Kwikweskas

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First robin seen this year! On January 28th… we are now into the beginning of the second Abenaki month, Pia8dagos, “makes branches fall in pieces moon.” Kwikweskas = whistlemaker = American robin.

We were out for a family walk in the skamonikik8n/cornfield ( just north of Wantastekw/West River near The Marina restaurant. There are a series of tamakwa nebisisal/beaver ponds at the back edge below the next terrace, where the river ancient course had been, many many generations ago… The steep bank faces south there and provides a warm, sheltered place on a bright winter  day. I had been hearing a bird call as we explored the frozen ponds, and couldn’t place the familiar sound. Just as it dawned on me (out of context), I saw a flash of orange motion and a robin flew over to a luxuriant spray of bittersweet berries on a tall tree. Another came to join a few minutes later. Kwai kwikweskasak!

W8bimizi: The Metaphor of the Chestnut

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American chestnut perseveres on the slopes of Wantastegok Wajo.

W8bimizi: w8bi- “white” plus -mizi “woody plant” = “white woody plant”

The metaphor of the chestnut: The tree may appear lifeless or decaying, but the roots are alive and ready to sprout. Indigenous presence here in Sokwakik may be thought of in this light. Although there may not be much that meets the (untrained) eye, it is all “still here”, awaiting only a return to reciprocity: recognition, acknowledgement, relationship.

Nahmetawanzik, Ames Hill, Brattleboro

nahmetawanzik ames hill

Nahmetawanzik, Ames Hill,  Brattleboro, VT – a summer house on the south side of Ames Hill Road around the turn of the past century.

A photograph by Porter C. Thayer, circa 1905.

A sociocultural trend began in the late 19th century – continuing well into the mid-1900s – of dubbing summer camps and cabins with Native-inspired names, many of dubious origin and/or translation. This movement sprang from the influence of the work of educators, scientists, authors, and social activists following the stifling Victorian era, individuals such as G. Stanley Hall, Ernest Thompson Seton, and Daniel Carter Beard, meshing with the progressive social reforms of the time. Mixing recapitulation theories of adolescent development, the romantic idealist’s adoption of the noble savage, nationalism, a newfound mobility, and the financial ability to indulge in outdoor recreation, America took to its reclaimed, appropriated, whitewashed roots with enthusiasm. The proliferation of Camps Hiawatha – Keewaydin – Weehawkin – Runamuck – Thunderhawk – Kootenay was a wonder to behold. On a smaller but more prolific scale, private vacation cabins and cottages followed suit. Some of these names were deliberate fabrications, evoking a fancied Indian motif or alliteration. Others had a more authentic origin, or attempted to emulate such.

***

The house on Ames Hill seems to fit into the latter category. At this point, we don’t know the identity of the property owner or their intentions, but it is possible to make some educated guesses, based on both word structure and its practical application. The word Nahmetawanzik demonstrates several basic Algonquian language characteristics: first personal possession or action with the initial “n”, small compounding morphemes, and a locative ending with a “k”. Although we can by no means assume that the word was derived from the indigenous language of this land Aln8ba8dwaw8gan/Western Abenaki, it actually corresponds quite closely. I put the question out to members of a Western Abenaki language forum. This is what came back:

Jesse Bruchac: Sounds like “one sees something” from “namit8zik” a bit to me on a first pass . Is there a good view there?

Rich Holschuh: Without going out there to see if it’s still standing, I can’t say exactly. But Ames Hill Rd. does have grand views east in general. And this seems to be one of a number of summer houses that were/are up there. Awesome first pass, Jesse !

Marge Bruchac: Or it might be a pseudo-Indian invented name, which was the fashion among white folks building summer homes in the era (and in the northeast in general). Other camps in the same area (also photographed by Porter C. Thayer) include Quiturkare (quit your care) and Welikeit (we like it).

Joseph Joubert: I totally agree with with Marge Bruchac. This is a fictitious name. However, I also agree with Jesse Bruchac. I am seeing another word there – “wan” – lost, hidden away. This is my take on it. Remember this is not a word in the Abenaki Language of Odanak. “Something inanimate seen hidden away”. I am also getting “wild turkey” out of it – ha ha! That is why I say it is a fictitious name conjured up without the knowledge of the Algonquin grammer. “zik” is what tells me it is something inanimate. Jesse, I think “pazombwôgan” would mean “view”.

