The Burning Evidence

Again from Sokoki Abenaki country, a line of observations drawing from the statement in the previous post, quoting Hon. Charles K. Field (who married Julia Ann Kellogg, a descended cousin of Capt. Joseph Kellogg, second commander at Fort Dummer) in The Vermont Phoenix of July 7, 1876:

The intervales and meadows at Fort Dummer, upon West River, and at the Asylum farm, were found entirely bare of forest trees. Such was the fact with all the meadows on the Connecticut River at the time of the first settlement of New England. The Indians burned them over every year, and used them for planting grounds.

Much has been stated about this practice, in general, and I need not belabor it. One quote via William Cronon’s “Changes in the Land” (1983) is probably enough to stage the subject, and is appropriate here: “Selective Indian burning thus promoted the mosaic quality of New England ecosystems, creating forests in many different stages of ecological succession. In particular, regular fires promoted what ecologists call the ‘edge effect.’ By encouraging the growth of extensive regions which resembled the boundary areas between forests and grasslands, Indians created ideal habitats for a host of wildlife species.”

More specific and with a connection to Wantastegok is another quote, from the letters of Timothy Dwight IV (1822), eighth President of Yale, and grandson of his namesake, the first commander at Fort Dummer (1724) established in what would later become Brattleboro:

timothy dwight letters 1822 burning

A good overview of the Eastern Algonquian practice in general can be found here, in a USDA publication entitled “Wildland Burning by American Indians in Virginia” by Hutch Brown (2000).

Grounding this locally, we can now take a look at Walter Needham’s “A Book of Country Things” (1965). Walter was a lifelong Guilford, VT resident, who wrote (with co-author Barrows Mussey) a rather popular little book recounting the things he learned from his grandfather Leroy L. Bond, born in 1833. Among them was a familiarity with locating the signs of indigenous presence in the local landscape, a skill that Walter modestly claimed was the only thing at which he had become more adept than “Gramp”. In fact, he is known as one of the more active “relic hunters” in the immediate area (present-day Dummerston south to Vernon, Vermont); regrettably, his collections, for the most part, seem to have disappeared leaving only loose, vague accounts. The memories that remain, however, bear out a story of widespread, active settlement and extensive usage of the Kwenitekw and its landscape, counter to the prevailing Euro-American narrative that held (and often still holds) otherwise.

Speaking of the land management practices of the area’s original inhabitants, Needham relates: “Instead of plowing the cornfields like we do, the Indians burned them over every year. In most of the flat places where I find Indian relics, there’s a black line at one level of the soil, and under a [magnifying] glass you see it’s tiny pieces of charcoal.” Needham refers several times to this thin black line in the riverside stratigraphy.

Finally, we can pull another quote from a legacy account in the immediate area, the voluminous “A History of the Town of Northfield, MassachusettsFor 150 Years, with an Account of the Prior Occupation of the Territory by the Squakheags” by Josiah Howard Temple and George Sheldon (1875). This compilation (which must be read critically, as is the case with many period accounts) is the single best historical source for an admittedly colonized perspective on the Sokwakiak, the indigenous people who preceded the European incursion. Temple and Sheldon implicitly acknowledge the provenance of the land the settlers eagerly apportioned to themselves:

temple sheldon northfield history burning

And yet, “There Are No Evidences of Indian Settlements in This Town.”

 

 

 

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Liz Charlesbois on Indigenous Seed Keeping at Northampton Seed Swap

vcgn calypso seven sisters copy

Grow Food Northampton is hosting the third annual Seed Swap at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School on Saturday, March 4, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Co-sponsored by Northampton Winter Farmers’ Market and Nuestras Raíces, the event will include workshops, activities, and free seeds for gardeners. It is free and open to the public.

Nuestras Raíces is sponsoring a talk on indigenous seed keeping by Liz Charlebois, Abenaki basketmaker and agriculturalist at 11 a.m. There will also be a beginning seed saving workshop given by Daniel Botkin of Laughing Dog Farm in Gill at 10:05 and a plant breeding workshop with Tevis Robertson-Goldberg of Crabapple Farm in Chesterfield at noon.

Article in the Greenfield Recorder.

Liz Charlesbois Works to Honor Indigenous Foods and Culture

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Liz Charlebois is bringing indigenous food traditions back to the community, one seed – dried on an old pizza box – at a time. Seeds sat in one such container in Charlebois’ office at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum last week, surrounded by their source: massive, orange, Buffalo Creek squash. They were grown and harvested last month on the grounds of the Warner museum, where Charlebois works as education director.

Charlebois, 41, grew up in Harrisville and is Missisquoi Abenaki. While she was raised in Native American culture, she said she’s taken a special interest in indigenous foods only recently. She’s particularly concerned about preserving indigenous seed varieties in the era of big agriculture and access to healthful, nourishing foods for existing native communities.

Read this encouraging story in the Concord Monitor.

