The Winter Season, Solstice, and the New Year

nokahigas wantastegok wajo 2017

As it usually does, this year (2018) the winter solstice in Pebonkik – the North Land – lands on December 21st, specifically at 5:23 pm in our region (EST). In our modern scientific understanding, as a detached observer with the perspective of an imaginary point in space, this the time when the North Pole of the earth, in its annual orbit of the sun, is facing farthest away from its light and warmth, due to the fixed tilt of our axis. The seasonal calendar lags behind a little, due to the earth’s great thermal mass, but on the solar cycle, this is actually Mid-Winter, and is known as such in many old cultures. As we continue our yearlong orbit, we find ourselves tipped relatively more toward the sun, lessening the ratio of night to day, until we reach the summer solstice position on or near June 21st, half an orbit and half a year away.

But now, back here in the northeast part of the continent, the approach of the winter solstice means the daylight grows scant and the nights extend their long darkness. The noonday peak of the sun’s circuit across the sky sags toward the horizon, dropping lower every day, until it slows to a virtual stop at its nadir. Here it seems to pause for a few days: in fact, the English word “solstice” derives from “sun stands still.” This is how it is experienced for a person standing in their own familiar landscape, watching the changing sky with the passing of days. Indigenous cultures have developed protocols based around these celestial and seasonal rhythms, manifesting as both practical and ceremonial, to ensure their continuity and prosperity. They are encoded in their respective spiritual belief systems, with the assurance that the diligent observance of these practices is necessary for the ongoing mutual success of both cycle and celebrant.

ash swamp brook confluence hinsdale nh february

To a community of Abenaki people, living in a close relationship with the landscape, marking the change of seasons and understanding the implications is a matter of necessity. Planting, harvesting, hunting, fishing, material and medicine gathering, and sheltering must be anticipated, planned, and achieved, with ample provision made until the cycle comes around again. With a close awareness of the changing signs, at the appropriate times these activities are signaled and marked with traditional practices such as feasts, dances, ceremonies, songs, and stories, reminders of the importance of what is at hand.

As winter sets in, the annual circle of seasons is seen as slowing to a quiet, still place: a time for resting, reflection, and renewal. The year is made of 13 moons, the approximate number of full lunar cycles in a solar year. Each lunar month begins with the new moon, with a 29 1/2 day cycle through the full moon until the next new moon.

The old year ends with the new moon before the winter solstice. This last moon (the current one) is known as Pebonkas – Winter Maker; it may also be called Kchikizos – Great Moon (kchi=great + kizos=full moon), due to the clarity of the shining disc in the cold, clear sky. The solstice lies within this moon and signals the time when the sun stands still, low in the sky, and then begins to climb higher. This is known as “Peboniwi t8ni kizos wazwasa” – “In winter when the sun returns to the same place.” Two other names, for reasons already given, are first: “kwagwanidebokak” – “the very long night” (kwagwani=very long + debokak=when it is night) and second “n8wiponasik” – “midwinter” (n8wi=middle + pon=winter + asik=the one that is).

wantastiquet wantastekw march twilight

On these long, cold nights stories are told around the fires in the wigw8m, more so than at other times, when the longer days and warmer weather are better utilized in other pursuits. The stories entertain, teach, remind, and reinforce, important for a culture that depends on oral transmission of tradition, wisdom, and history. This is how the next generations learn who they are, from whence they have come, and how they in turn may become good ancestors of those yet to appear. Circumspectly, many of these stories are only told at this time of the year, when the subjects of the discourse are asleep and dreaming beneath the ground or ice, or caves, or gone until warmer days return. Their rest will be undisturbed, not overhearing their names and their stories being shared in the firelight within the snug bark lodges.

The next month is called “Alamikos” or “Anhaldamawikizos” – Greetings Maker or Forgiveness Moon. It is the first moon of the Abenaki annual cycle and it begins on Jan. 5th this year with its own dark phase, and has its own traditions, which we will address in another post.

 

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BFP History Space: Celebrating Abenaki Culture

abenaki dance circle lcmm

In 2011 and 2012, the state of Vermont officially recognized four Abenaki tribes: Elnu, Nulhegan, Koasek and Missisquoi.

“History books, museums, and schools in New England often present Native culture as if the Abenaki disappeared in the 18th century,” says Vera Longtoe Sheehan, director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. “After we received Vermont state recognition the Abenaki people created the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association as a forum to showcase our artists and our vibrant culture. Now we are trying to bridge the gap between the Native and Non-Native communities through the “Wearing Our Heritage” project. Our goals are to reclaim our place in New England history, to make connections between our shared past and the present, and for our art to be accepted on the same terms as art from other cultures of the world.”

