Remove the Dust

‎From John Kane on his FaceBook Page “Let’s Talk Native… with John Kane”

Back in 2008 I started a blog http://www.letstalknativepride.blogspot.com. This was my first post. I look back from time to time on what the last decade has brought to us. Check it out:

Time To Learn
Or time to relearn. We have lost our way, not our ways. We have let others define us with their telling of history, their view of spirituality, their laws and their economy. Our belief systems are not lost. They are covered with ignorance, fear and shame; just dust. It is time to Remove The Dust. This is the expression our ancestors used when it was time to remind ourselves who we are. By removing the dust from our old wampums we could revisit their meanings and most of all, talk about it. We are referred to as an oral society as if that is some how primitive. Our voices are the most powerful tools we have. The ability to speak and listen is the power to teach and learn. For all the writing and reading we will ever do, it would teach us nothing if we couldn’t discuss it. Technology now allows us to have voices in this new medium. So let’s talk. Let’s teach. Let’s learn.

A very similar thought is expressed in Keith Basso’s “Wisdom Sits In Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache.” What a wonderful exploration of these traditional ways of knowing!

Netop: A Clarifying Response to Jaywalking

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In the past two weeks, sports columnist Jay Butynski took a look at some of the anecdotal and historical evidence behind the usage of Native iconography for the “Indians” athletic programs at Turners Falls High School. I appreciate that he would like to defuse tensions and find neutral ground; I agree that partisanship and divisiveness are seldom a productive means of resolution. But the straightforward answer to the headline “Is this nickname dust-up really necessary?” is an unambiguous “Yes.” When there is a discussion to be had around understanding and respect, especially in a learning environment, the opportunity should be welcomed and embraced. I’d like to make a few observations, which might help to inform the larger conversation through an understanding of the underlying dynamics. For background, links to the original columns are listed below:

Part 1 from last week’s Greenfield Recorder can be read here.
Part 2 in this week’s Recorder column can be found here.

Jay hit upon a critical observation when he cited a reader’s comment in reply: “Perhaps the best response to shoot down my assertion was that unlike the Indian nickname in Turners Falls, many of those other nicknames were given to teams by people who bear a likeness to the nickname. Irish people were responsible for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish nickname, etc. This person might be right.” I would say to Jay “You just nailed it, my friend!” – perhaps without realizing just how succinctly.

This single observation goes straight to the heart of the matter. Let’s pull back and look at it through a basic lens of mutual respect or “getting along with each other.”  Most people can agree that this ideal is something to which we aspire, and would like to encourage as much as possible; these are “teaching moments” for the next generations, and indeed the future of us all. Here’s the deal: when one individual, or a group of individuals, helps themselves to something which belongs to another, it is called appropriation, defined as “the action of taking something for one’s own use, typically without the owner’s permission.” When these actions occur with no conscious intent (but often with impact), it is due to a phenomenon known as implicit bias, defined as “the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes (e.g., implicit attitudes and implicit stereotypes) that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control.”

The use of the word “netop” in the current context can be shown to exemplify these concepts, through broad deployment of stereotypes, conditioned attitudes, and a lack of awareness. Again, I wish to use this as a simple demonstration of the underlying dynamics, which are often hidden; this is not intended as a fault-finding, but as an understanding. The responsibility lies within society at large: though the individual may be subject to these covert assumptions, it remains for each one to recognize the insidiousness and decide for themselves to act differently. And in order to find appropriate answers, the right questions must be asked. Here we go…

Netop is commonly explained as a Narragansett term meaning friend. True. But there is much more to the story. First of all, the written word is an Anglicization of a single iteration of a widely used logotype amongst indigenous Algonquian-speakers, which includes nearly all of the tribal entities within what is now called New England. In the spoken mother tongue(s) it would be vocalized somewhat differently, more like nee-tomp… in Western Abenaki it would be vocalized nee-dom-ba (nid8ba); my point is that this a generalized (stereotyped) term, borrowed (loosely appropriated) by English colonists. It is not entirely correct to state that it “was used by early colonists as a salutation when greeting Native Americans.” Rather, it was first used by the indigenous people amongst themselves and their neighbors, and (in a manner similar to the quoted apocryphal William Brewster story), first used as an address by a Native person to the new European visitors – not vice versa.