No Evidences of Indian Settlements in This Town

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The strangest statements may be found in the local newspapers, reflecting the absolute conviction of the times – in the face of self-stated evidence – that there was, and is, no notable indigenous presence.

From The Vermont Phoenix, Brattleboro, VT July 7, 1876.

Presentation and Celebration: Indigenous Crops and Climatic Resiliency

wabanaki ethnobotany

A free, fun and unique event happening at Vermont Organics Reclamation (VOR), St. Albans, VT on Saturday, Oct. 22:

Starting at 11 a.m., Dr. Wiseman and VOR will host a bicentennial commemoration of the Year Without A Summer — or “1800 and froze to death” — when a volcanic eruption on the other side of the world caused plummeting temperatures worldwide and shrunk New England’s growing season.

The climate-induced crop shortages and ensuing famine forced many Vermonters to leave the state and seek better lands to the south and west. However, many Native American crops, as well as some old Euroamerican varieties, may have survived these terrible conditions. The Seeds of Renewal Project, led by Dr. Fred Wiseman, has just completed a “cold-hardiness” analysis of more than 35 regional, native crops that range from the early 19th century to over 500 years old.

The Oct. 22 event at VOR will explore and feature these fascinating crops, as well as little known facts about the survival and rebirth of ancient Vermont agriculture, agricultural ceremony and cuisine. The program begins at 11 a.m. with a welcome and then a Powerpoint presentation by Dr. Wiseman. (PLEASE NOTE: Seating for Wiseman’s presentation is limited to 50 people. Please RSVP to wisem@vtlink.net, timc@vermontorganics.com, or leont@vermontorganics.com.)

Afterward, there will be a free meal featuring many of these indigenous crops, which are being grown as part of an agroforest on VOR’s 185-acre campus. The agroforest, the crops in it, and an effort to raise pigs humanely and naturally, are all part of VOR’s new Rugg Brook Campus initiative, which is meant to educate the public about the impaired Rugg Brook watershed, its history, and its future.

The free meal will feature native squash and beans, as well as pork products from VOR. There will also be a bean hole supper — a Native American celebration dinner that features a bean dinner cooked from a pot in the ground. Following the dinner, there will be guided tours of VOR’s agroforest. (You will also have a chance to meet Lily and Ethan, two UVM interns who spent the summer building and cultivating VORs agroforest with VOR’s Jim Stiles and others.)

Thank you for your time and attention today. We hope to see you on Oct. 22. I have attached a map with directions to VOR and can provide you with more if necessary. (And please share this with anyone who might be interested within your professional and personal circles.)

vordirections-2

Corn Keeper: Albie Barden Preserves Native Flint Corn for Future Generations

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For the past 30 years, Barden has been researching flint corn varieties, connecting with other corn keepers, and handing out thousands of rare kernels for farmers and gardeners to grow. To him, it is far more than just a hobby that has taken over his garden and fields.

“For me, it’s not about the crops,” he said. “It’s really about re-establishing a sacred relationship to the land and the plants, and honoring them as sacred beings with a history that have fed us forever.”

Read this inspiring story in the Portland Press-Herald.

Kik8mkwak: the Garden Fish

kik8mkwak white suckers garden fish

Look in the mid-ground of this photo, taken at noon in mid-September above the shallows of the Kwanitekw/ Connecticut River at the confluence of Kitad8gan Sibo/Whetstone Brook. A squadron of suckers, kik8mkwak, maybe 50 or 60 of them, are all hovering there in the warming sun, facing west and waiting for the next big thing to wash down from the hills. The name “kik8mkwa” in Western Abenaki literally means “field or garden fish,” from their use in traditional planting as fertilizer, specifically kik8n = improved land or garden plus -akw = fish. White suckers will move upstream in May to spawn, traveling in great numbers from their usual haunts in lakes and rivers into the smaller tributary brooks and streams. Rather than using the more valuable anadromous shad, salmon, alewives, and herring for planting, the less desirable and easily procured suckers fit the bill quite well.

A story from Dr. Fred Wiseman illustrates the practice well: “Former Koasek Chief Nancy Millette says that when she was a child, she and her little friends went to the Connecticut River and its tributaries in the spring to catch the sucker fish that ran in huge schools so thick “that your could almost walk upon them.” She says the fish were not for eating, but for the gardens. This was a revelation to me, because I had known that the Abenaki word for sucker fish was “kikômkwa,” and the first syllable was hauntingly similar to “kikôn,” the Abenaki word for field. I had dismissed the connection, but after Chief Nancy’s information sunk in, I discovered from 18th-century Abenaki dictionaries that the word originally meant “the garden fish.” So linguistics from years ago explains an obscure cultural connection between spring fish runs and the gardens that were being prepared at the same time. Today, it is traditional to insert one or more fish or parts of fish “about the size of your open hand” 8 to 18 inches deep in the mound.”

Sources:

Notes on a Lost Flute, Kerry Hardy, 2009.

Sun Dance Season: An Abenaki Summer, Fred Wiseman, 2015.