Wabanaki Confederacy 2017 at Kejimkujik Mi’kmaki

hugh akagi paasamaquoddy wabananaki confederacy 2017

Hugh Akagi thought about the future of the Wabanaki Confederacy while the partial eclipse was happening Monday afternoon.

The chief of the Passamaquoddy people in Canada had travelled from his home in St. Andrews, N.B. to Kejimkujik National Park near Maitland Bridge, N.S., to take part in the Wabanaki Confederacy’s four-day annual summer gathering.

Akagi and 40 other Indigenous people gathered at the national park Monday afternoon to take part in a traditional ceremony to light the sacred fire to start the confederacy’s event. They all watched as several people spent nearly an hour trying to light the fire with a single flint during the partial eclipse.

“I’m thinking the fire needs to come to life, the confederacy needs to come back to life,” Akagi explained following the ceremony.

“The confederacy has gone through some pretty dark years, pretty rough times as every individual tribe, every Native person has,” he said.

“How do we rekindle that fire, how to bring it to life? How do we bring back the songs?” he asked.

Read the full story from kukukwes.com.

Amherst College Hosts a Healing Fire for Survivors of Sexual Violence

amherst college healing fire gedakina

The Healing Fire Initiative for Survivors of Sexual Violence, their friends, families and allies. Sponsored in part by Gedakina.org.

Opening Ceremony 1:00 pm on April 13th

Fire will burn until 1:00pm on April 14th

People who come to the healing fire are welcome to make offerings to the fire.  Wooden shims and sharpies will be provided and you are welcome to bring letters and pictures of your own.  Amherst College is honored to partner with Gedakina Inc. in an effort to provide a space for healing with our campus community.  In 2002 Gedakina cofounded the Healing Fire Initiative for Survivors of Sexual Violence. The purpose of the Healing Fire Initiative is to offer survivors of sexual violence a welcoming and comforting place to break the isolation they may feel, build community with other survivors, advocates, and supporters, and begin or continue their healing process. This program is now a regional initiative with organizations and colleges/universities across the United States adopting this award-winning program.  The Healing Fire will begin with an opening ceremony at 1:00 pm onThursday April 13th, on the Freshman Quad (directly across from the Frost Library entrance.  The fire will be burning until 1:00pm on April 14th and will staffed by faculty, staff and crisis support center staff throughout the 24 hour period.  Please feel free to stay for any amount of time that feels right for you.  In respect for attendees we ask that no photography or social media include faces of people unless you have explicit permission.

“When I sit in the light of the Healing Fire, there are no voices that tell me I am to blame, that I am the only one, or that I deserve to be assaulted.  When I sit in the light of the Healing Fire, I see the many kind faces before me.  I hear their stories and feel the warmth and wisdom that we share.  There is a power hear tonight,  As this fire symbolizes the strength of survivors, it also symbolizes our passion, our righteous anger, our commitment and hope for a future where our children will be free  of abuse and violence.” – A quote from a Survivor who attended a Healing Fire in Burlington, Vermont

No Evidences of Indian Settlements in This Town

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The strangest statements may be found in the local newspapers, reflecting the absolute conviction of the times – in the face of self-stated evidence – that there was, and is, no notable indigenous presence.

From The Vermont Phoenix, Brattleboro, VT July 7, 1876.

Turner’s Fall – A Circle of Ripples

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Yesterday I came to this place, the Pukcommeagon, or Puckcommegon, as they say it was called, known today to most as the Green River. Just below the popular municipal swimming area on Nash’s Mill Road, on the west side of the Town of Greenfield (named after the river itself), less happy events transpired a long time ago. Here, on the morning of May 19th, 1676, a stone was cast in the waters of time and the ripples still pulse upon our lives.  At this fording of the river (probably rising much higher in mid-May three-and-a-half centuries ago), the commander of the colonial militia, retreating from his attack on the tribal people gathered at Peskeompskut, met his mortal end. Already a broken and gravely ill man, Capt. William Turner was struck here by pursuing warriors and died shortly thereafter on the western bank.

Gazing upon the lazy flow of the river in mid-September, it seemed an embodiment of the circular sweep of time: now, then, still to come. It is all here, sliding into the distance. A slow meander of hazy water, clear up close and opaque at a remove, sliding through the piercing light and the overhanging shadows. Slipping over the ancient Permian shoulders of fissured red conglomerate; alongside shifting sand shoals marked with the skitterings of four-footeds and long-legged flyers; passing silently beneath roads and walkways, heading southward to the Kwanitekw and great salty Sobakw. Up to the sky and down to the mountains. Water is life, the rivers connect the people. Circles and ripples, silence and murmurs, as above, so below.

My friend Joe Graveline, in speaking about the 1676 massacre at Peskeompskut (known historically as the Falls Fight – just 3 miles to the east), has said “at sunrise on that morning a light went out, on twelve thousand years” of community, in a place of peace and sharing. And so it did, abruptly and summarily. The disruption and confusion still reverberates and confuses those who remain. His observation gave me great pause and made me ponder the consequences and implications; it seems so harsh and final. But now I come away from the banks of the timeless river with another perspective, along the lines of the traditional firekeepers, whose responsibilities are to keep the sacred fire burning and to carry fire to the next place. Glowing embers, a small fragment of the original open flame, are secured in a safe receptacle, protected and nurtured until the next destination is reached. The sustaining flame of life has been hidden in this place but it is still here, held in the land and waters; we can see it if we look in the right direction, in the center.

