Nebi, Abenaki Ways of Knowing Water

A just-released short film by Vince Franke of Peregrine Productions, LLC, created to support the watershed education programs of Lake Champlain Sea Grant, UVM Extension, the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and to help preserve these stories for the Abenaki and others. Funding was provided by NOAA, Sea Grant, and an anonymous donor.

Centering on Bitawbagw/Lake Champlain and then water in general, the film is a series of interviews with people in the Native community expressing their understanding of  being in relationship with life-giving water. Each story teller provides their own unique interpretation; I was honored to participate in this group effort with Chief Don Stevens, Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief Eugene Rich, Melody Brook, Lucy Cannon Neel, Cody Hemenway, Morgan Lamphere, Bea Nelson, Fred Wiseman, and Kerry Wood.

#WaterIsLife

Direct link to Vimeo here.

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In Response to Seven Days: Exploring Mt. Philo With Historian Judy Chaves

mategwas mategwas abenaki rabbit rabbit tweetOn Twitter, Nov. 1, 2018

A response to an article by Tom Slayton in the online Vermont magazine Seven Days today, November 1, 2018:

This article includes a classic example of the minimization of a 10,000 year-long (or longer) indigenous presence in the landscape, exemplified by characterizing cultural usage patterns as ephemeral and insubstantial. This biased historical trope is deployed typically in comparison to later European land settlement practices such as fence- and wall-bounded properties, permanent structures, commoditized agriculture, and extractive industry.

mt philo view

The narrative device is used so often it has become de rigueur and may not even raise an eyebrow in notice. In this case, the statement is made: “There’s no evidence that Native Americans lived on the mountain, but they may have used it as a strategic lookout.” This, in spite of the fact that the subsequent post-Contact history (to draw a fuzzy gray line) was and is exactly that as well.

Given that the Champlain Sea is estimated to have been about 450 feet above current Lake levels, Mt. Philo and a few other nearby elevations would have been islands at the time, projecting only a fraction of their mass above the surrounding brackish water. They would have been heavily utilized by the region’s first inhabitants for occupation, food processing, resource gathering, and reconnaissance. With a broad prospect over the water- and landscape, the eminence would play a significant and lasting role for the Native descendants of these first peoples. It is not hard to find evidence for this supposition. The Abenaki have their own name for the landmark: Mategwasaden – Rabbit Mountain. Immediately west, Thompson’s Point remained a significant Abenaki community well into recent times. The Point and the surrounding Lake are well-documented for archaeological significance.

With a twist of irony, the State of Vermont’s management plan for Mount Philo State Park states: “In the late 1800s, William Higbee, a Charlotte resident and journalist, wrote that Mt. Philo was named for an “Indian fighter and famous hunter” named Philo who camped on the mountain. One of the first written references to the “Devil’s Chair” [a slopeside feature] was in an 1896 article that describes a natural rock outcrop by that name.” People who are able to “read between the lines” will recognize here another common displacement trope masquerading as quaint local history: the Devil epithet is often attached to Native sacred landscape features, and a description of “chair” or “seat” will often refer to an elevated ceremonial site, used in recognition of its prominent exposure to the sweep of landscape and sky.

We are not served well by such dismissiveness.

Fox 44 WFFF: Rock Dunder, An Abenaki Legend on Lake Champlain

Transcript reposted here verbatim. Accuracy of the material not vouched for.

Link to video and original posting.

It’s a small sight amid Lake Champlain’s, but the tiny island Rock Dunder has a deep significance in Abenaki mythology.

The legend begins with Oodzee-hozo, who Abenaki’s believe was an ancient being and creator. They believe he created himself but grew impatient and did not create himself legs. When he created the hills and mountains, he formed them with his hands. But when he created the rivers, he did so by dragging his body around.

After everything was created, he was most proud of Lake Champlain. He wanted to be able to admire it forever, so he transformed himself into Rock Dunder so he could forever look upon his creation.

The name “Dunder” has led to some speculation on the legend. Researches can’t seem to find a connection to the word and folklore. Some believe the name came from the old slang meaning of the word, which meant “stupid thing”. The rock is said to be in the middle of a shipping lane, and perhaps it was nicknamed that because of the nuisance it posed.