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 Files to Intervene in VT Yankee Sale Review by VT PSB

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Two articles today, from VTDigger and the Rutland Herald.

A Native American tribe is seeking a role in the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee, citing the importance of the land that hosts the shut-down nuclear plant. The Windham County-based Elnu Abenaki Tribe has filed a motion to intervene in the state Public Service Board’s review of the plant’s purchase by NorthStar Group Services, a New York-based decommissioning company.

Full article by Make Faher at VTDigger.org.

The Elnu Abenaki tribe has filed for intervenor status with the Public Service Board over the proposed sale, decommissioning and cleanup of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. A spokesman for the Elnu, which are based in the southeastern part of the state, said Wednesday the Vermont Yankee site was of cultural significance to the Abenaki. He said significant archaeological Abenaki sites are nearby, near the Vernon hydroelectric dam, which is owned by TransCanada, as well as in neighboring Hinsdale, New Hampshire.

Full article by Susan Smallheer at the Rutland Herald.

Aerial photo by Kristopher Radder of the Brattleboro Reformer.

Edit: March 9, 2017 The Brattleboro Reformer picked up Mike Faher’s story also.

Edit: March 15, 2017 The Greenfield Recorder picked up Susan Smallheer’s story.

Pending VT Yankee Sale to NY Firm, Brattleboro Coalition Ponders Steps

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The New England Coalition has spent decades raising issues before the Vermont Public Service Board about the operation, sale, uprate and relicensing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power station.

Now that the plant — permanently shut down two years ago by Entergy Nuclear — could be sold to a New York City industrial demolition company, the coalition said recently it has yet to make up its mind about whether to take an adversarial role again.

Clay Turnbull, a staff member of the Brattleboro nonprofit organization, said last week the coalition was reviewing the trove of documents that Entergy Nuclear and the potential new owner, NorthStar Group Services Inc., filed about the sale and the ultimate decommissioning of Vermont Yankee.

Read the full story by Susan Smallheer of the Rutland Herald.

Sokwakik Now: Vernon Eyes Data Center for VT Yankee Site

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Could rows of quietly whirring computers replace Vermont Yankee? Seeking long-term options for the former nuclear plant property, Vernon Planning Commission is looking into the possibility that a technology company could build a data center – sometimes called a “server farm” – at the site.

Commission members were buoyed Wednesday night by Matt Dunne, a former Google executive with experience in siting data centers. Dunne said he believes the Yankee property has many key assets for such a development including land, water and access to large quantities of reliable power.

“It’s difficult to find the land and the kind of infrastructure that you happen to have here,” Dunne said. “It is a unique site.”

Officials said they would explore the idea further. “This, to me, is the most exciting thing for Vernon right now out of everything we’ve discussed,” Planning Commission member Patty O’Donnell said.

Full story by Mike Faher at VTdigger.org

Another version in the Greenfield Recorder

***

Observations: Matt Dunne mused that this is a unique site; he may have no idea of the deeper significance of his statement. The land immediately adjacent to the Great Bend of the Kwanitekw, on both sides of the river – in Vernon, VT to the west and Hinsdale, NH to the east, but especially on the Vermont side – is highly sensitive to the Sokwakiak Abenaki and their ancestors. Adjacent to a highly favored [former] fishing place at the rapids now subsumed by the Vernon hydroelectric dam, the level terraces would have hosted the shelters, fish processing stations, food storage, celebratory and ceremonial areas, and other supporting functions needed for any sizeable, extended gathering of people. The popularity of the location amongst the region’s indigenous dwellers is documented in the historical literature, although scantily, in common with most of the area at the time of contact and immediately thereafter. It is likely there are multiple cultural sites of both a permanent and transient nature, constructed and occupied over thousands of years, and home to many hundreds of occupants, much less their final resting places purposefully chosen close by a beneficient and sacred gathering place.

Beside historical settler uses for agriculture, mills, logging, residences, and mineral extraction over the past 275 years, the very same area has been heavily compromised by the construction and operation of two electric generating plants. The aforementioned Vernon Hydroelectric dam and power station, currently owned by TransCanada, and the recently-shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, owned by Entergy Corp. – both utilizing the 26-mile impoundment of the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River – have been sited directly atop this sensitive area. As an aside, it is a patently obvious correlation that nearly all of the most noteworthy locations up and down the Valley (in terms of advantageous siting and “resources’), now heavily developed by modern industry and their attendant settlements, were chosen as a direct observation that they had already been recognized as such by the preceding indigenous populations.

These two industrial installations, although under the purview of Federal as well as many other state and local agencies, have never had comprehensive cultural assessments performed at their sites. There was little to no sensitivity for these attributes of this naturewhen the power facilities were initially sited in the early to late mid-twentieth century; although that regulatory environment has changed, awareness and responsibility have not progressed as far. There have been several smaller-scope studies completed in the course of more recent operational amendments, but these have been dismissive, incomplete, or cursory at best. A simple review of newspaper accounts from the past two centuries reveals many accounts of human remains and cultural “artifacts” recovered in the immediate vicinity. While there are a very few documented, professionally-managed archaeological sites in the record, there was also a plethora of amateur digging and collecting over the last 150 years, when such activities were quite popular and the whereabouts of such sites was much more common knowledge. The names of Walter Needham, Jason Bushnell, and Gerald Coane come to mind.

This grave omission should not stand unacknowledged and unaddressed. There are several projects and/or processes currently underway, or imminent, that will once again open these ancient and still hurtful wounds. Today’s agencies of oversight operate under a somewhat more enlightened set of responsibilities, not the least of which is inclusivity of indigenous tribal concerns, along with both human and environmental rights in general.  It is hoped that the dialogue will expand to truly reflect many more voices going forward. This blog will be sharing these stories and viewpoints as they manifest. The Old Ones are here with us in this land.

N’mikwalm8nowak – we remember them.

Askwa iodali n’daoldibna – we are still here.

 

Dr. Marge Bruchac in Northampton, On the Wampum Trail

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A talk was given by Dr. Margaret Bruchac on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016 at Historic Northampton, 46 Bridge Street, Northampton, MA, entitled “The Wampum Trail: Restorative Research in Native American Collections”

A pdf of the flyer for the presentation can be seen here.

The “Wampum Trail” research project examines the use of northeastern Native American quahog and whelk shell beads for adornment, ritual, and diplomacy. During the early 1600s, wampum beads were widely used in trading exchanges throughout the Connecticut River Valley, but wampum’s significance was more than merely monetary. Native artisans used distinctive weaving techniques (with sinew, leather, and hemp), bead selections (including glass, stone, and other anomalous beads), and patterns (both abstract and figurative) to construct belts that recorded important material and diplomatic relationships.
By re-visiting archival sources and analyzing the construction of beads and belts in museum collections, Dr. Bruchac has recovered many previously overlooked material details. She also consults with present-day Native American wampum-keepers to develop effective strategies for recovering other hidden Native American object histories in museum collections. For more information, see her research blog, “On the Wampum Trail,” and her articles on the Penn Museum Blog, “Beyond the Gallery Walls.”

Dr. Margaret M. Bruchac is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Associate Professor of Cultural Heritage, and Coordinator of Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. From 2003-2010, she served as the Five College Repatriation Research Liaison, and from 1998-2010, she served as a Trustee of Historic Northampton. Her publications include “Native Presence in Nonotuck and Northampton,” in A Place Called Paradise: Culture and Community in Northampton, Massachusetts, 1654-2004 (Kerry Buckley, ed., University of Massachusetts Press 2004), and “Lost and Found: NAGPRA, Scattered Relics and Restorative Methodologies” (Museum Anthropology 2010).