Pagakanihlok: Bloodroot

pagakanihlok bloodroot sokwakik 2020

Natami pagakanihlok tali Wantastegok Wajo wskisigwaniwi. The first bloodroot at Mount Wantastiquet in early spring.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is one of the earliest spring ephemerals, inhabiting moist, rich, soils in upland or floodplain deciduous forests. A solitary white flower with a golden center opens in the fleetingly-sunlit understory, before the leafy canopy overhead brings the shade of summer. The flowers close at night and sometimes bloom just before the single leaf joins it, each on its own stem; when the deeply-lobed leaf unfurls, it clasps the flower stalk like a cloak. Bloodroot likes to gather in groups, a small community huddled in the bright spring sunshine, celebrating the return of light and warmth.

bloodroot-blossoms-leyden-ma

This little harbinger is named for the bright red sap that oozes from the thick rootstock when it is broken open. The scarlet juice is traditionally used for a strong material dye, insect repellent, and body paint, as well as for several other medicinal purposes, although skin contact should be minimized due to alkaloids that may destroy tissue.*

This memorable naming characteristic appears in the Abenaki name for the plant as well, which is pagakanihlok. The word is compounded from ‘pagakan’ which signifies ‘blood’ with a connecting ‘-i-‘ plus the suffix ‘-hlok’ to indicate ‘where it comes out rapidly’, as in bleeding. The Penobscot use a similar term, pekahkánihlαk.

* It is a prime ingredient in the escharotic preparation known as black salve, an herbal skin cancer treatment that can cause permanent scarring or damage.

 

Kwenitekw – The Long Story

kwenitekw-prospect-wantastegok-may-2016

It is a traditional understanding that Creation is continual – the only constant is change. What we see now was once something else, and what may come afterward will only be known when it is here. All that we encounter is made of the same substances… combining, recombining, transitioning, growing, fading. It has all “always been here” and it is still here. We are each a part of everything else in this whole we call Creation, in a very pragmatic manner, and even now there is change underway: things will be different afterward but Creation continues.

To state that something is “exactly this or that” is to not see the situation as it truly manifests itself. This is the mind of separation and objectification – the illusion of control – which, after all, is the process of colonization, and the (literal) force that has been and is having a great effect upon our existence here on this Earth. When we step out of a recognition that we are in a continually evolving relationship with everything around us, we move away from balance and toward increasing disarray and dysfunction. We are no longer fulfilling our roles and responsibilities.

We see the world in part, for at least several reasons. Internally, our individual life lessons color our experience; in other words, we can only understand the world in terms of what we already know of it, and if we encounter something unfamiliar, we either learn from that moment, or not. Externally, our cultures frame our worldview; they provide the tools, including language, by which we make meaning and interpret our intersections with our surroundings. And, on a practical, material level, our degree of perspective is necessarily limited by both the physical location at which we are situated, and by how much attention we devote to the moment. We see what is before us, if we are present there and then, using our full senses – and those need not be limited to the basic five. There are many ways to be “sense-itive.”

west-river-december-brattleboro-2018

All of this suggests that there are multiple, equally valid experiences of existence – many ways of being – and all of these entities are experiencing each other at the same time. There are layers of relationship, always in motion and shifting, seen and unseen, moving between forms and effects, all present at once and energized by the Spirit within. There is no “one objective way of being,” since all is in constant flux and centered on the interactions of that moment. This is not license for carelessness and anarchy, but a call to recognition and responsibility.

This is an Indigenous view of the world. This is why Place is so important. These interactions and overlapping realities are shaped by the ways that the entities of a particular place are relating to each other, in the moment – they are present, together, in that Place. In any other location, there would be necessarily be a different set of actors, interacting in different ways. The dictionary definition of an Indigenous person is “ the original people of a place.” The critical characteristic here is the landscape within which the People (and every other entity there) are connected; the Place is the lens through which they define themselves. They, and the Place, are the same thing. It is no accident that the Abenaki word “tôni” means both “where” and “how.” The setting matters that much.

rock-dam-connecticut-river

Quite often, this is the way that Aln8ba8dwaw8gan (the Western Abenaki language) works… A word may evoke more than one meaning at the same time, since there is more than one possible reality, and the language allows for that. A term may have a direct, descriptive significance, and at the same time it may make a metaphorical reference. It can be a launching point for a deeper exploration of significance or suggestion, totemic for an entire story or understanding. That the language structure itself is polysynthetic – combining smaller, individual root words, known as morphemes, to add inflection – means that a single word can express a complex concept.