Let’s be clear that this was a gesture of friendship toward complete strangers, a situation which rapidly devolved into mayhem and misunderstanding. Several more points: Brewster and his band of refugees were met by Wampanoag, not Narragansett; a ceremonial exchange of a smoking pipe as a gesture of peace between equals would not have happened in 1620 – in fact, the calumet ceremony came to the Northeast in the next century – and further, the English were never fond of it, as they did not consider the local populations as equals. Lastly, and back home to Turners Falls, this immediate region was not Narragansett homelands, but rather Abenaki, Nipmuc, Pocumtuck, Nonotuck, perhaps some Mahican and Pennacook (note these spellings and designations are all Euro-derived, variable, and subject to interpretation).  Although the languages and phrases were often similar, citing a Narragansett language origin as justification for appropriation manifests conflation as stereotyping, once again. Particularly telling, the use of a facial profile with Plains culture regalia as a logo for the Indians identity is (quite literally) a graphic example of the depth of unawareness of geo-cultural reality and the lumping of all Native diversities into the “Other.”

So, yes, it is all connected – and matters – now, what’s to be done? Starting with an identification of the root situations, we can postulate solutions.

It has been said that one cannot care about that about which one is unaware or ignorant. There must be an understanding to have a connection… not separation, but connection. The key here is learning, by intent and through mindfulness. This will help to dispel assumptions, stereotypes, and implicit bias due to cognitive disconnect, all of it at once. Without this foundational work, the gesture of change becomes an empty exercise in political correctness. It is worthy to aspire toward positivity, and the right side of history, but as human beings with the capacity for empathy and reason,  we are well-served to do the foundational work, to connect in a meaningful manner, to show up and be present in our own lives. As a wise person once said, I am also a you.

Benjamin Gleason and Those Bothersome Canadian Indians

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The headstone of Mr. Benjamin Gleason, early settler of Dummerston (then Fulham). In the Bennett Cemetery on Schoolhouse Rd, E. Dummerston, VT.

Benjamin Gleason was an early settler of Fulham/Fullum (now known as Dummerston), Vermont. He was born in 1745 in Framingham, MA – the same year that Nehemiah Howe was captured by Abenaki raiders on Putney Great Meadows just a few miles north of Dummerston. These were the early days of what is often called King George’s War (1744-1748), part of the European War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748), and the third of the four so-called French and Indian Wars. Benjamin was one of the four sons of Sgt. Isaac and Thankful (Wilson) Gleason, later of Petersham, MA. He came to Westmoreland, NH, just across the Connecticut River, with his brothers when he was a young man and lived between both there and Dummerston for the rest of his life.

He married Mary Cole (circa 1775), who was born directly across the Connecticut River, on Canoe Meadow in Westmoreland, NH, eldest daughter of Jonathan and Edith (Davis) Cole. Her birth was sometime before 1764, in the blockhouse her father, Deacon Jonathan built as protection for the family and neighbors because, the record states, “in the early days of the settlement he was often annoyed by the Indians.”  Benjamin and Mary Gleason eventually had nine or ten children, depending on your sources. Benjamin was present in Westmoreland in March of 1776, when the roll call was taken of “all males above twenty-one years of age (lunatics, idiots, and negroes excepted)” and the Association Test of loyalty to the Revolutionary cause was administered. Benjamin ended up serving in the American Rebellion and his gravesite bears a veteran’s marker; his father Sgt. Isaac had served many years in the last French and Indian War, at Crown Point, Ticonderoga, and Fort Duquesne.