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There were (and still are) several summer places on Ames Hill Road, rising from Brattleboro to Marlboro as it heads west and climbs into the foothills of the Green Mountains. It’s a beautiful landscape, open to the east and south, rolling forested hills with meadows and orchards, and little brooks and springs tumbling down the slopes. Wantastekw Wajo/Mount Wantastiquet stands tall and abrupt in the mid-distance, about 5-8 miles away to the east, along the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River. So, it’s not much of a conjecture to suppose that the homeowner, or an acquaintance with some knowledge of the area’s Abenaki heritage, came up with a fitting descriptor to the effect of n’namit8wanzik – “I see the lost place” – (the Wantastekw/Lost River/West River mountain). Or simply, as Jesse suggested, namit8zik, “one sees something” – the pronunciation of the Abenaki vowel “8” can suggest a “w”sound between syllables.  This phrase might also poetically signify a romantic view back to the “vanished and noble” Native heritage. I will keep looking for more clues to this pictorial mystery… the structure’s site, the original owner, their disposition and motivations.

East To Monadnock

round-mt-to-monadnock

From the peak of Bedegwajo/Round Mountain in West Brattleboro, VT, a line of sight running 27 miles due east to Menonadenak/Menadenak/Monadnock in New Hampshire crosses directly over the ridge of Wantastegok Wajo/Mt. Wantastiquet, on the east bank of the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River.

round-mt-to-wantastiquet

Benjamin Gleason and Those Bothersome Canadian Indians

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The headstone of Mr. Benjamin Gleason, early settler of Dummerston (then Fulham). In the Bennett Cemetery on Schoolhouse Rd, E. Dummerston, VT.

Benjamin Gleason was an early settler of Fulham/Fullum (now known as Dummerston), Vermont. He was born in 1745 in Framingham, MA – the same year that Nehemiah Howe was captured by Abenaki raiders on Putney Great Meadows just a few miles north of Dummerston. These were the early days of what is often called King George’s War (1744-1748), part of the European War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748), and the third of the four so-called French and Indian Wars. Benjamin was one of the four sons of Sgt. Isaac and Thankful (Wilson) Gleason, later of Petersham, MA. He came to Westmoreland, NH, just across the Connecticut River, with his brothers when he was a young man and lived between both there and Dummerston for the rest of his life.

He married Mary Cole (circa 1775), who was born directly across the Connecticut River, on Canoe Meadow in Westmoreland, NH, eldest daughter of Jonathan and Edith (Davis) Cole. Her birth was sometime before 1764, in the blockhouse her father, Deacon Jonathan built as protection for the family and neighbors because, the record states, “in the early days of the settlement he was often annoyed by the Indians.”  Benjamin and Mary Gleason eventually had nine or ten children, depending on your sources. Benjamin was present in Westmoreland in March of 1776, when the roll call was taken of “all males above twenty-one years of age (lunatics, idiots, and negroes excepted)” and the Association Test of loyalty to the Revolutionary cause was administered. Benjamin ended up serving in the American Rebellion and his gravesite bears a veteran’s marker; his father Sgt. Isaac had served many years in the last French and Indian War, at Crown Point, Ticonderoga, and Fort Duquesne.

In the History of Dummerston is this striking anecdote:

Benjamin Gleason, a pensioner, served in the army 7 years. He was born in 1745, lived in this town many years, and died Oct.23, 1823, aged 78. Nothing can be ascertained about his long experience in war; but we met with one old gentleman, who told us the following story of his killing an Indian:

The Indians had come down the Connecticut valley, from Canada for the purpose of destroying the property of the whites and taking them prisoners. Gleason was an object of their search; but he was vigilant, and managed to escape into the forest, on the approach of the savages. His place of retreat was soon discovered; and with the intention of capturing him alive, an Indian came toward him looking very good-natured, and for the purpose of deception, came toward him pretended that he was going to shake hands, saying, as he walked along, “Sagah?” “Sagah?” in English how are you? how are you? “I’ll Sagah you,” said Ben and instantly shot him dead. The Indians were greatly enraged, on finding their comrade dead; but Gleason was too cunning for the red men, and was never made their prisoner.