This is the case with Kwenitekw (KWEN- ee – took – uh, the last syllable almost voiceless), the Abenaki word for today’s Connecticut River. On a pragmatic level, it is usually taken to mean “Long River”. The two morphemes that impart inflection in this word are “kwen-” and “-tekw”, with the “i“ connector. “Kwen-“ is an adjectival modifier suggesting extended length and usually translated as “long” or “tall”, a spatial dimension. And “-tekw” is a bound suffix, used for water in the form of rivers, tides, and waves. At first examination, this results in the straightforward “Long River.” And it is a long river – the longest in the region – flowing southward over 400 miles, from the eponymous series of Connecticut Lakes at the US/Quebec border to the Atlantic Ocean at Long Island Sound. But it doesn’t stop there.

connecticut-river-confluence-dummerston-canoe-brook

It has been said that the Abenaki did not focus on the idea of the River as an object unto itself, a stand-alone geographical feature. Of course, in the grand web of inter-relatedness, it certainly is not. Rather, it is a unifying presence, a vast watery web of connections, drawing together the rainfall, snowpack, brooks, ponds, vernal pools, marshes and swamps, and tributaries of an 11,260-square-mile watershed. Where today we see a dividing boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire, the Kwenitekw is more inherently the central heart of a vast community of communities, the Abenaki homeland of Ndakinna.

The Abenaki (and the Wabanaki, by extension) see themselves as river-centric people, using the place-based paradigm of indigeneity, applied to their various dwelling places in the lush, well-watered mountains of the Northeast. Scholar Lisa Brooks makes mention of this in her relation of the Native leader Polis, who lived on the Presumpscot River in the early 18th century. When he travelled to Boston, protesting colonial abuse and usurpation of the Presumpscot, he referred to it as “n’sibo” – “the river to which I belong.” Each band of Abenaki people had their own river, or other body of water, each with its own associated name – which typically became their name for themselves as well. The tributaries of the Kwenitekw provide examples: Wantastekw, Ammonoosuc, Ashuelot, Mascoma, Ompompanoosuc, Nulhegan, Pocumtuk. These places (often at confluences) were centers unto themselves, a network of relations connected by the River, but also by kinship, trade, culture, diplomacy, seasonal gathering, and more, down through the generations.

connecticut-river-summer-sunset-brattleboro

By allowing these cultural understandings to illuminate underlying concepts of the two constituent morphemes, the name Kwenitekw can evoke something much more encompassing and suggestive than simply Long River. “Kweni-” can also suggest “duration”, as in a continuance – a length of space/time. An ongoing, sustained series of connected moments: a story line. A cognate, perhaps, to what the Aboriginal People of the Australian continent call a dreaming track or a songline. And the suffix “-tekw” more closely means means “flow” as in “water in dynamic motion” – thus, it is used for rivers, tides, and waves – but not lakes, ponds, and bays. Rather, it is water as the essence of life – moving and shifting, transitioning from one place to another – it is imbued with power.

So, while Kwenitekw can be seen to express the “Long River” as a rather straightforward toponym, it can also describe an expansive concept. In sentence form, it might be expressed as “a continuous, connecting flow of spirit-power in transition.” One might think of it as an Abenaki expansion of the expression attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus “No man ever steps in the same river twice…” When this broadened perspective is absorbed, it begins to inform many other concerns, such as relationship, change, presence, responsibility and balance, to suggest a few. This is the way of it.

connecticut-river-sunset-february-ice

This essay appeared online in the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum blog on March 25, 2020. I encourage you to visit them, in Warner, NH, when you have an opportunity.

Can You Hear It?

first harris hill ski jump

From Brattleboro Historical Society’s Facebook Page today, the caption: Feb. 4, 1922 the ski jump on Cedar Street officially opened for the first time. This was the contraption you needed to climb in order to ski down the jump and fly 150 feet in the air to the landing area. Later this became known as Harris Hill.

Unfamiliar things in the woods. These forests have been here a long time, thousands of years. As have the People – thousands of years. They know these woods.

They are still here, those things and the People. The land remains.

This hill had a different name before Harris.

Can you hear it?

 

Forbes Library: Native Americans and the Land

forbes library native american land authors

Tonight – March 21, 2018 from 7 -8:30 pm
Forbes Library, 20 West Street, Northampton, MA

-Lisa Brooks, author, “Our Beloved Kin”
-Cheryl Savageau, author, “Mother/Land”
-Jillian Hensley, author, “In This Strange Soil”

In “Native Americans and the Land,” three authors contemplate the first inhabitants of North America and their conceptions of living with the land. As we struggle to envision a healthier relationship with our natural world, looking through the lens of other cultural imaginations has never been more relevant. Recently, conflict over building the Dakota Access oil pipeline and the rise of the #NoDAPL movement have brought Native American perspectives to the forefront of environmental discourse. In nonfiction, poetry and fiction, these writers look through native eyes.

== Where the Real and the Surreal Meet ==
The Modern Real and Surreal: Writers and Artists on Our Age, is the Forbes Library’s author reading series. Now in its third season, the series explores contemporary themes on the premise that libraries offer vibrant spaces to engage with and explore our era’s most pressing questions – questions that in their surprises and contradictions can be understood through either a realistic lens or through fantasy, science fiction and the surreal. The series invites the community to join us in examining how story and art can provide empathy and insight in our accelerating world.

