Western Abenaki: azibiz (Asclepias syriaca) literally, lamb.
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.
Terraced lines shine silver,
Layers upon the cross-hatched riverbanks
Threads of smoke rise still and silent from domed shelters
No dog barks at the half moon.
Long night gone in the morning chill,
Slow light gleams at eastward door
Sun comes returning, scarce recognized
But met with quiet welcome.
A long time we will go
A long time ’til we know
A long time still to grow
Along time, ever so.
Among the Abenaki people, the winter solstice is the beginning of the new year. As elder Elie Joubert has told us, this time is known as Peboniwi, t8ni kizos wazwasa – In winter, when the sun returns to the same place.
The custom is to begin the new year by offering these words:
Anhaldamawi kasi palilawalian – Forgive any wrong I may have done to you.
N’wikodo io mina, liwlaldamana – I ask this as well, please.
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.”
Notes on a Lost Flute, Kerry Hardy, 2009.
Sun Dance Season: An Abenaki Summer, Fred Wiseman, 2015.
John Trudell has walked on, into the western sun, and returned to our Mother. The journey never ends.
Kwai ta kchi wliwni, Az8. Wlibaamkani nijia – adio. Alokada nid8bak.
We Hear what you say
One Earth, one Mother
One does not sell the Earth
The people walk upon
We are the land
How do we sell our Mother
How do we sell the stars
How do we sell the air…