I bounced this apocryphal story – the only reference I have ever found to the Abenaki language in the local settler’s history record, other than names – over to one of my language coaches and a fluent speaker of Western Abenaki, Jesse Bruchac. Jesse’s insightful reading is as follows: Very cool! Could be two things, saagat means “I’m sorry” and sagiljandi means “shake hands”.

It almost goes without saying that this strange tale, passed down in the community and originally related, no doubt, by the protagonist himself – Benjamin Gleason – may have more than one truth behind it. Dead men tell no tales and history is written by the victor. Without witnesses a story is simply hearsay, or perhaps better described as “I will say what I want you to hear.”

Sources:

  • History of Cheshire and Sullivan Counties, New Hampshire, J.W. Lewis & Co., 1886.
  • Gazetteer of Cheshire County, NH, 1736-1885, Hamilton Child, 1885.
  • History of the Town of Dummerston: the First Town Settled by Anglo-Saxon Descendants, David Lufkin Mansfield, 1884.
  • Western Abenaki Facebook discussion group.

Seeing Between the Lines

birdseye view north wantastiquet postcard after 1909

A vintage postcard, from sometime shortly after 1909.

The river central to the vista is the Wantastekw, now known as the West River, just west of its confluence with the Kwanitekw (today’s Anglicized Connecticut River), in the northeast corner of Brattleboro, Vermont.  The postcard’s legend could more accurately be described as northwest from the northern end of Mount Wantastiquet’s ridgeline. As far as dating this scene, the wide expanse of blue in the foreground indicates that the river’s water level is higher as pictured than its natural state of repose, due to the impoundment of the Connecticut by the construction of the Vernon hydroelectric dam eight miles downriver in 1909, by a business consortium which became known as New England Power. But the area known as the Retreat Meadows – the medium brown swathe just left of the broad watery area – had not yet been subsumed by the impoundment, as it is has been today – flooded permanently. An effort to maintain the Meadows as agricultural land, using a dike and a pumping station paid for by the hydropower developer, was successful for a few years but subsequently abandoned. Also worth pointing out is the fact that color cues in a hand-colored photograph such as this are not always reliable: studio artists often worked from a photographer’s notes remote from the site, and mistakes of interpretation were made. In this case, the thin band of blue at the lower left is mistakenly tinted as water; it is actually open land, perhaps that of the Richards Bradley farm, west of Putney Road and just south of the West River bridges.

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The same view today (Niben – Summer 2016).

 

 

Sokoki Sojourn and the Turners Falls Indians Debate

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The mid-Connecticut River valley, showing the traditional homelands of the Sokwakiak Abenaki (the Sokoki), known as Sokwakik (labelled in the center), south below Koasek to Peskeompskut (today’s Turners Falls). Map from Lisa Brooks’ The Common Pot: the Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (2008).

Why would Sokoki Sojourn concern itself with the current discussion around the implications of maintaining or changing the Turners Falls Indians athletic mascot? As the social, cultural, ethical, and historical implications will be examined thoroughly in the ongoing media coverage (archived here), I would simply like to make the connection, geographically and personally, with several simple observations.

To the immediate north of what is now called Turners Falls, named after British colonial Captain William Turner, but known beforehand as Peskeompskut, lies the homeland of the Western Abenaki. Gill, Northfield, Bernardston, Vernon, Hinsdale, Brattleboro, and many other nearby towns, heading northward, lie upon this ancestral landscape and, due to their continuing presence, within the selfhood of the indigenous people.  The people of this land were and are called the Sokwakiak (today’s Sokoki), meaning “the people who were set apart or who separated.” The linguistic and historical connection  can be seen and heard clearly in the early European settler’s name for Northfield: Squakheag. This is an Anglicized derivation from the Abenaki name for the region, Sokwakik.

The people of this land were most certainly present at Capt. Turner’s dawn raid upon the sleeping fishing village on May 19, 1676. They were the de facto hosts at this peacefully neutral encampment, receiving their Algonquian cousins and political allies in Metacom’s Uprising (King Philip’s War): the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, the Nipmuck, the Pocumtuck, and no doubt members of other similarly disenfranchised Tribes. Hundreds died that day – primarily children, women, and elders – and the lives of the communities were never the same again. Which, really, brings us up to today: this is why Sokoki Sojourn has taken up the mantle. The story continues and there can be no peace without justice, no honor without truth.