In the History of Dummerston is this striking anecdote:

Benjamin Gleason, a pensioner, served in the army 7 years. He was born in 1745, lived in this town many years, and died Oct.23, 1823, aged 78. Nothing can be ascertained about his long experience in war; but we met with one old gentleman, who told us the following story of his killing an Indian:

The Indians had come down the Connecticut valley, from Canada for the purpose of destroying the property of the whites and taking them prisoners. Gleason was an object of their search; but he was vigilant, and managed to escape into the forest, on the approach of the savages. His place of retreat was soon discovered; and with the intention of capturing him alive, an Indian came toward him looking very good-natured, and for the purpose of deception, came toward him pretended that he was going to shake hands, saying, as he walked along, “Sagah?” “Sagah?” in English how are you? how are you? “I’ll Sagah you,” said Ben and instantly shot him dead. The Indians were greatly enraged, on finding their comrade dead; but Gleason was too cunning for the red men, and was never made their prisoner.

I bounced this apocryphal story – the only reference I have ever found to the Abenaki language in the local settler’s history record, other than names – over to one of my language coaches and a fluent speaker of Western Abenaki, Jesse Bruchac. Jesse’s insightful reading is as follows: Very cool! Could be two things, saagat means “I’m sorry” and sagiljandi means “shake hands”.

It almost goes without saying that this strange tale, passed down in the community and originally related, no doubt, by the protagonist himself – Benjamin Gleason – may have more than one truth behind it. Dead men tell no tales and history is written by the victor. Without witnesses a story is simply hearsay, or perhaps better described as “I will say what I want you to hear.”

Sources:

  • History of Cheshire and Sullivan Counties, New Hampshire, J.W. Lewis & Co., 1886.
  • Gazetteer of Cheshire County, NH, 1736-1885, Hamilton Child, 1885.
  • History of the Town of Dummerston: the First Town Settled by Anglo-Saxon Descendants, David Lufkin Mansfield, 1884.
  • Western Abenaki Facebook discussion group.

VPR Coverage for Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Vermont

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A full story was assembled after an interview by Vermont Public Radio reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman on Friday, Oct. 7, the day after Gov. Peter Shumlin issued the Proclamation for Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day. The story was posted today, Oct. 8th (audio to follow). Read it here.

Several other media stories have been released following the Oct. 6, 2016 action by Vermont Gov. Shumlin. WPTZ-NBC TV Channel 5 in Burlington rolled in the ongoing exploration of similar action in Hartford, VT.

Clink link for full report:

WPTZ – NBC

NPR

 

Indian Island Schoolchildren Perform Wabanaki Tales

indian island wabanaki story drama

“Mahtoqehs didn’t like these People very much,” one of Indian Island School’s eighth-graders says, trying out the word at first, then confidently repeating it in full as she rehearses her part in an upcoming performance by her class.

Roger Paul, Wabanaki language teacher at Indian Island School, nods, a smile stretching across his face. He gives her an ecstatic double thumbs up and she smiles back, encouraged.

Read the full story at Bangor Daily News.

Passamaquoddy Tribe to Launch Language Immersion Program

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Passamaquoddy Donald Soctomah will serve as program administrator.

From the Bangor Daily News:

PLEASANT POINT, Maine — A three-year, $750,000 federal grant from the Administration of Native Americans is aimed at helping the Passamaquoddy revive their language.

The tribe will use the money to develop two language immersion programs for preschoolers and a handful of adults — one at each of the reservations in Pleasant Point and Indian Township, said Donald Soctomah, who is serving as administrator as an in-kind contribution required by the grant.

Western Abenaki in the 21st Century

jeanne brink abenaki basketmaker

From the Keene Sentinel: Jeanne Brink, Abenaki elder and educator, will discuss the Western Abenaki of the twenty-first century Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, at 1 p.m. at the Rockingham Library. She will explain the projects that present-day Abenakis are working on to maintain and preserve traditions and language. She will also note how technology affects Abenaki culture….