Sketch of “Indian Rock” at the mouth of the West River, by a young Larkin Mead, later a nationally-known sculptor.
The Brattleboro Historical Society has begun submitting a regular feature to the local Brattleboro Reformer daily. This week’s column takes a look at the misrepresentation of established Native presence in the state’s long-mythologized history books, and offers some corrections of perspective into the present. I was able to help contribute to this welcome piece by the Society.
Full article here, excerpt below:
In 1828 the Brattleboro publishing company of Holbrook and Fessenden produced “A History of Vermont: From Its First Settlement to the Present Time.” It was the first known Vermont History book used in Brattleboro schools.
When writing about the “native inhabitants,” author Francis Eastman wrote, “not a vestige of them now remains – gradually the encroachments of the whites have pushed them farther and farther on” to the west and north of the United States and Canada.
In many early histories of Vermont, Native Americans were hardly mentioned. A Vermont school book used from 1890 to 1925 starts this way, “Very few Indians lived in Vermont when white men first came here, though hunting parties and war parties often passed through, and sometimes a party would camp all summer in a good place.” You can see that early history books did not give Native Americans much claim to Vermont…
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.
The latest podcast from Brattleboro Historical Society, with Joe Rivers and his BAMS history students. It gives some good background to the subsuming of critical areas in Sokwakik, and the mid-Kwanitekw valley in general, by the construction of the Vernon, Vermont hydroelectric dam early in the last century. Many acres of riverside land were condemned to be flooded in the name of progress, the first project of its kind in the region, with many more to follow. This was a for-profit venture by a group of both local and regional businessmen, to generate power for distant markets at the expense of everything else. Sokoki Abenaki heritage and interests, being a riverine-centric culture, were ignored and ravaged, a situation which remains ongoing and challenging. The resulting impoundment was later accessed and the land further degraded by the construction of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant immediately upstream of the dam itself.
More background toward understanding the story behind “How did we all end up in this situation?” – as I often repeat, it’s all connected.
Thank you to Joe Rivers and Reggie Martell at the Brattleboro Historical Society, for your interest, commitment, and technical skills, in putting this together. It is an honor to work with you toward restoration for the indigenous people, the Abenaki and their ancestors, to their rightful and relevant place. In Aln8ba8dwaw8gan: Askwa n’daoldibna iodali – we are still here.
I appreciate this photo (by Reggie), with our guardian mountain Wantastiquet behind and the provincial flag of Quebec on my shirt, repping for my grandfather, both aspects of the motivation behind this journey of understanding.
Early Vermont histories portrayed this area’s aboriginal peoples as transients who occasionally passed through southern Vermont, en route to and from Northern New York and Canada, but were ultimately not residents of the area and therefor had little claim on these lands.
In this podcast [BAMS history teacher] Joe Rivers and his intrepid band of middle school historians show that those early Vermont histories were very much mistaken.
This podcast is part I of a two-part series.
Produced October 20, 2016