Local Radio Show Broadcasts Native Perspectives

deb reger moccasin tracks seven days

When Deb Reger began her weekly radio show, “Moccasin Tracks,” on WRUV 90.1 FM last Tuesday at noon, she reminded her listeners where she was. “We recognize this area where we broadcast from as N’Dakinna, the ancestral homeland of the Abenaki nation,” she said from the radio station’s studio in the University of Vermont’s Davis Center in Burlington.

As the song “Grandmother” by Navajo artist Radmilla Cody played in the background, Reger told listeners that her guest for the week was Grandmother Nancy Andry, an elder who lives in Connecticut and is of Algonquin and Metis heritage. It took a couple of tries before Reger got through on the phone to her guest. So the seasoned radio host adjusted her playlist to include longer songs. She wasn’t too frazzled, though. “It happens,” she explained.

Reger started “Moccasin Tracks” in 2009 because she wanted to produce a show that featured the voices and music of native peoples. “You just didn’t hear [from them] that much,” Reger said.

Reger, who doesn’t claim any native ancestry, stresses she doesn’t seek to speak for the native peoples. Her goal is to let them represent themselves and tell their stories.  “I hold this space, this broadcast time, for the people who are underserved,” the radio host said.

Read the full article by Kymelya Sari in Seven Days.

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Warren Zevon Book Sales Benefit Barnet’s Brookview Community Center and Nulhegan Abenaki

crystal zevon books brookview barnet

Warren Zevon’s ex-wife began selling the late rocker’s copious book collection on eBay last year to raise money for a planned community center in her hometown of West Barnet. Crystal Zevon hoped to bring in $1,000 a month to pay for upkeep on the site she dubbed Brookview.

She raised that, and then some. “I don’t have an exact number, but I believe we’ve raised about $13,000. Probably a bit more,” Crystal Zevon wrote late last month in an email to the Burlington Free Press.

Brookview, according to Zevon, is transitioning to an Abenaki cultural center. “The spiritual leader of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation and his wife are now living in the house,” wrote Zevon, who has long been involved in Native American issues. “Aside from paying the monthly expenses, the money raised is being used to make workshop space handicapped accessible for cultural classes and workshops, meetings, ceremonies related to the preservation of the Abenaki culture.”

Community events are also welcome at the space, according to Zevon, but Abenaki events will take priority. “Lots of hopes and plans afoot,” she wrote.

See the article by Brent Hallenbeck in the Burlington Free Press.

Our Beloved Kin: King Philip’s War Informs Today’s Events

lisa brooks amherst our beloved kin

The story of King Philip’s War, which ended [340] years ago, may be central to the history of this place, marked in locations like King Philip’s Hill in Northfield, the Bloody Brook Battle monument in Deerfield, and even King Philip restaurant in Phillipston. The three-year armed conflict is largely blamed on attacks on colonial settlers by Wampanoags and other native “savages.”

But a book released this week by Amherst College associate professor Lisa Brooks, an Abenaki, depicts the prolonged war on a dozen settlements throughout much of the region as more complex. And it’s seen as the result of mistaken assumptions English settlers made about the native tribes.

What’s more, Lisa Brooks’ “Our Beloved Kin” (Yale University Press) is based on written letters and other materials written by those Indians, who are largely assumed to have been illiterate. And the creative, readable telling by this associate professor of English and American studies she describes as a relevant and timely interpretation, suggesting the plight of refugees and racial profiling.

Her history, which traces the interwoven paths of three characters — Wampanoag leader Weetamoo, who as a woman is less known than Metacomet (aka King Philip); James Printer, the persecuted Christian Nipmuc; and Mary Rowlandson, the Puritan woman whose own account of her capture in Lancaster is recast in this deeper interpretation.

Read the full review by Richie Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

This article also appeared in the Hampshire Gazette on 1/25.

Strange Events at the Vilas Bridge

Alex Stradling and Mike Smith had an idea to raise community involvement in Bellows Falls.

The two run the local television station, Falls Area Community TV, Stradling as the stations executive director and Smith as the board’s president. FACT TV teaches young and old alike how to work in the broadcast industry. The station also films local town events like Select Board meetings. Lately, however, the station has been branching out into entertainment-based shows. From religion talk shows to news, to shows examining horror, FACT TV is expanding its brand.

