A New Year

Notably amongst the northeastern Algonquian tribal territorialities, the W8banakiak have been described as a riverine people. The various band’s homelands are centered on watersheds – a river and its dependent streams, lakes, marshes, and floodplains.  Whereas many other tribes would reckon their lands in terms of primarily terrestrial landmarks such as mountains, rivers, lakes, and perhaps a certain forest or clump of trees, denoting borders within which they circulated, the Abenaki centered themselves within the waters, ranging out through a branching, interconnected bowl [sources: Speck, Snow]. As an example, in this place I dwell, known today as Brattleboro – near where the states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts converge – the annual cycles of life revolve around the gathering of the Kwanitekw, Wantastekw, and Azewalad Sibo (Connecticut, West, and Ashuelot Rivers), with their respective tributary brooks, lakes, and ponds pitching down from the valleys and ranges .

A family’s hunting territories, above the plantings flourishing upon the floodplains and river terraces (the wolhanak), were bounded by these watery, connecting sinews, and stretched up into the hills and mountains to the next ridge top division. A person would describe their homeland as n’sibo, my river, allying with that flowing, veined world as a part of their own identity, a unity, all the same. Intimately familiar with the land, and its fellow dwellers – whether animate or inanimate – a person saw themselves as a continuous part of the spirits there, with roles to play and responsibilities to honor, inconceivably separable.

This merging may perhaps be seen in the phrase n’dai, which can mean “I am” – describing oneself – as well as “I live” – in a certain place. An understanding of this can help to inform the depth of the relationship between the homeland and its people, one so profound they merged into a single entity. The people are the land, and the land is the people. To separate them, as recent history has so graphically inscribed, is to assault the meaning of life itself, leaving it broken and futile. Healing can be found only in a restoration of relationship, a re-balancing through reciprocity among the community of beings. Note the prefix “re-” occurring in all of these words, meaning “again” and speaking of cycles, and the Great Hoop of Life.

This healing comes through an awareness of what is lacking, or what is interfering, with the flowing continuity of the river of life, and then addressing that lack, or obstruction. At the beginning of the New Year –  Alamikos – with the winter solstice and the return of the sun, the Abenaki have a custom of asking for forgiveness, and a fresh start in the new season. As elder Joseph Elie Joubert tells us: “The new year’s forgiveness time is called Anhaldamawadin = The act of forgiving. We would go to the house of the people we offended during the past year and say the following: “Anhaldamawi kassi plilawawlan”. It is basically saying “Forgive me for the many wrongs I did you.”

wantastegok n'dakinna my river

N’sibo, my river, is Wantastekw, where it meets Kwanitekw. N’dai Wantastegok, Sokwakik, known today as Brattleboro. And so I say, to all my relatives here:

N’didam n’dal8gom8mek Wantastegok: Anhaldamawi kasi palilawalian.

Please forgive any wrong I may have done to you in the past.

It is a new year. Alosada, mina ta mina. Let us walk together, again and again.

Abbe Museum Launches New Strategic Plan

abbe museum bar harbor

Full story at the Mount Desert Islander

The Abbe Museum is the only museum in the world dedicated to telling the story of the Wabanaki. Over 10,000 Native people currently live in Maine, and most are Wabanaki, a confederacy of nations that today consists of the four federally recognized tribes in Maine: Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac and Maliseet. In addition, the Wabanaki includes several bands of the Abenaki tribe, located primarily in New Hampshire, Vermont and Quebec.

“With a mission to inspire new learning about the Wabanaki Nations with every visit, the Museum is trying to do more than just be a cultural and historical institution, which prompted a new vision: The Abbe Museum will reflect and realize the values of decolonization in all of its practices, working with the Wabanaki Nations to share their stories, history, and culture with a broader audience.”

Project Revives Abenaki Crops, One Seed At A Time

fred wiseman abenaki crops VPR

Vermont Public Radio has given the Seeds of Renewal Project a nice bit of coverage recently:

“Almost a decade ago, Abenaki scholar and paleoethnobotanist Fred Wiseman started working with Abenaki communities as part of the documentation process for federal tribal recognition. While he was in these communities, Wiseman noticed crops that had long been thought to have disappeared growing on the hillsides. It led him to start the Seeds of Renewal Project.” [full story]

Msaskek: Plainfield, Vermont Brook Naming Ceremony

plainfield mskaskek ceremony brink

A photo essay on the very enjoyable blog Fotogosaurus gives us a participant’s viewpoint on the recent brook-naming celebration in Plainfield, Vermont. Elder and linguist Jeanne Brink, with her husband Doug and many other townspeople and officials, offered sweetgrass as part of their acknowledgement during the naming ceremony. You can join this momentous occasion by visiting the post

The Seven Sisters of Abenaki Indigenous Agriculture

vcgn calypso seven sisters copy

Building on the previously posted article, here’s a wonderful post on the blog of the Vermont Community Garden Network which digs deeper into the work of the Seeds of Renewal project. The author attended a workshop hosted by the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism during which they explored the fact that there are relationships with a large family of plants beyond the well-known Three Sisters.

Indigenous Wabanaki Harvest School To Be Held

abenaki agriculture

Short notice, but the Montpelier Bridge has listed notice (article here) of an all-day presentation about Wabanaki agriculture, with a special focus on celebrating a Native harvest feast. Hosted by The Center for Integrative Herbalism, it will be held tomorrow, November 7, 2015, beginning at 9 am. This builds on Dr. Fred Wiseman’s ongoing work with the Seeds of Renewal Project, researching and restoring the history and culture of Wabanaki food production, cycles, and ceremony.

Walking the Talk

Saints-Strangers-tantanka-means-jesse-bowman-bruchac

National Geographic Channel’s upcoming release Saints and Strangers, to be shown this Thanksgiving 2015  season, is eagerly anticipated by many with a focus on Native culture in the Northeast. Western Abenaki language instructor Jesse Bruchac was enlisted to help make this “the most authentic retelling of the Thanksgiving story ever committed to film.”  The Native American cast members, among them Tatanka Means, Kalani Queypo, and Raoul Trujillo, accepted the challenge and wholeheartedly committed themselves to the task as an honor.

Channel Guide Magazine online has the story here.