William Brotherton, Indian Mascots, and a Backstory

Members of the Turners Falls High School community were able to hear from William Brotherton, a lawyer and Native American who advocates for schools to keep Indian mascots. Brotherton, who is from Texas but is a member of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in Vermont, was in the area and stopped in Montague Wednesday night to answer questions and discuss the Turners Falls High School situation at Hubie’s Tavern.

The Gill-Montague Regional School Committee voted in February to discontinue use of the Indian as a nickname and logo for the high school sports teams. The vote came to the disappointment of some members of the community who said they felt unheard in the decision-making process. Brotherton said there is a larger, cultural issue of political correctness in America, where people no longer feel comfortable discussing difficult issues.

Read the full story by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

*****

Another side of the story:

Yesterday I met William Brotherton in person for the first time. He’s a friendly, self-assured guy, and has been pro-active with me in opening up personal and intra-tribal communications. We had spoken on the phone and emailed a couple times; that afternoon, we both joined a tour of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (VY) in Vernon, Vermont and were able to get to know each other a little. The tour was offered to participants in VT Public Service Board (PSB, now known as the Vermont  Public Utility Commission, PUC) Docket #8880. This is the State review process for the proposed sale of VY by owner Entergy Corp. to NorthStar Group Services, for purposes of decommissioning and site restoration. I had filed in May for intervenor status on behalf of Elnu Abenaki, with the backing of the Nulhegan and Koasek bands. Brotherton, who serves on the Tribal Council  for the St. Francis Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, followed suit for their group shortly thereafter. The PUC process is now getting well underway with dozens of discovery and response documents going back and forth. By way of helping to inform the parties involved, the petitioners (Entergy and NorthStar) coordinated this tour within the plant’s security zone for an inside look at the scope of the project.

While on the tour of  the strongly-secured and highly industrialized site (we’re talking guards with machine guns), I asked many questions of our hosts regarding ground disturbance and oversight protocol. While I didn’t get many direct answers, Scott State (CEO of NorthStar) assured me that he understood and respected tribal concerns about cultural heritage and and wanted to be sensitive to them.  I believe he has become much more aware of these aspects than was the case previously, and while we must take any such proclamation with a grain of salt, I am guardedly optimistic that there may be some constructive dialogue going forward.

I noted that William Brotherton did not ask any questions about cultural resources. At one point, I gestured across the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River), to the eastern bank in New Hampshire, and mentioned to him about a fortified Sokoki village site there. It had been attacked in December 1663 by a  large force of Mohawk, Oneida, and Seneca warriors and successfully defended, although with a great loss of life; the land here holds many spirits, many at rest but others disquiet, whether from war or forced displacement or simply blatant disregard by modern development. William expressed surprise at what I had said. I began to understand the degree to which he was unfamiliar, indeed almost completely separated, from nearly all cultural understanding of Sokwakik. I am not sure that he knows what “Sokoki” signifies, much less represents  – if I am wrong, I welcome the conversation.

Afterward, we went down the river a half-mile and sat on a cottonwood log below the Vernon Dam, built in 1909 atop an ancient fishing site there at Great Bend. We spoke together for over an hour. I wanted to use the opportunity to talk with him about the significance of the landscape here to its people, past and present, and why we had filed as intervenors in PUC Docket #8880. I wanted to understand what he, on behalf of Missisquoi, had in mind as well. He didn’t really have an answer. I also wanted to talk to him about his endorsement, as a Tribal Council member, of the Indians team mascot/logo in Turners Falls, where he was going immediately afterward to speak to a group of supporters. I knew where he was coming from, ideologically, since I have read his articles and perused his CV.

I started by saying that I (and others) fully endorse the incorporation of a regular curriculum segment devoted to indigenous culture and the effects of colonization, not only in Turners Falls High School but all educational forums. This would probably be the best thing coming out of the entire mascot controversy, because it will help to displace the ignorance – the “not-knowing” – that brought us to this juncture and the benightedness – the “not-caring” – which follows. I pointed out to him that the contemporary indigenous people in the immediate area, Nipmuk and Abenaki, had clearly expressed their opposition to the continued use of the Indians mascot, and why this was the case. I don’t think he heard, or grasped the significance, what I was saying.

To borrow his own words, from Miranda Davis’s Recorder article: “Brotherton said there is a larger, cultural issue of political correctness in America, where people no longer feel comfortable discussing difficult issues,” this is exactly the case here. This initiative is not an erasure of history or a sanitizing campaign. Yes, this is very uncomfortable situation. It is hard to take a clear look at what has brought us all to this challenging place, recognizing that we can do much better and that everyone in the community will benefit. To NOT do so is continuing the illusion of propriety and the normalizing of disenfranchisement. This IS that difficult discussion which we are having, and to which Brotherton alludes. But first of all we need to know what we are talking about. I hope I can continue this exploration with William – I told him that as we parted on Wednesday afternoon. And I hope we can share this story with many others, in hopes for a healthier, more inclusive life for all in this beautiful place.

