In Response to Seven Days: Exploring Mt. Philo With Historian Judy Chaves

mategwas mategwas abenaki rabbit rabbit tweetOn Twitter, Nov. 1, 2018

A response to an article by Tom Slayton in the online Vermont magazine Seven Days today, November 1, 2018:

This article includes a classic example of the minimization of a 10,000 year-long (or longer) indigenous presence in the landscape, exemplified by characterizing cultural usage patterns as ephemeral and insubstantial. This biased historical trope is deployed typically in comparison to later European land settlement practices such as fence- and wall-bounded properties, permanent structures, commoditized agriculture, and extractive industry.

mt philo view

The narrative device is used so often it has become de rigueur and may not even raise an eyebrow in notice. In this case, the statement is made: “There’s no evidence that Native Americans lived on the mountain, but they may have used it as a strategic lookout.” This, in spite of the fact that the subsequent post-Contact history (to draw a fuzzy gray line) was and is exactly that as well.

Given that the Champlain Sea is estimated to have been about 450 feet above current Lake levels, Mt. Philo and a few other nearby elevations would have been islands at the time, projecting only a fraction of their mass above the surrounding brackish water. They would have been heavily utilized by the region’s first inhabitants for occupation, food processing, resource gathering, and reconnaissance. With a broad prospect over the water- and landscape, the eminence would play a significant and lasting role for the Native descendants of these first peoples. It is not hard to find evidence for this supposition. The Abenaki have their own name for the landmark: Mategwasaden – Rabbit Mountain. Immediately west, Thompson’s Point remained a significant Abenaki community well into recent times. The Point and the surrounding Lake are well-documented for archaeological significance.

With a twist of irony, the State of Vermont’s management plan for Mount Philo State Park states: “In the late 1800s, William Higbee, a Charlotte resident and journalist, wrote that Mt. Philo was named for an “Indian fighter and famous hunter” named Philo who camped on the mountain. One of the first written references to the “Devil’s Chair” [a slopeside feature] was in an 1896 article that describes a natural rock outcrop by that name.” People who are able to “read between the lines” will recognize here another common displacement trope masquerading as quaint local history: the Devil epithet is often attached to Native sacred landscape features, and a description of “chair” or “seat” will often refer to an elevated ceremonial site, used in recognition of its prominent exposure to the sweep of landscape and sky.

We are not served well by such dismissiveness.

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Through Which Runs a Vein of Quartz

quartz excerpt ethnological notes on moosehead lake

Drawn from Ethnological and Anthropological Notes on Moosehead Lake, by Joseph D. McGuire, 1908.

Vermont’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day on VPR

Transcript from the morning news brief on Vermont Public Radio on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, with Mitch Wirtlieb (thanks to Meg Malone for providing this):

Governor Phil Scott has named October 8th Indigenous People’s Day to celebrate native people’s place in history.
 
The governor’s proclamation acknowledges Vermont was founded on land first inhabited by Abenaki people and their ancestors. 
 
Rich Holschuh is a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. 
 
The second Monday in October is often celebrated as the federal holiday, Columbus Day. Holschuh says renaming the day is not meant to diminish Columbus’ importance in American history.
 
“It’s completing the story; it’s not replacing a story. I’m not in favor of taking Columbus out of the history books. He needs to be in there because his actions and the actions of others have had tremendous effect, and we need to recognize what that effect is.”
 
This is the third year that Vermont governors have recognized Native Americans through an executive order. 
 
Holschuh says he hopes the Legislature will take up the issue and make the change permanent. 

How the Saco River Got its Name: Wabanaki Place Names in Context

Biddeford Historical Society and Biddeford Pool Historical Society are co-hosting a weekend of events illuminating life in the 17th century colonial Province of Maine. Events are free, but donations are accepted/

“How the Saco River Got its Name: Wabanaki Place Names in Context,” will be held at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24 at First Parish Meetinghouse, corner of Pool and Meetinghouse roads in Biddeford. Joe Hall, professor at Bates College, will present the program.

Plenty of people know that many placenames in Maine, such as “Saco,” come from Wabanakis, the indigenous group of this region. A few people might know what some of these words mean, such as that “Saco” means “a river outlet.” But what did it mean for Wabanakis to use these words and not others in their conversations with English colonists? In exploring that question, participants can see how Wabanaki place names tell us not only something about English-Wabanaki relations in the 1600s, but also how Wabanakis continue to have a presence in Maine in the centuries since.

Hall teaches colonial, American Indian and environmental history. He is researching the history of Wabanakis, Maine’s indigenous peoples, and is particularly interested in the ways that Wabanakis continued to cultivate ties to their homeland even as colonial peoples sought to dispossess them of it. In his lecture he will speak about the ways that Wabanaki place names offer some clues not only to how Wabanakis inhabited their homelands before colonists’ arrival, but also how they continued to inhabit those lands in the midst of colonization.

See the original listing in the Courier.

‘One by One, I Kept Meeting People’: Hartford, VT Celebrates Indigenous Culture

The town held its eighth-annual Abenaki and Indigenous Peoples Honoring Day on Saturday at Lyman Point Park, where an Abenaki canoeing village stood into the 18th century.

The day began early for Nate Pero. By the announced 11 a.m. start time, he had already grilled and cut 16 pounds of bison and moved on to cooking dozens of ears of corn. In years past, Pero got his meat from Vermont game wardens, sometimes coming away with a moose or bear that had been killed by a car or put down. “They haven’t given us any turkey yet,” he said. “I’d cook turkey.”

Pero is chief of the Koasek, an Abenaki band of some 300 members, most of whom live in Windsor and Orange Counties.

Read the full article by Gabe Brizon-Trezise in the Valley News.