1887 by Charles Algernon Downs“, we find the following statement on page 189:

history of lebanon downs pg 189 shad reference

We can make a few observations in reflection upon this contradiction to the accepted notions about the travels of w8bimakok, the shad…

  • First of all, Charles Algernon Downs may have been mistaken. But given his long and early presence in Lebanon, and his character, this seems unlikely. Indeed, the Rev. Mr. Downs may well have personally known people who had fished for shad in the Mascoma, as he stipulated. This knowledge would have been well-engrained in the local lore at the time. There may very well be other such obscure references in other historical literature north of the Great Falls.
  • It would seem that, if his assertion is true, although the great rocky impediment to passage at Kchi Pontekw did indeed block the great majority of shad from traveling further upstream, a small amount found success. The many stories of the sheer number of shad that would congregate at the Great Eddy below the tumult are testimony to its effectiveness as a blockage – and its fame as a favored indigenous fishing place for millennia. Yet if vast numbers of salmon were quite successful in climbing the cataract, perhaps a percentage of shad accompanied them. The number who passed successfully may have paled in comparison to the total and thus been of lesser note to historians.
  • The complex process of shad migration is informed extrinsically and intrinsically by many factors. Some are environmental and fluctuating, such as flow velocity, temperature, salinity, light levels, and competition, among others. Others are innate: the strong homing instinct of the individual fish to the original river of its birth. The fish migrate to their respective spawning streams using genetic memory informed by chemical and magnetic guidance. Recent studies have demonstrated the incredible accuracy of this instinct. Why would there be so many shad below the falls? The migration is not a race to set an indeterminate record. It might follow that shad seeking to pass Kchi Pontekw would be following the pull of their birthplaces upstream.
  • It is no accident that Downs documented the appointment of fish inspectors Buck and Bailey in the years 1795-1797. Lebanon, NH (chartered July 4th, 1761) had only begun to be an organized colonial town a few years beforehand. It took awhile to get town business thoroughly refined, but immediately after these appointees were chosen, the dam across the Connecticut River downstream at Turners Falls, MA (now-called) was completed in 1798. It is a universally-acknowledged fact that all anadromous fish migrations dropped off drastically in that year, their journey effectively cut short at that point.
  • As a curious side note, the name of the Mascoma River, singled out by Rev. Downs as the objective of the spawning shad in his locale, is derived from the Abenaki name for the salmon. No doubt the river was, in actual use, a shared goal by both species. That word in Aln8ba8dwaw8gan is “mskwamakw’ – pronounced muh-SKWAH-mahk-uh, nearly the same as its English variant – and means, literally, “red fish.”
  • And, in an odd coincidence, the American Shad’s Latin generic name “Alosa” is identical to the Abenaki word for “to go”, which is exactly what the fish prefer to do. The Latin root, however, derives from “alausa” – a fish.

 

 

Pamgisgak – the Winter Solstice

prospect cemetery december morning
The present, here and now.
#Abenaki ways of being with this day, December 21, 2019:
 
Peboniwi, t8ni kizos wazwasa – “In winter, when the sun returns to the same place” (the solstice)
 
Kwagwanidebokak – “the very long night”
 
N8woponasik – “midwinter” (the solstice)

Skamonkas: Corn Maker Moon

skamonkas corn maker moon

Catching up on the calendar again: tonight’s new moon (September 28, 2019) begins a new month, but we will take that up immediately after we acknowledge Skamonkas, the moon just ending .

The ninth month of the Abenaki lunar calendar is the Corn Maker Moon, Skamonkas, following the preceding eighth month of Temez8was, the Cutter (Harvest) Moon. The flint corn crop has ripened and is finally dried on the stalk, ready for harvesting. The dried ears will be gathered and stored for later use, often by grinding into flour or meal.

This particular lunar month began in the current year’s sun cycle with the new moon on August 30, 2019, and progressed through the full moon September 14th, which gives the name. The name itself derives from the simple addition of skamon for corn plus -ka for maker plus -s as a short ending for moon (kizos).

N’wliwni, Nigawes Kizos – nd’alamizi.  I thank you Grandmother Moon – I am grateful.