Michael Caduto: Making Peace, Olakamigenoka

In the spring of 2010, I was asked by members of the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College to help with a Peace Pole they were erecting in the Memorial Garden next to the church. Knowing that I had worked with members of the Abenaki Nation, and that I teach about Abenaki culture in my programs and writing, I was asked, “How do you say, in Abenaki, ‘May peace prevail on Earth?’”

I discovered that the Abenaki word for peace, olakámigénoká, is a verb that reflects an entirely different concept of “peace” than we express in the English language. Olakámigénoká, “make peace,” is a linguistic window into the Abenaki world view, in which peace is more than a state of tranquility that exists in the absence of violence: Peace is an act that one makes toward other people and the rest of creation.

A few years earlier, in April 2006, the Quebec-Labrador Foundation asked me to facilitate an environmental education seminar at their 50th anniversary Alumni Congress in Budapest, Hungary. During this gathering of conservationists and educators from the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, everyone had 10 minutes to share what they were doing in the respective countries. After hearing about how I was using Native American stories to teach children about nature and stewardship in the “Keepers of the Earth” books, the director of environmental education for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority suggested that colleagues from the Middle East work together to gather folklore stories about nature from all around their region, and to use those stories to teach children about the natural world and environmental issues.

At that time (on that day, in fact), Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Gaza were actively engaged in a bombing campaign — a backdrop that generated considerable anger and tension during our meeting in Budapest. Despite this ongoing conflict, a surge of energy charged the room when everyone present from the Middle East agreed to collaborate on this environmental storytelling project, including colleagues from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. These professionals had been working together for more than a decade as participants in QLF’s Middle East Exchange Program, which promotes peaceful collaborations among “conservationists without borders.” They had reached out to one another to build partnerships and friendships, despite the risk of criticism and ridicule from those who questioned the act of working across political barriers.

Thus was planted a seed whose gestation spanned more than a decade, including many trips to the Middle East to gather traditional tales from storytellers, Bedouins and other keepers of oral tradition. This, the Storytelling for Environmental Stewardship Program, eventually involved more than 50 individuals from 20 organizations in the Middle East and led to a book published in December 2017 — an illustrated anthology of children’s stories called “The Garden of Wisdom: Earth Tales from the Middle East.” In addition to teaching about environmental awareness and stewardship of the natural world, lessons about friendship, justice and faith are woven into the fabric of the stories. Back in 2006, no one could have foretold that this book would be on the verge of publication at a time when the forces of political and religious extremism would be driving government officials to make decisions that defy rational thought, promote conflict and undermine long-standing efforts to broker a lasting peace. The level of peaceful coexistence that exists in the Middle East today is rooted in the actions of the majority of people from this rich mélange of cultures and faiths who place a high value on living justly and in civility with one another. While hope fades for a government-brokered Middle East peace, it is the decency and humanity of individuals that holds the region together and prevents a descent into widespread violence. Their countless daily acts of kindness and compassion are the foundation for what the Abenakis would call “making peace.”

Link to the original commentary in the Rutland Herald 

 

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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.

 

Sokwakik Today: Volunteers Prepare Accessible Trail in Northfield

greenfield recorder shelby ashline mt grace trail northfield

“Since the project began, Rasku said Mount Grace has coordinated with the Abenaki, Nipmuc, Narragansett and Wampanoag tribes due to the land’s cultural significance.

“It’s had a lot of features tribal nations would appreciate,” he said, explaining the tribes could gather medicinal plants, harvest the nearby farm fields and take advantage of the water source, making the area around the pond active.

As such, Rasku said that in making the accessible trail, Mount Grace has avoided changing the terrain or excavating out of respect for the land’s Native American history.”

Read the full article by Shelby Ashline in the Greenfield Recorder here.

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Interpretive signage on the Ames Trail will include information about Abenaki cultural lifeways and language translations for our many indigenous relations. Aln8baodwaw8gan!

