Abenaki Fishing Places: Some Extrapolations

native net fishing

Fishing played an important role in the lives of the Abenaki/Aln8bak within their home riverscapes,  in a multitude of interconnected ways. The anadromous and catadromous migrations of salmon, shad, alewives, herring, and eels were especially significant. The seasonal cycles, the flush of spring and the awakening of earth’s gifts, the dependable and welcome return of the fish nations, the birth of new life… all of these give witness to a recognition that engenders a careful honoring of pervasive relationships.  Most of these relationships were severed or severely compromised with the arrival of the European colonizers, bringing a culture of separation and exploitation with the building of dams, roads, and bridges, and the choking and fouling of the rivers with logging, mining, industry, and large-scale agriculture. With this calamitous interruption, the People themselves were deeply affected as well.

Though most of the fish are gone in present-day 2019, the places where these harvests of the spring’s vast arrival of swimmers (and with eels, in the autumn) occurred are still honored and celebrated. Yet while these places remain, many of them are a shadow of their former vibrant, powerful selves, overtopped with mills, dams, bridges and blasted and channelized into ill straits in the service of commerce and convenience.

Every group of Abenaki has their home river (n’sibo – my river) and every river has these places, the Sokwakiak among them. In Sokoki country along the Kwenitekw, some of the fishing places are at the Rock Dam/Rawson’s Island/Montague, Mskwamakok/Peskeompskut/Turners Falls, the Azewalad Sibo/Ashuelot River, Vernon Falls/ Great Bend/Cooper’s Point, the confluence with Wantastegok/West River at Brattleboro, and Kchi Pontekw/Bellows Falls. At these places are found a set of conditions that act to focus the fish at constricting, usually rockbound features such as falls, rapids, narrows, and channels. Accompanying these settings is the tumultuous energy of rushing, swirling, shimmering, splashing  water in full voice.

8manosek peskeompskut kwenitekw rock dam

The convergence of spirit, the elements, and resurgent prolific life – epitomized by  over-arching sky, shaped and shelving bedrock, sunlight and reflection, deep and strong currents – create a place of exchange. Spirit is able to move between worlds more readily here; the edges between the underworld of earth and water, existence on the surficial plane, and the above world of sky, blur and cross over. Things are in a state of flux, moving and mixing, intersecting. The constant change of creation is present here, closer and better accessible. This is one reason that messages of acknowledgement in the form of petroglyphs are often found at these places. These ancient representations, placed by medawlinnoak, medicine people, as they worked to seek balance with and through the presence of spirit concentrated there, continue to speak their opportune truths into the present. We see and hear them even now, carrying through the dysphoria and disturbance of the modern milieu.

The Aln8ba8dwaw8gan (Western Abenaki) word for the action of fishing is 8maw8gan, with the root being 8m- signifying “to lift.” On a pragmatic level this can be seen as a simple reference to the fish harvesting techniques of using a net, or a spear, or a hook and line. On another level it speaks of active, upward transition from one place to another.

The great waves of sustaining life that swam up the rivers and streams in Sigwan – the Spring, the “emptying or pouring out” – in the form of salmon, shad, and their kin – were and are an embodiment of this free exchange of spirit, in the very real form of cyclic return of abundant sustenance. Converging on these significant places, met there by the Aln8bak (the Abenaki people) and joined by other relations – the feeding eagles, osprey, gulls, bear, and otter –  the swimmers were lifted up – 8mawa – from the under[water]world into the surface world of the Aln8ba, at that juncture transitioning into another form for the good of the people.

The recognition of this great transformative gift would result in an outpouring of gratitude and celebration, with reciprocal honoring (giving back) to the fish people and the life-giving river waters themselves. All of this in a ritual acknowledgement of “the way it is” – the connected circles of creation, the constancy of change, and the intention to find balance in the midst of it. If these agreements were not honored, and respectful acknowledgement made in the form of ceremonial practice (song, dance, gifts, prayer, proscribed or prescribed activities), it would have to be seen as a breach of conduct. It truly was unconscionable to not do so; that this approach of reciprocal relationship worked well and sustainably for thousands of years is ample testament to its efficacy. That these same processes are breaking down around us now is a corroborating witness to the ineptitude of the mindset that replaced it.

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Troubled Dreams

Quote I came across tonight:

“Ohio was the only state to house four separate facilities of the national nuclear fuels and weapons complex, each one of them built in proximity to an ancient Indian earthwork.”

It is no accident that VT Yankee sits where it is, on the Great Bend of  the Kwenitekw in Sokwakik. But it is a painful reality. Exploitation of the sacred places, the places where “it all comes together” is a hallmark of Western society. It is all here yet, the land, the water, the sky, the ancestors, all of our relations, though perhaps much diminished, and with great hurt and troubling, disturbing dreams.

VT Yankee Citizens Panel Reviews Memorandum

Three newspaper articles covering the VT NDCAP meeting held on March 22, 2018 at BUHS, to discuss the Settlement Agreement reached as part of the Docket #8880 examination of the sale of VY by Entergy to Northstar for decommissioning and site restoration.

By Richie Davis in The (Greenfield) Recorder.

By Susan Smallheer in the Rutland Herald.

By Mike Faher in VT Digger.

A followup commentary by Guy Page in the Rutland Herald.

VT Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel: VT NDCAP Mtg 3/22/18

Brattleboro Community TV (BCTV) has archived the proceedings at the regular Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (VT NDCAP) meeting held at Brattleboro Union High School (BUHS) on March 22, 2018. The focus of the evening was to learn about the Settlement Agreement reached between all the parties involved, with the exception of CLF. The author, representing Elnu Abenaki with the support of Nulhegan and Koasek, adds his comments regarding the process at 51:37, and answers questions at 1:10:56 and 1:18:27.

State, NorthStar Strike Deal for Sale of Vermont Yankee

Vermont-Yankee-aerial-Kristopher-Radder

After 15 months of sometimes-contentious debate, there’s been a breakthrough in the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to a New York decommissioning company. A deal released Friday calls for the plant’s current and prospective owners to set aside nearly $200 million in additional funds to support decommissioning at the Vernon site.

Additionally, the companies agreed to new restoration standards including a “comprehensive assessment” of contamination at the property.

In return, three state agencies and several other parties have agreed to support the sale of the idled plant from Entergy to NorthStar Group Services. Those supporters include the Brattleboro-based New England Coalition, which had been the sale’s harshest critic. “We now consider ourselves allies and partners with NorthStar and will do our best to help them achieve a state-of-the-art, best-practices and environmentally responsible decommissioning, as free of nuclear pollution as possible,” said Ray Shadis, a coalition board member and adviser.

But not everyone agrees with the compromise. The Conservation Law Foundation declined to sign on, with senior attorney Sandra Levine saying the deal “falls far short.”

Read the complete article by Mike Faher at VTDigger.org. Photo by Kristopher Radder at the Brattleboro Reformer.

VT Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel: VT NDCAP Mtg 10/26/17

Brattleboro Community TV (BCTV) has again archived the proceedings at the monthly Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (VT NDCAP) meeting held at Brattleboro Area Middle School (BAMS) on Oct. 26, 2017. At previous meetings, primary focus has been on the Docket #8880 Petitioners – Entergy and Northstar – along with state regulators; on this evening, several of the Intervenors had been asked to briefly present their interests to the Panel and public, and to answer questions if needed. The author, representing Elnu Abenaki with Nulhegan and Koasek, adds his remarks at 1:33:08, with other comments and questions 1:54:25 through 2:05:05.