The series features writers in genres ranging from fiction to nonfiction to poetry. The role of the image in conveying literary themes will be explored, too, in events on comics & graphic novels, film and screenwriting, and nature word-and-image pairings. Current issues from our political and social milieu will also form an important backbone as these authors share from their fine work.

Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Scientists and Tribes Partner for the Black Ash Nation

emerald ash borer TEK

When Butch Jacobs steps into the woods in search of basket making materials, he does not have a specific type of forest or black ash tree in mind, but he knows it when he sees it. “It’s a unique skill set that cannot necessarily be taught. Some people just have it,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs, a member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, is one of few remaining basket-tree harvesters in Maine—a longstanding tradition that stretches back to before Europeans arrived on North American shores. Now, the custom faces a threat that may devastate the trees that harvesters like Jacobs seek.

Emerald ash borer, an insect native to Asia, has barreled through ash stands in at least 31 states and three Canadian provinces since it was first documented in Michigan and Ontario in 2002. Black ash, the species basket-tree harvesters target, is especially susceptible to the invasive insect that has already decimated millions of North American , and will soon arrive in Maine.

That spells trouble for Jacobs and many others, for whom ash trees are of critical cultural and economic significance. The black ash is a central element in several Native American and First Nation traditions, including some tribes’ creation stories.

Read the full story by Erin Miller at phys.org.

Abenaki Concerns About Nuclear Site’s Future Gaining Attention

Rich Holschuh VY Sale Mike Faher

For Rich Holschuh, the Vermont Yankee property is rife with contradictions. On one hand, it’s an idled, contaminated nuclear plant in need of the biggest environmental cleanup project Vermont has ever seen.

On the other, it’s part of the ancestral homeland of the Elnu Abenaki, the Native American tribe Holschuh is representing in the state’s regulatory review of Vermont Yankee’s proposed sale to a New York cleanup company.

Now, those two versions of the site may be edging a little closer together. The plant’s potential buyer, NorthStar Group Services, has agreed to talks with the Abenaki in an effort to address the tribe’s worries about excavation, cleanup and site restoration.

“We want to meet with them,” NorthStar Chief Executive Officer Scott State said. “We want to understand their concerns, and we want to come to an understanding as to how we can meet their concerns.”

It’s not clear what the outcome of those talks will be, but Holschuh said the fact they’re occurring is a victory of sorts. “We’re trying to establish our voice – just be acknowledged for being here and caring,” Holschuh said. “We want to be involved, and we actually see this as a responsibility.”

Read the full story by Mike Faher in VTDigger.org. Photo by Mike Faher also.

This story also ran in the Brattleboro Reformer this past weekend, 9/8/17.

And in The Commons 9/13/17.

Not Relics of the Past: Conserving the West River Petroglyphs

 

west river petroglyph brattleboro annette spaulding

A group has hopes of purchasing land near petroglyphs under the Connecticut River (correction: Wantastekw/West River) with the goal of preventing future development on land it sees as culturally meaningful.

“This is all part of the Abenaki people trying to re-establish themselves… to raise awareness and reinforce the idea that these are not relics of the past,” said Rich Holschuh, a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs from Brattleboro.

“These are significant to people who are still here… people who still observe their significance and incorporate that into their lives because they are the descendants of these people.”

Abenaki people and other members of the public hope to preserve the land, keeping it open for hiking and other recreational activities. The project is also about protecting the Hogle Wildlife Sanctuary.

Read the full story by Chris Mays, with photography by Kristopher Radder, in the Brattleboro Reformer.

Protecting Mi’kmaq Petroglyphs in Bedford, Kejimkujik National Park

mi'kmaq star petroglyph bedford ns kukukwes

When Donna Morris looks at the Mi’kmaq petroglyphs at Kejimkujik National Park, she sees history. “There’s a picture of a caribou. There’s a picture of a little missionary man that goes back to the French era which would be the 1700s,” Morris, 65, explains. “So when I look at that, I think mostly of history. When I look at the caribou, I think about (a time) before the caribou and moose had disappeared.”

Morris, originally from the Indian Brook First Nation, has been working as an interpreter/coordinator at Kejimkujik since 2000. Part of her duties include offering tours of the Mi’kmaq petroglyphs, one of the park’s main attractions, to visitors and campers several times a week during the spring and summer months.

“Right now, the images are starting to fade a bit,” Morris explains. “We only have one particular area where we show the public and the other petroglyph sites are a little inaccessible due to the water and the distance of where they are.”

There are more than 500 Mi’kmaq petroglyphs at Kejimkujik. Some of them are estimated to be 800-1000 years old. All but one of the sites are blocked off from the general public. Park guides patrol the paths around the petroglyphs to make sure visitors obey the signage warning visitors not to enter and disturb the protected areas.

Read the full story by Maureen Googoo at Kukukwes.com.

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.