 

 

Elnu Abenaki Tribe: Native Americans Present Local History

roger longtoe sheehan elnu northfield history day

The Abenaki are here. They exist. And yet, they still live in a reality where not everyone is aware of that. But that is changing, slowly, but it is changing, said Joe Graveline, a member of the Northfield Historical Commission.

“They are having a renaissance, a rebirth in understanding their heritage,” he said. “They are finding their voice.”

A better understanding not only of the history of the Abenaki people but their place in the here and now — is just one of the many reasons why living history events like the one the Northfield Historical Commission is sponsoring this weekend are so important, Graveline said.

Read the full article in the Brattleboro Reformer. Two previous posts on Sokoki Sojourn reference Greenfield Recorder articles about the same event (here and here). Unfortunately, this well-written article ran a week too late. The Northfield event had already been held the previous weekend, on June 11, 2017.

Also, one correction, with respect to the quote “Among the Abenaki people, who made their homes in the Connecticut River Valley of what is now New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, were the Sokoki and a smaller, related band called the Squakheags — both members of the larger Abenaki nation.” These are, in fact, the same people. A simple linguistic comparison between Squakheag and Sokwakik (Sokoki, in today’s usage) makes that clear. More on that soon…

Afternoon Encampment Teaches Pre-Colonial History

bryan blanchette northfield history day

Residents of Northfield and the surrounding area spent Sunday afternoon at the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center, learning more about pre-colonial and Native American traditions and customs from the Connecticut River Valley.

Those who attended the afternoon encampment listened to songs and stories while browsing crafts. It was an interactive event where Elnu Abenaki tribal leaders presented to the group, told stories, and answered questions about pre-colonial times in the Pioneer Valley. The event was hosted by the Northfield Historical Commission.

Elnu Abenaki Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan and Bryan Blanchette both presented during the event, which ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and about 50 [ed. note: closer to 100] people attended on Sunday.

Read the full article by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

roger longtoe sheehan elnu northfield history day

Abenaki Lifeways Focus of Northfield’s Day of History on Sunday

elnu abenaki northfield squakheag living history

Residents will get a taste of local Native American history Sunday, as members of the Abenaki tribe recreate the mid-17th century lives of their ancestors as part of Northfield’s Day of History. The Day of History, organized almost every year by the Northfield Historical Commission, serves to raise awareness of the commission while teaching residents about the town’s history, according to Historical Commission Chairwoman Carol Lebo.

In recent years, the commission has offered a home and garden tour, an exploration of 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody’s birthplace and a history-oriented walk down Highland Avenue. But Lebo said the commission wanted to try something new this year. “Up until recently, the Historical Commission has been mostly interested in colonial history,” she said. “More recently we’ve become more interested in pre-colonial history and in archaeology … We decided this year that we’d sort of go back to earlier history.”

Through connections to different bands of the Abenaki tribe, the commission was able to arrange for members of the Elnu band to offer a re-enactment Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside of the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center.

Read the full article by Shelby Ashline in the Greenfield Recorder.

MA Bill Would Ban Native American School Mascots

TF mascot balloon

Massachusetts lawmakers are weighing whether to ban the use of Native American mascots in public schools — a proposal that drew strong opinions at a public hearing Tuesday. The push comes after the town of Tewksbury rebuffed efforts to change the name of its high school mascot, the Redmen — and even as the town of Montague continues to debate its school committee decision to remove its long-time Indians mascot.

Linda Thomas has children in the first and fourth grades in Tewksbury and said she doesn’t want to signal that “it’s OK to use these images and memes and logos.” “The name has become so integrated and repeated that the meaning is lost,” she said. “People using it don’t intend to cause harm, but the impact is harmful and Native Americans have been saying this now for decades.”

Thomas added it’s hard to imagine any other racial group being used as a mascot.

Read the full story in the Greenfield Recorder.

The Fork in the Trail, South Deerfield

south deerfield trail fork recorder sanderson

The two yellow lines forming an inverted V show the ancient fork in the road that greeted settlers at the site of the Bloody Brook ambush in South Deerfield. The solid black line follows Main Street to Long Plain Road in Whately. The red dashes show the approximate course of an abandoned path leading straight to the foot of Mount Sugarloaf and on to River Road in Whately. Both indigenous paths led to nascent Hatfield village in the 17th century. Contributed map/Peter A. Thomas

Recorder Staff, Friday, May 26, 2017

Associated with ancient bloodshed and modern fender-benders, a familiar site in South Deerfield has a deep history that reveals a forgotten footpath fork, with a long-ago abandoned leg leading straight to the southern base of Mount Sugarloaf and beyond.

We’re talking about South Deerfield’s famous Bloody Brook Corner, a sharp curve on North Main Street passing the Bloody Brook Monument, commemorating the infamous Sept. 19, 1675, King Philip’s War ambush where Capt. Thomas Lathrop and 75 colonial soldiers and militia met their doom. Back then, both forks led to the nascent Hatfield village by roughly parallel routes at slightly different elevations.

