A timeless sight, via Jess Robinson.
For his exhibition, Tim Brookes carved phrases into indigenous wood using disappearing or endangered alphabets from across the globe. Pictured, in Abenaki, the phrase, ‘Language of the grandfathers who went before’ is carved into a plank of walnut. Photo from VPR.
Six years ago, writer and Champlain College professor Tim Brookes carved letters into wooden planks to give to family as holiday gifts. The presents were well received and Brookes enjoyed his new hobby. He added new and different alphabet letters and languages to his hand-carved signs. Then, by chance, Brookes learned just how many of the globe’s writing systems were disappearing and a project was born: The Endangered Alphabets Project.
Brookes talked with VPR about the Endangered Alphabets Project exhibition, up now at Champlain College through March 10. The thirteen carvings each bear the phrase, “Mother Tongue,” written in Abenaki, Balinese, Mandean, Inuktitut and several other cultures whose written word is disappearing.
Author of more than 120 books for children and adults, Joseph Bruchac has been creating poetry, short stories, novels, anthologies and music that reflect his Native American heritage and traditions for over 30 years. Recipient of numerous awards, Bruchac is perhaps best known for his bestselling “Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children” and other titles in the “Keepers” series, which integrate science and folklore in highly entertaining and interactive formats that make them ideal for classrooms and family libraries alike.
This Saturday, Feb. 4, Joseph Bruchac will be the featured storyteller at the annual Dawnlands Storyfest at the Mariposa Museum and World Culture Center in Peterborough. He will be joined by his son Jesse Bruchac, a leading figure in indigenous efforts to preserve the Abenaki language and culture.
The Mariposa Museum is located at 26 Main Street in Peterborough, NH. It is wheelchair accessible. Admission is free to the Dawnlands Storyfest, which is hosted by the Mariposa and co-presented by the NH Storytelling Alliance and Peterborough’s business community. The event runs from noon to 8 p.m.
The Bruchacs will be joined at Saturday’s event by other local tellers of indigenous tales, including Medicine Story (Manitonquat), Sebastian Lockwood, Kim Hart, and HearsCrow. Simon Brooks and Chris Ekblom will emcee. In storytelling tradition, visitors will also have the chance to share their own tales at three open mics.
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!
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, VT – a summer house on the south side of Ames Hill Road around the turn of the past century.
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”.
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.
This is Part 2 of a two-part story, within the podcast series from Brattleboro Historical Society, produced by Joe Rivers and his BAMS history students. You can check out Part 1 here. It gives additional background to the subsuming of critical areas in Sokwakik, and particularly the flooding of the Retreat Meadows, by the completion of the Vernon, Vermont hydroelectric dam in 1909. Prior to this date, the now-flooded meadows – known as mskodak in Aln8baiwi – were prime farmland for the Sokwakiak who dwelt here, and subsequently the European settlers that arrived in the mid-1700’s. There are multiple newspaper reports of native burials being exhumed within this alluvial bowl, just west of the mouth of the Wantastekw (I will be documenting them here over time). Sokoki Abenaki heritage and interests were ignored and ravaged, a situation which remains ongoing and challenging.