Rediscovered Roots: Seed Savers and the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas

rediscovered roots sagakwa garden

A wonderful article in Curiosity: The Art of Inquiry shares the story of how Seed Savers – among them, members of Vermont and New Hampshire’s Abenaki tribes – are reviving once-lost crops and finding a deeper purpose.

“The song is simple but rich as it rises from deep within Rebecca Bailey’s chest. “Hey ya hey no.” She sings as she plunges her hands deep into the black dirt; the other women around her sing, too. “Hey ya hey no.” They are asking for the healing of their relationships — old and new — with the land. Their children sing along as they carefully place corn and bean seeds in the ground of the Sagakwa Garden — set aside just for them — on this New Hampshire farm. “Hey ya hey no.” The sound swells and breaks free of the field, bouncing off Mount Moosilauke above them, filling the Connecticut River Valley that surrounds the field before sinking low and slow into the soil where those tiny seeds, gifts from their ancestors, have finally been brought back home.

Bailey is a member of the Koasek Abenaki of the Koas, a Native American tribe with roots in New Hampshire and Vermont. On this patch of farmland in Piermont, she and dozens of her fellow tribe members are helping to bring back indigenous crops, once thought lost.

“When we sing, the songs we are singing are voices of the past,” Bailey says. “And when we plant these seeds, in some ways you can say that we are planting the same seeds that our ancestors planted. The seeds carry this history with them. So really, it’s this overwhelming feeling of connectedness to our heritage.”

Ask First and Respect the Answer

Archaeologists have returned to a known burial site to make a second excavation, on the grounds of Seabrook Station on New Hampshire’s coastline. A previous dig there in the 1970’s, as the nuclear power plant was being built, uncovered and removed seven burials; it took over 25 years for those remains to be repatriated. Astoundingly, the current  investigation involved no consultation with the indigenous Abenaki people, descendants of the people who lived and died in this northern New England shore. Action to address this negligence and address the lack, and disregard, of official policy is now being taken.

Native Creativity at the Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum

The Art Encompassed blog takes a look at the cultural and material treasures carefully maintained and displayed at this singular regional institution, with special emphasis on Abenaki basketmaking. The panoply of exhibits honor not only the heritage of the past but the creation of the future by contemporary Native American artists.

Restoring the Voice of the Abenaki

The Abenaki women’s choir Voices of the Koas have been recognized in-depth by the Manchester (NH) Union Leader for their commitment to revitalizing the lyrical heritage of the Alnobak. They are based in the Upper (Connecticut River) Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire and are active in sharing their gift of song in the schools and communities of northern New England. They have just released a new CD, Lal8maw8gan, with 9 tracks sung by the group joined by a few of their students, a new generation carrying the culture forward. You may purchase a copy on their website!

Arrow Hill

On a mountaintop in Surry, New Hampshire, above the Ashuelot River, a large flat boulder sits in a clearing. Pecked and hammered into the surface of the stone is the image of a curved bow, with the bowstring drawn back into a sharp V and a three-feathered arrow, aiming southeast. Below the bow is a grid of three long horizontal lines, crossed by three short vertical lines, tilting in the direction of the arrow.

Marge Bruchac  Sokoki Homeland from Monadnock: K’namitobena Sokwaki, 2006.

The origin of this provocative wonder is, by nature, uncertain. Some believe it was carved by the original people of this land – the Western Abenaki band called Sokwakiak (or their ancestors). This southernmost group of the W8benakiak, people of the Dawnland, have inhabited this New Hampshire region of mountains, rivers, and lakes for time immemorial, a part of their homeland known as N’dakinna. Others have said the image is the more recent historic work of a Surry farmer named William Mason, which seems odd at the least. Anthropologist and historian Marge Bruchac makes further reference to historian Samuel Wadsworth’s account which seems to qualify the site as pre-dating the European presence in these hills, well before Mason.

arrowhead trail spring granite runoff

Spring runoff courses down the granite bedrock of the trail.

arrowhead rock trail sign

 The last signpost to the peak.

Arrow Hill lies in the extreme southwest corner of the heavily-forested Cheshire County town of Surry, northwest of its better-known neighbor of Keene. It is a part of the Indian Arrowhead Forest Preserve, held by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire’s Forests. The poised arrow etched into the boulder’s granite face points almost due southeast. I have heard that many hills in southwestern NH have such carvings, all directed toward a very special place, Mount Monadnock; I don’t yet know whether this is true. There is a line of sight cleared toward the prospect (although now overgrown) and in the winter you can see that singular  peak in the distance.

arrowhead rock surry monadnock sight line

The sightline to Monadnock, brushing up but still visible in winter.

There are other lines engraved in the stone to the west side, a series of straight rays, some parallel, some oblique and crossing the others. Their significance is unclear and might be a subject for further investigation. The shallow relief  of the petroglyph is difficult to photograph, so I added a few more needles of the koa (white pine) towering overhead into the grooves to clarify the shape. Another reason the outline can be a challenge to distinguish is the fact that the granite inside the bow has been partially flaked off. One would hope that this was at least the work of the freeze/thaw cycle, and not vandalism, although I fear the latter since the neighboring lines are intact with no gaps in the surrounding matrix. Several other photographs located online also show the damage,

arrowhead rock carved lines

A pattern of graven lines immediately to the west of the drawn bow with its arrow.

A quick look at the Aln8ba8dwaw8gan (Western Abenaki language) etymology of the modern place-name Monadnock: Gordon Day says that “menonadenak” translates to “smooth mountain”, and there is also some credence to the idea that it could be from “menadena” meaning “isolated mountain,” working with the root “mna” or “mena” for island. The current popular explanation is that it translates as “one that stands alone,” which is not far from the latter derivation. Joseph Laurent held that it derived from “moniadenak” or “m8nadenak,” literally “money mountain” or more figuratively “silver mountain.” This seems questionable if it is true that “moni” did not come into use until late encounters with the European currency system. Significantly, however, this Abenaki-derived name “monadnock” has become the defining geologic term for any such type of mountain, anywhere in the world: a single peak rising alone from its surrounding plain.