Although there is little mention of the Abenaki in 19th century history books, Abenaki people continued to live in their homelands, and maintain strong oral histories and traditions from earlier times. In the latter half of the twentieth century, Abenaki people undertook a systematic cultural revitalization that involves a return to traditional lifeways and skills. Ironically, for many years they were not recognized by federal or state government because they had never entered into a treaty that surrendered their territory to the United States.

Read this comprehensive article by Vera Longtoe Sheehan and Eloise Beil, for the Burlington Free Press.

Burlington Free Press: Abenaki Heritage Weekend Coming Up

abenaki heritage weekend drumming lcmm

Join the Abenaki community on June 23 and June 24 at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum near Vergennes for a weekend of family fun and cultural sharing that is deeply rooted in local Native American heritage.

Organized by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association with members of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk, Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation, Missisquoi Abenaki Tribe and guest artists, the event is designed to give visitors an Indigenous perspective on life in the Champlain Valley both past and present.

Activities will include drumming, storytelling, craft and cooking demonstrations, an Arts Marketplace, and presentations by guest artists including Black Hawk Singers Drum Group, and Jesse Bruchac telling stories in Abenaki and English, accompanied by flute and drum.

See the full story in the Burlington Free Press.

Vermont Folklife Center Offering Apprenticeships

The Vermont Folklife Center announces the continuation of the Vermont Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program for its 24th year. Initiated to support Vermont’s living cultural heritage, the program provides stipends of up to $2,000 as honoraria and to cover such expenses as materials and travel. Under the auspices of the program, traditional arts such as blacksmithing, Abenaki basket making, Franco American singing, and Bhutanese Nepali folk dancing have received support.

A traditional arts apprenticeship brings teachers and learners together who share a common commitment to keeping these art forms alive. It pairs a community-acknowledged master artist who has achieved a high level of expertise in his or her art form with a less-experienced apprentice. The master and apprentice jointly plan when, where, and what they expect to accomplish over the course of the apprenticeship. Apprenticeship schedules reflect the time constraints of both master and apprentice and range from short-term, intensive sessions to meetings spread over the course of a year.

Read the full announcement here.

Shaking Off Winter at 20th Annual Wabanaki Spring Social

wabanaki spring social bangor maine 2017

Men, women and children — many of them wearing their colorful tribal regalia — danced to the beating drums Saturday at the 20th annual Wabanaki Spring Social.

There also were prayers and blessings from elders, most in the traditional tongues of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Micmac and Maliseet tribes, as well as fry bread and hull corn soup, and Native American crafts and other products.

An estimated 700 members of the region’s Wabanaki Confederacy and other tribes were expected to gather at the Anah Shrine for the event, Susan Romero of Wabanaki Health and Wellness, a key organizer of the social.

Read the full report by Dawn Gagnon in the Bangor Daily News.

UMass Amherst Powwow April 15, 2017

umass powwow 2017 poster

Hosted by UMass Amherst Native American Student Association.

Come join us at Curry Hicks Cage Gym on the UMass Amherst campus. All public welcome, free parking, handicapped accessible, donations welcome, vendors.

Host Drums: Storm Boyz
Guest drums: Iron River, Eastern Suns
Head Man: Dan Shears
Head Lady: Angelina LaRotonda
MC: Justin Beatty
Arena Director: Don Barnaby
Story teller: Larry Spotted Crow Mann

Food by UMass’ own Baby Berk!

If you are interested in becoming a vendor, you may contact jasminerochellegoodspeed@gmail.com.

If you are traveling to the powwow and will need a hotel room, we have arranged with the Howard Johnson in Hadley to have a block of rooms reserved for us. Call and mention you will be in town for the UMass Powwow and they can give you a rate of $93/night!
Howard Johnson Express Inn
413-586-0114 or 1-800-467-4600
401 Russell St.
Hadley, MA 01035

Last 3 Weeks for Historic Abenaki Clothing at LCMM

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The special exhibit “Wearing Our Heritage” offers rare opportunity to see clothing worn by Abenaki men and women of earlier generations. Abenaki scholar and activist Frederick M. Wiseman has gathered original garments and accessories to assemble representative outfits like those worn by Abenaki men and women before 1850 as well as outfits for a man and a woman during in the 1900s through 1920s. The exhibit also includes examples of accessories such as moccasin tops, collars, head bands, needle cases and pouches.

Read the full description on the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum blog.