Red Pine II

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A (long-promised) follow-up to the inaugural post “Red Pine I” of March 2015, all of 5 years ago…

Pasaakw, the red pine. At first glance, this is a very straightforward tree, a simple tree; it rises uniformly from the ground, self-pruned of its dead branches, clean-trunked, to a compact and symmetrical crown.  Often in groves of its fellows, it stands very tall and perfectly straight, the ground beneath carpeted in needles and clear of understory. But “what lies beneath” can tell a much more interesting and meaningful story: in Aln8ba8dwaw8gan, the Western Abenaki language, it signifies the “swollen tree” or, more closely, “tree full of…” A closer look at this fullness – this internalized richness of self –  may help us to relate to this particular one a little closer.

Red pine (referred to idiomatically as yellow pine at the time) was reported as being predominant and of exceptionally superior growth, at the meadows in Sokwakik where two colonial forts were built: Fort Dummer in the southeast corner of what became Brattleboro, and at Fort Number 2 on the Great Meadows of Putney. These fortifications on the west side of the Kwenitekw were built of the selfsame arrow-straight pine that grew on the the sandy plains where they were situated: Fort Dummer in 1724, and two successive forts on the Great Meadow, in 1740 and 1755.

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Benjamin Homer Hall, in his classic 1858 work History of Eastern Vermont: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Close of the Eighteenth Century, states of Fort Dummer that “The fort was built of yellow pine timber, which then grew in great abundance on the meadow lands.” Upriver on Putney’s Great Meadow, Hall describes how, in 1755, area settlers built a fort that “…was in shape oblong, about one hundred twenty by eighty feet, and was built with yellow pine timber about six inches thick, and laid up about ten feet high.”

Fort Dummer 1724 governor's academy

A relic section of timber from Fort Dummer, in the collections at The Governor [Dummer]’s Academy, Byfield, MA. The appearance of the straight, wide grain in the photograph does evoke the growth habit of  red pine timber.

It was no mere coincidence that these spectacular pine groves were found in these specific places. Today, in Vermont, we tend to think of red pine as naturally occurring on dry mountaintops and ridges, and, in a more deliberate manner, found in large, regimented plantations that date from popular soil conservation efforts in the last century. But the species prevalence and distribution of today’s landscapes can be deceiving; it wasn’t always like this. Before Vermont’s vast forests were nearly completely clearcut by the rapacious demands of “civilization”, the red pine flourished along the rivers. There are reasons for this.

Abenaki people, in common with many other indigenous groups, traditionally deploy fire as a landscape management tool, primarily in the river bottomlands. Maintaining open edge habitat encourages the diverse plant and animal communities that flourish there. Controlled burning is also used to clear the fertile alluvial floodplains for agriculture, in the form of both plantings of adapted crops such as corn, beans, squash, and tobacco, as well as permaculture of naturally occurring species including groundnut, Jerusalem artichoke, and berries. These fine sandy, alluvial depositions provide a receptive, readily-worked seedbed, and a more temperate, extended, low-elevation growing season. Controlled burns help to keep the land accessible and sunny, returning minerals to the soil, and provided a level, readily-utilized settlement space adjacent to n’sibo, the home river. European settlers made ample note of this practice when they came on the scene – a quote from a narrative by the Hon. Charles K. Field:

The intervales and meadows at Fort Dummer, upon West River, and at the Asylum farm, were found entirely bare of forest trees. Such was the fact with all the meadows on the Connecticut River at the time of the first settlement of New England. The Indians burned them over every year, and used them for planting grounds.

Here’s an interesting thing about red pine: it actually likes fire. It has several adaptations that dispose it toward success with regard to surface burning. Its seeds require a mineral soil surface to germinate, that is, one in which the duff has been removed/burnt and the bare surface exposed. This also removes competing shade-cover, even if not very tall, another prerequisite for successful red pine sprouting and growth. Trees that reach seed-bearing (thus regenerative) age tend to survive fires that might damage a younger stand. The higher crowns and self-limbing trunks also lend themselves to higher fire survival rates.  Finally, the thick, platy bark of red pine is one of the most fire-resistant in the northern temperate forest; it ranks third, after pitch pine and chestnut oak. The right fire at the right time is exactly what a red pine appreciates.

In general, red pine prefers the sandy, well-drained soils of outwash plains, along with a good dose of moisture. These locations also tend to be open and sunny. The raised alluvial river meadows of the mid-Kwenitekw easily meet those characteristics – at least historically; nowadays, many of them are flooded by hydroelectric impoundments, or developed, or farmed intensively. It is not a surprise, then, that the wolhanak, the intervales, sustained impressive stands of red pine, one hundred feet tall and three feet thick. No wonder the merchants of New Haven, CT sent a party all the way up to Great Meadow in 1732 to harvest that legendary grove.

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Kchi Mskodak (the Great Meadow) in Putney, today.

So, what about the name pasaakw? What causes this tree to be so “swollen”… what is it “full of”, after all? The simple and obvious answer is: pitch. The binomial, Western botanical name is Pinus resinosa, in acknowledgement of that very fact. The resin can be gathered on the bark surface, where there has been an injury or a parasitic insect has drilled a hole, as is similar with many other conifers. Why would one gather resin? It is used as a waterproof sealant, for bark canoes and containers (try removing it from tools or your hands with water – it requires an alcohol solvent) or as an adhesive/glue, for adhering materials together, such as a stone point on a wooden arrow shaft. Red pine will produce copious amounts of pitch to seal and heal a wound, whether from fire or penetration.

There is good evidence that red pine groves were intentionally, culturally-modified by Algonquian peoples on a regular basis, to provide a ready source of pitch for sealing bark canoes. A stand along a regularly-travelled watercourse may have been maintained and adapted through modification (wounding the trunks to produce more pitch), in order to keep a dependable supply of this raw material handy for bark canoe construction and maintenance. It may be no coincidence that the broad meadow on the east side of the Kwenitekw (in today’s town of Westmoreland, NH) – and between both Ft. Dummer and Fort No. 2 – is called Canoe Meadow. That’s another story for another night.