The River In Us

I was asked by someone recently what is it that makes the Kwenitekw, n’sibo, our river, sacred. Is it the traditional fishing places? Is it the burials of the ancestors? What follows is my reply:

Thank you for asking; these are understandings that are foundational and go below the surface of things. I hope we have a chance to speak together again some day, for it is simpler to express these things in person. But I will share a few things:
  • It is important to remember that words have power and they derive from our worldview, which is expressed in the cultural tool we call language. There are many languages, and many ways of seeing the world. They differ dramatically, and the use of a word, or concept, can mean very different things to different people. Thus, “sacred.” When speaking of Abenaki cultural concepts, one cannot look at it through a Western religious lens. The dictionary definitions that fit “sacred” best are (from Merriam-Webster): 1) entitled to reverence and respect and 2) highly valued and important, as in “a sacred responsibility.” It is not a religious designation, but rather a spiritual recognition.
  • So, with regard to your questions of the river’s significance regarding fishing locations or burial grounds, the answer is yes, all of that, and much more. The reason being that we are all related, all equally significant, and part of the same great circle of Creation. Time does not exist in a linear sense, but is a continuum, constantly changing but all part of the same. Thus, we as human beings (in common with, say, plant beings, fish beings, stone beings, wind beings) have a ongoing responsibility to honor these relationships. We cannot act to harm the River, as it is as deserving of respect as anyone else, and in fact, we derive our very life from it – it would be very shortsighted to do otherwise..
  • As indigenous people (defined as the original people of a distinct place), we so identify with our homelands that we see ourselves as part of it, inseparable and continuous. For example, when an Abenaki person identifies him- or herself, they would not say “My name is so-and-so and I live in Brattleboro.” They would state “… I am Brattleboro.” Consequently, one’s attitudes and actions toward the River, are as unto one’s very self and one’s family, because it is exactly that. We (most of us!) consider human life to be sacred. So is the river.
  • You have heard the expression, especially this past year with the action at Standing Rock, that “Water Is Life.” This plays out clearly in the Abenaki language, which by nature embodies its cultural worldview. Let me explain that, in a Native sense, the well-known term “medicine” means anything that promotes or sustains health and vitality – this makes complete sense, but in our Western way of thinking it has been separated and limited into a drug that addresses (often only symptomatically) sickness. It has got the relationship backwards and misses most of the bigger picture of the interconnectedness of life. The word for water in Abenaki is “nebi”; the word for medicine in Abenaki is “nebizon.” So, you can see, that water is at the heart of life. The River is our great provider, for which we can only be grateful.
  • To learn that burials are often at the edge of the River is no coincidence. I don’t think I even need to explain that one! It is a place where strong connections have always been made, and where they can be accessed over and over. We go there to pay our respects to our ancestors, to say thank you to the water, and to pray for the same blessings for the generations to come. It is our “church.” There are certainly other places that are important as well, but the River is at the heart of them all. It unifies and connects – think in terms of a watershed – a flowing cradle, a web, an endless cycle enveloping the people.

Elnu Abenaki Tribe: Native Americans Present Local History

roger longtoe sheehan elnu northfield history day

The Abenaki are here. They exist. And yet, they still live in a reality where not everyone is aware of that. But that is changing, slowly, but it is changing, said Joe Graveline, a member of the Northfield Historical Commission.

“They are having a renaissance, a rebirth in understanding their heritage,” he said. “They are finding their voice.”

A better understanding not only of the history of the Abenaki people but their place in the here and now — is just one of the many reasons why living history events like the one the Northfield Historical Commission is sponsoring this weekend are so important, Graveline said.

Read the full article in the Brattleboro Reformer. Two previous posts on Sokoki Sojourn reference Greenfield Recorder articles about the same event (here and here). Unfortunately, this well-written article ran a week too late. The Northfield event had already been held the previous weekend, on June 11, 2017.

Also, one correction, with respect to the quote “Among the Abenaki people, who made their homes in the Connecticut River Valley of what is now New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, were the Sokoki and a smaller, related band called the Squakheags — both members of the larger Abenaki nation.” These are, in fact, the same people. A simple linguistic comparison between Squakheag and Sokwakik (Sokoki, in today’s usage) makes that clear. More on that soon…