Memory Devices: Munsee Shell Strings

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A Lukasa memory board – a handheld mnemonic device

I’ve been digging into Dr. Lynne Kelly’s The Memory Code and my mind is running free with the possibilities of application here in Sokwakik. A completely different way of  experiencing the land, a relationship in, with, and of place. Here’s an article outlining her work. I am now seeing examples of this nearly everywhere I turn (or walk or read or converse).

Here’s a prime example, from an article in the New York Times in 1986, drawing on the work of Robert Grumet and others, and focusing on the Munsee in New Amsterdam, at what became today’s Brooklyn.

“Among the striking finds in the newly translated journal is the first account of how local Indians, without writing, passed the contents of treaties and contracts down through the generations. During negotiations, an Indian held a different shell in his hand as each article was discussed. When an agreement was concluded, the specific meaning of each marker was recounted.

”As they can neither read nor write, they are gifted with a powerful memory,” Danckaerts said. ”After the conclusion of the matter, all the children who have the ability to understand and remember it are called together, and then they are told by their fathers, sachems or chiefs how they entered into such a contract with these parties.”

The children ”are commanded to remember this treaty and to plant each article in particular to their memory,” Danckaerts continue. The shells were bound together on a string, put in a bag and hung in the house of the chief.

The young were warned they must preserve this memory ”faithfully so that they may not become treaty breakers, which is an abomination” to the Indians, Danckaerts observed.”

Striking indeed.

 

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Brattleboro, Native People, and the Story of Here

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From the article by Harmony Birch in the Brattleboro Reformer, May 9, 2018:

[Alex] White Plume visited Vermont Hempicurean on Saturday to share stories about his fight with the Drug Enforcement Agency to grow hemp, and to talk about Oglala Lakota-U.S. relations… The saga with the DEA, White Plume said, relates directly to the genocide of native American peoples.

“On the East Coast here there’s no more natural Indians. They were wiped out because they have 511 years [of colonization].” Local Native Americans have had their cultures wiped out, White Plume said. “We’ve only had 200 years of contact so we’re still real,” he said of the Lakota. “Our language is real, our ceremonies are real. We’re still alive; we still remember.”

This, coming from a Lakota man, shows the extent and depth of the darkness surrounding the stories about “here”; and then, further, in the article, another perspective from mainstream society:

Common Sense director Kurt Daims…wants to raise $1 million to distribute among local Native American groups. Brattleboro Common Sense has an anonymous council working out how the organization can move forward with the project. “There are four parts,” Daims said. “Money, a committee on determining certification, an education component requiring education about the American genocides in high school, and [possibly] considering a new form of currency to be used on reservations.”

None of the components are written in stone, Daims said. When approaching people to join the council, Daims said he wanted to include diverse voices. He wasn’t aware of committee members’ ancestry before asking them to join the council, but many of the people he approached happened to be of Abenaki descent, he said. “People say [of the Abenaki] ‘we’re here but you just don’t see them,'” he said. Still, Daims said he doesn’t think all Native Americans will be in favor of reparations. Daims said he spoke to one local Abenaki leader who said he didn’t think people were ready for reparations…

*****

My perspective on this (I believe I may be the person to whom Kurt Daims refers) aligns with that of Native author Tommy Orange, as quoted in this recent NY Times article about his new novel, “There There.” “…Tommy Orange’s polyphonic debut novel, takes its title from Gertrude Stein’s cutting line about Oakland, Calif: “There is no there there.” …For native people, Mr. Orange writes, cities and towns themselves represent the absence of a homeland — a lost world of “buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, un-returnable covered memory. There is no there there.”

And, then, at the end of the review, the explanatory words with which I concur:

“Mr. Orange struggled for several years with the structure, puzzling over how the characters’ lives fit together, and discarded hundreds of pages and entire chapters delving into different characters’ family histories. Eventually, he settled on an unconventional form: The novel opens with a series of brief and jarring vignettes revealing the violence and genocide that indigenous people have endured, and how it has been sanitized over the centuries.

Mr. Orange said he felt like he couldn’t move the story forward without first going back. “As native writers, there’s a certain feeling that you have to set the record straight before you even begin,” he said. “It’s been told wrong, and not told, so often.”

This is why we are not ready for suggestions for reparations. It’s not that simple, it’s not appropriate. The story is not yet told, much less heard. I spoke briefly with Alex White Plume while he was here, greeting him and assuring him he was welcome in these homelands, but his remarks to the Reformer reporter demonstrate that even our fellow indigenous people do not clearly understand the situation here. It will be hard, it will take awhile. The stories are only now beginning to be told. There is much to learn. The past is with us and creates the present. We cannot know where we are going until we understand the places we have been. We are the dreams of the ancestors, and we ourselves are dreaming the next generations into being. We must acknowledge first, accept, and allow. Only then will we know the way.

 

 

Who’s In Charge? A Fox in the Chicken Coop

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From the New York Times shortlist of President-elect Trump’s possibilities for Secretary of the Interior, who will oversee the BIA,  National Parks and Forests, public lands and waters, cultural and historic sites, and rule-making affecting all of the above and more.

Maine Tribes Say Trust Is Deteriorating

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Pleasant Point, ME – Native American tribes who trace their history back millenniums say their trust in the government of Maine is at a new low.

What has long been an uneasy peace between the state government and the tribes that desire sovereignty has degraded with clashes on issues such as fishing rights and new casinos. The dispute has become so vitriolic that Gov. Paul R. LePage withdrew an executive order that sought to promote cooperation between the two sides, and some of the tribes abandoned their seats in the Legislature.

“This marriage between the tribe and the state is little more than a shotgun wedding between unwilling partners,” said Fred Moore, the chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point. “There’s always value in reconciling, but that requires both sides to want to come to the table.”

Read the full New York Times article for more.