The discovery of this forgotten fork in the road at a historical landmark came to light in the mid-19th century journals of Deerfield surveyor/mapmaker/historian Epaphras Hoyt, author of “Antiquarian Researches: Comprising a History of the Indian Wars in the Country Bordering Connecticut River and Parts Adjacent,” published in 1824. Born in Deerfield, Hoyt (1765-1850) began keeping a journal late in life. These journals were handed down privately among extended Hoyt family members for 165 years before they were assembled and sold at auction for more than $30,000 to Historic Deerfield in December 2015. Now available to researchers, these important papers provide an invaluable peek into upper Pioneer Valley history, and especially into the settlement of Bloody Brook, which became South Deerfield. So, of course, this fresh information about my hometown was of great interest to me personally.

I grew up in a house overlooking Bloody Brook Corner and could see the obelisk monument across the street through the posts at the foot of my bed. Maybe there’s a curse on that site, because I was awakened from many a sound sleep by loud nighttime car crashes. As a boy, I explored the meadows, hillside pastures and North Sugarloaf ridgeline across the street without ever getting so much as a faint whiff of an ancient fork in the road there. Centuries of tillage have likely erased any trace of that ancient path, although it’s not impossible that random pieces remain on farm roads between the monument and the youth baseball diamond a mile away at the southwestern foot of Sugarloaf.

My late father, a South Deerfield native with roots reaching to the very beginning of the village, was surprised to hear of the old fork in front of his house. A veteran land surveyor, he knew that the line dividing the eastern and western lots drawn by Deerfield’s earliest proprietors was the road leading from Old Deerfield to the Whately line — passing through The Bars to Mill Village Road, across Routes 5 & 10 to South Deerfield, and down Main Street to the Whately line at Brookside Cemetery. But he had no clue that what’s known as the Pocumtuck Path had originally forked into two trails at Bloody Brook Corner.

Now, thanks to Epaphras Hoyt’s resurrected journals and tireless research by retired historian Peter A. Thomas, we have a much clearer picture of the indigenous trail system between Hatfield, Deerfield and beyond. Thomas photographed and transcribed journal excerpts related to King Philip’s War and Bloody Brook before diligently searching for related papers in the dusty Historic Deerfield and PVMA archives. Despite his yeoman efforts, a couple of questions linger that may never be answered:

1.) What route did the Lathrop and his troops take from Hatfield to Deerfield to salvage winter grain before imminent Indian warfare swept the valley?

2.) What was their intended route back to garrisoned Hatfield with cartsful of grain when ambushed crossing Bloody Brook approaching the fork in the road?

Because the left fork to Sugarloaf appears to have been discontinued by the third quarter of the 18th century and was forgotten until very recently, and because the right fork became a county road and is still a heavily traveled secondary road, most historians settled on the latter as the most likely route Capt. Lathrop and his Flower of Essex troopers took that dreadful day.

However, documentary evidence in 1672 Indian deeds for Hatfield and Deerfield establish the presence of a commonly used trail crossing Sugarloaf Brook at a marked tree in the general vicinity of today’s Hagar Cross Road in South Deerfield. Likewise, the road following the river from Hatfield to Deerfield shows up on a primitive 1709 map. Also, on an August 1716 trip to the Connecticut Valley recorded in Judge Samuel Sewell’s diary, the Salem Witch Trials jurist stayed overnight in Hatfield with Col. Partridge before guide Samuel Childs of Deerfield toured him past Sugarloaf to view the Bloody Brook battleground and gravesite. Sewell’s written description strongly suggests that the route taken was the river road. Then again, Sugarloaf is on prominent display along the upper road as well, especially once you break into the sandy plain traversed by Long Plain Road. This outwash plain was, according to several archaeologists I’ve spoken to, probably open sandbanks in 1675.

Although Lathrop’s path is still a mystery that may never be solved, Hoyt’s journals provide more than enough exciting new clues to keep local-history sleuths busy for decades. Isn’t that what keeps historians’ engines revved?

Recorder sports editor Gary Sanderson is a senior-active member of the outdoor-writers associations of America and New England. Blog: http://www.tavernfare.com. Email: gsand53@outlook.com.

Link to original Recorder article.

Shutesbury, MA Warrant Initiative to Protect Native Sites

shutesbury ma town seal

Development pressures that could compromise sacred and ceremonial American Indian sites are prompting concerned residents to ask annual Town Meeting to mandate better protections and more thorough studies of Shutesbury land.

The petition, known as the “Resolution to Preserve Native American Historical Sites and Traditional Cultural Properties, Including Ceremonial Stone Landscapes,” was recently submitted for inclusion on the May 6 warrant by Friends of Shutesbury and the Oso:ah Foundation. Oso:ah stands for “planting a tree in the name of peace.”

James Schilling-Cachat of Leverett Road, a spokesman for the groups, said the article is important because the town is rich in sacred stone sites, yet they are at risk because little has been done to catalog them.

Read the full article by Scott Merzbach in the Greenfield Recorder.