In November, the station debuted a fictional series. “Strange Events at the Vilas Bridge,” is a roughly 49-minute show that feels like a small movie. Only the first episode has been produced and aired, but Stradling hopes to film the next episode in spring.

Stradling said the station worked together to pair experienced actors and crews with beginners.

The first episode stars four teenagers who work together to uncover the Vilas Bridge’s supernatural past. The episode has teenagers and adults working all aspects of the production.

Read the article by Harmony Birch in the Brattleboro Reformer.

*****

Thoughts: This is rather disquieting… a new pilot production at Bellows Falls’ FACT TV brings Abenaki mystical mish-mash into the plot of its local supernatural suspense drama. I have doubts about the helpfulness of this approach… At 35 minutes in, the dialogue is pretty bizarre.

Mount Wantastiquet as a Prayer Seat

wantastegok wajo nibenkik

“The Indian’s Great Chair”

Pulling together some local references, with some further afield, and some discussion as to the significance of mountains and mountaintops to indigenous ways of being in relationship to place, especially certain mountains associated with certain landscapes. Keeping in mind the essence of indigeneity as an understanding of the people and the land as one entity, these places close to the sky have sacred significance and are often reserved for ceremony and ritual. Specific knowledge of these places may understandably not be a part of the historic record, but some hint or allusion may be found in careful readings, and connections made, and remade, by implication from comparable instances elsewhere.

The mountain we now refer to as Mount Wantastiquet  (Wantastegok Wajo, 1350′) stands on the east bank of the Kwenitekw/Connecticut River opposite the mouths of the Wantastekw/West River and Kitad8gansibo/Whetstone Brook and lies in today’s towns of Hinsdale and Chesterfield, New Hampshire. Its steep forested flanks, rising abruptly on the morning side of the long river valley (over 1100′), anchor the immediate landscape and provide a ready reference point from wherever a vantage can be gained above the trees, across the many dips in the rolling terrain of the Piedmont. Likewise, it looms ahead for many miles as a landmark – upstream or down – for any paddler on the mainstem, signaling the confluence of the two rivers that inform Wantastegok. Brief mention was made of its prominence in a recent post, noting that it was characterized in some old accounts as “the Indian’s Great Chair.” The nearly identical reference is made in two local history books: The Gazetteer of Cheshire County, NH: 1736-1885 by Hamilton Child (1885) and the History of Chesterfield, Cheshire County, NH from the Incorporation of “Township Number One” by Massachusetts, in 1736, to the year 1881… by Oren Randall (1882). The former gives credit to the latter as his source. Child’s description is worth sharing.

hamilton child gazeteer great chair

Let’s look a little further northwest in N’dakinna, Western Abenaki country, to one of the best known of Vermont’s Green Mountains, and its third highest, the peak known as Camel’s Hump (4081′). It is probably the most easily recognized of the state’s summits for its distinctive two-humped profile  (featured on the official VT Coat of Arms, the 2001 state quarter, and the conservation license plate), which is a classic demonstration of  its glacial past.

“The summit is an extreme example of a roche moutonnée, literally “sheep rock,” so named by geomorphologists because of a perceived similarity to sleeping sheep. As a glacier advances, it glides over ridgetops, smoothing them over. On the lee side, a steep slope forms as ice freezes into the hillside and plucks rocks away. Thus, on Camel’s Hump, the northern flank of the mountain—the lower hump—is smoothed over, but the southern flank—the taller rock hump—forms a steep rock face.”

Camels Hump VT Wiki

The singular profile of  Tawapodiwajo/Camel’s Hump from the east.

The peak has had its share of names from Champlain forward, but its original Aln8baodwaw8gan/Western Abenaki name has been variously reported as – according to John C. Huden’s Indian Place Names of New England (1962) – “ta wak be dee esso wadso,” or “tahwahbodeay wadso” (wadso meaning mountain),” fancifully translated as “prudently, we make a campfire in a circle near water (and rest) at this mountain.” But a more sober, simple, and accurate explanation is attributed by Huden to Rowland Robinson as “resting place, or sit-down place, mountain.” This is found more than once in Robinson’s own prolific writings, in one case within “Hunting Without a Gun, and Other Papers” (1905),  in the footnotes on page 33. As a source, Dr. Gordon M. Day attests to the veracity and familiarity of Robinson with the Abenaki language, which he had heard for himself in the late 19th century from Native speakers,  in his brief essay “Ethnology in the Works of Rowland E. Robinson.” Walter Hill Crockett cites Robinson’s place names as well, in his “Vermont, the Green Mountain State” (1921).

Day’s Western Abenaki Dictionary Volume II (1994) gives “dawabodi” (or “tawapodi”) as “something one sits down into; a hollow seat, can be used for a saddle.” And further, “dawaopodiiwajo” means “place to sit in mountain; saddle mountain; mountain seat; Camel’s Hump, VT.” Here, now, we see another reference to a mountain as a seat. (By the way, another Abenaki cognative for the peak, akin and antecedent to the Camel’s Hump moniker, is “moziozagan” for “moose’s shoulder or moose’s hump.”)  The video below gives a good idea of the circumferential prospect from the mountain.

Going just a little further afield, at the edge of Abenaki homelands but still well within the Algonquian-speaking region of New England, we can find a couple other examples of the seat or chair usage in reference to rocky heights. Just below the Great Falls on the Kwenitekw on the southern edge of Sokwakik/Sokoki country, and at the southern terminus of the Pocumtuck Range at Wequamps/Mount Sugarloaf (read Marge Bruchac’s insightful explanation of the landscape here), there is a striking prospect of the river valley and surrounding hills from a sheer red sandstone bluff in South Deerfield. The bare ledges and strong profile form yet another landmark to orient an approaching canoe paddler on the River, or a traveler on one of the many footpaths converging at the Falls a couple miles upstream. Just under the brow, there is a lookout point known as King Philip’s Seat, referring to Pokanoket-Wampanoag sachem Metacom/King Philip. There are several legendary King Philip’s Seats in New England, and while this lookout’s toponymic genesis may not have a solid basis in fact, Metacom was indeed very much present in the area, during the intense war that bears his name, and the site meets anyone’s need for an elevated, comprehensive perspective. A mindful consideration of the mountain’s lofty vantage and its possible indigenous uses, written by area columnist Gary Sanderson, was featured in The (Greenfield) Recorder this past summer. His provocative thoughts lead us closer to the reconnections we are considering to the north at Mount Wantastiquet.

king philip's seat mount sugarloafsugarloaf king philip's chair

A souvenir postcard from the early 20th century and an extract from the Automobile Journal, Volume 35 (1913) promote the site’s legendary past.

One more area example can be found a little to the west in the Berkshires, in Mahican country, near the Massachusetts/New York border. Yokun Seat (2133′) is a peak in the Yokun Ridge, west of Lenox, MA and overlooking the valley of the winding Ausatenuk/Housatonic (“place beyond the mountain”) River – in Abenaki, Awasadenik, with the same meaning. The mountain’s name is explained in the Wikipedia entry for Yokun Ridge: “The name Yokun derives from Jehoiakim Yokun, a Native American of the Mahican tribe. As early as the 19th Century, Yokun’s name was applied to “Yokun Seat,” a summit of Lenox Mountain. This term was accepted by the Board of Geographic Names in 1894.” This Jehoiakim, Mahican-ized to “Yokun,” seems to have been a namesake for the community-accepted  Dutch settler Jehoiakim Van Valkenburg, who moved to the area from Kinderhook, NY about 1728.  It seems that Yokun’s name may have been affixed to the Berkshires peak partly as a reflection of his significant land speculation, but again, we find the word “seat” applied to the top of a mountain.

jehoiakim yokun land speculator

Now for a final example, much farther away and set in a distinctly different cultural and language family, but demonstrating an overlap in cultural practices: Indian Seats in the Sawnee Mountain (1963′) Preserve. Forty miles north of Atlanta, this is Northern Creek/Muscogean country; the Cherokee were very late arrivals in the late eighteenth century. Notwithstanding that, the mountain is said to be named for a Cherokee man (Saunee or Sawnee) who resided in the immediate area until he was forced to relocate far to the west, with his people, under Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. The Indian Seats themselves are described thus: “…carved in the lofty, sheer face of the mountaintop [there] are several natural depressions in the rock, legendarily used by local tribes as seats for lookouts and meditation for many centuries.” Some sources state that there is evidence of the site being used for ceremonial purposes at least as early as 2500 BCE by various Woodland cultures.

indian seats sawnee mountain preserve GA

Indian Seats outlook at Sawnee Mountain Preserve, Forsyth County, Georgia

Two chapters which give some background, from an anthropological and archaeological viewpoint, about the spiritual significance of “mountaintop seats” can be found here and here: BernbaumSacredMountains. These are outside observers, but their remarks are pertinent.

Here I leave this trail up Mount Wantastiquet, and will let the mountain speak for itself, under the dome of the sky and encircled by the horizon.

Those who come afterward to these places,  unaware, or arriving after the stories have been hidden, altered, suppressed, or rewritten, may not see what is present. Perhaps their perception is simply lacking, or more likely, has been co-opted by another way of being in the world, the way of separation and objectification. This lack of  individual or systemic awareness does not mean these other, original ways are displaced or irrelevant. Those possibilities persist, seeking only acknowledgement and reciprocity from those who seek to be present.

#ReclaimingWantastegok

 

 

 

Wantastegok: Tracing the Stories

kendall weathersfield vt carved tree

Edward Augustus Kendall, “Travels Through the Northern Part of the United States, in the Years 1807 and 1808,” Vol. 3, 1809, p. 207.

It’s time to begin a concerted effort to post markers from the many story trails I am tracing, some faint, some bold, as a part of the project I call “Reclaiming Wantastegok.” Some are drawn from the (often scant) written European record, others are extrapolated from the land itself.  This an exercise in, as Lisa Brooks has phrased it, “reclaiming Native space.” Stories are told, changed, omitted, discarded, forgotten, fabricated. But they are all still here,  responsive to those who will listen – this is the land where they originate – they are of this landscape. Indeed, indigeneity is expressed as that which is original to a place – in fact, inseparable from it – and they are the aspects, be they human or other-than-human, that define it, with its complex relationships, as distinct.

Some of these traces may lead in several directions. Others may circle back and overlap. Still others may open up into a network of connections as yet unseen. Together, they can help to re-imagine, restore, reclaim, and revitalize what it means to “be this place.” The Sokwakiak Abenaki are the original people of this place. These understandings are for/with/of/from them – the Aln8bak, their ancestors, their allies, and all of their relations.  Kchi wliwni – with great thanks. K’wlibaamkani – good travels for you.

 

Marge Bruchac: Savage Kin – Indigenous Informants & American Anthropologists

In this provocative new book, Margaret M. Bruchac, an Indigenous anthropologist, turns the word savage on its head. Savage Kin explores the nature of the relationships between Indigenous informants such as Gladys Tantaquidgeon (Mohegan), Jesse Cornplanter (Seneca), and George Hunt (Tlingit), and early twentieth-century anthropological collectors such as Frank Speck, Arthur C. Parker, William N. Fenton, and Franz Boas.

This book reconceptualizes the intimate details of encounters with Native interlocutors who by turns inspired, facilitated, and resisted the anthropological enterprise. Like other texts focused on this era, Savage Kin features some of the elite white men credited with salvaging material that might otherwise have been lost. Unlike other texts, this book highlights the intellectual contributions and cultural strategies of unsung Indigenous informants without whom this research could never have taken place.

These bicultural partnerships transgressed social divides and blurred the roles of anthropologist/informant, relative/stranger, and collector/collected. Yet these stories were obscured by collecting practices that separated people from objects, objects from communities, and communities from stories. Bruchac’s decolonizing efforts include “reverse ethnography”—painstakingly tracking seemingly unidentifiable objects, misconstrued social relations, unpublished correspondence, and unattributed field notes—to recover this evidence. Those early encounters generated foundational knowledges that still affect Indigenous communities today.

This book also contains unexpected narratives of human and other-­than-human encounters—brilliant discoveries, lessons from ancestral spirits, prophetic warnings, powerful gifts, and personal tragedies—that Native and non-Native readers alike will find deeply moving.

Coming out in January 2018. Pre-order here!