Northfield MA: Day of Indigenous History and Culture

bryan blanchette abenaki musician

Members of the Abenaki nation will bring people into the history and culture of local indigenous groups on Saturday, July 21, at the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center. This “day of history,” from noon to 3 p.m., is the second in the Northfield Historical Commission’s series on “bringing to light the native history of our area” that encompasses a period of at least 12,000 years, Commissioner Lisa McLoughlin said.

Roger Longtoe, Chief of the Elnu band of the Abenaki nation, will talk about local history from the 17th century up to modern times, using period-authentic “things that we would have had in the 17th century,” like muskets, spears and bows and arrows, he said. Longtoe specializes in what he calls “living archaeology” of the 17th and 18th centuries, using materials and traditional stories to help people understand the way Abenaki peoples lived when they occupied vast regions in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and eastern New York.

But, “a lot of people have questions about modern history, too,” he said. Now, the Abenaki nation has about 15,000 members and is mostly based in Vermont, with reservations in Quebec. The Elnu band has about 60 members and is based in southern Vermont, making it the southernmost group of the larger nation.

Rich Holschuh, representative of the Elnu band, will lead a walk through Northfield Mountain’s trails where he will try to communicate the traditional understanding of the environment.

“I want to talk about the very real hands-on things in front of us, and then I want to talk about the relationship of the people to this place,” Holschuh said. “All of the various aspects out there in the natural world are considered to be a part of you, literally a relation to you. So you’re going to interact with them as equals. It’s not simply a harvesting or a taking, but there’s also a giving, a reciprocity. It’s a two-way relationship. “Some of these things would be very practical,” like identifications of plants, Holschuh said, “but you’re also perhaps going to learn a lesson from the plant about how it is, why it’s growing there, how it’s growing there.”

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Bryan Blanchette will play traditional and new songs in both Abenaki and English.

Also, an update on a National Park Service-funded study of King Philip’s War will be discussed by David Brule, president of the Nolumbeka Project. The Nolumbeka Project advocates for a more thorough understanding of indigenous history up to and including the colonial era. The study, now in its third phase of funding, is focusing on the Battle Turners Falls.

See the original article by Max Marcus in the Greenfield Recorder.

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The Burning Evidence

Again from Sokoki Abenaki country, a line of observations drawing from the statement in the previous post, quoting Hon. Charles K. Field (who married Julia Ann Kellogg, a descended cousin of Capt. Joseph Kellogg, second commander at Fort Dummer) in The Vermont Phoenix of July 7, 1876:

The intervales and meadows at Fort Dummer, upon West River, and at the Asylum farm, were found entirely bare of forest trees. Such was the fact with all the meadows on the Connecticut River at the time of the first settlement of New England. The Indians burned them over every year, and used them for planting grounds.

Much has been stated about this practice, in general, and I need not belabor it. One quote via William Cronon’s “Changes in the Land” (1983) is probably enough to stage the subject, and is appropriate here: “Selective Indian burning thus promoted the mosaic quality of New England ecosystems, creating forests in many different stages of ecological succession. In particular, regular fires promoted what ecologists call the ‘edge effect.’ By encouraging the growth of extensive regions which resembled the boundary areas between forests and grasslands, Indians created ideal habitats for a host of wildlife species.”

More specific and with a connection to Wantastegok is another quote, from the letters of Timothy Dwight IV (1822), eighth President of Yale, and grandson of his namesake, the first commander at Fort Dummer (1724) established in what would later become Brattleboro:

timothy dwight letters 1822 burning

A good overview of the Eastern Algonquian practice in general can be found here, in a USDA publication entitled “Wildland Burning by American Indians in Virginia” by Hutch Brown (2000).

Grounding this locally, we can now take a look at Walter Needham’s “A Book of Country Things” (1965). Walter was a lifelong Guilford, VT resident, who wrote (with co-author Barrows Mussey) a rather popular little book recounting the things he learned from his grandfather Leroy L. Bond, born in 1833. Among them was a familiarity with locating the signs of indigenous presence in the local landscape, a skill that Walter modestly claimed was the only thing at which he had become more adept than “Gramp”. In fact, he is known as one of the more active “relic hunters” in the immediate area (present-day Dummerston south to Vernon, Vermont); regrettably, his collections, for the most part, seem to have disappeared leaving only loose, vague accounts. The memories that remain, however, bear out a story of widespread, active settlement and extensive usage of the Kwenitekw and its landscape, counter to the prevailing Euro-American narrative that held (and often still holds) otherwise.

Speaking of the land management practices of the area’s original inhabitants, Needham relates: “Instead of plowing the cornfields like we do, the Indians burned them over every year. In most of the flat places where I find Indian relics, there’s a black line at one level of the soil, and under a [magnifying] glass you see it’s tiny pieces of charcoal.” Needham refers several times to this thin black line in the riverside stratigraphy.

Finally, we can pull another quote from a legacy account in the immediate area, the voluminous “A History of the Town of Northfield, MassachusettsFor 150 Years, with an Account of the Prior Occupation of the Territory by the Squakheags” by Josiah Howard Temple and George Sheldon (1875). This compilation (which must be read critically, as is the case with many period accounts) is the single best historical source for an admittedly colonized perspective on the Sokwakiak, the indigenous people who preceded the European incursion. Temple and Sheldon implicitly acknowledge the provenance of the land the settlers eagerly apportioned to themselves:

temple sheldon northfield history burning

And yet, “There Are No Evidences of Indian Settlements in This Town.”

 

 

 

Sokwakik Today: Volunteers Prepare Accessible Trail in Northfield

greenfield recorder shelby ashline mt grace trail northfield

“Since the project began, Rasku said Mount Grace has coordinated with the Abenaki, Nipmuc, Narragansett and Wampanoag tribes due to the land’s cultural significance.

“It’s had a lot of features tribal nations would appreciate,” he said, explaining the tribes could gather medicinal plants, harvest the nearby farm fields and take advantage of the water source, making the area around the pond active.

As such, Rasku said that in making the accessible trail, Mount Grace has avoided changing the terrain or excavating out of respect for the land’s Native American history.”

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

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Interpretive signage on the Ames Trail will include information about Abenaki cultural lifeways and language translations for our many indigenous relations. Aln8baodwaw8gan!

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.

FirstLight’s River Erosion Study for FERC Relicensure Contested

ct-river-turners-falls-northfield-impoundment

The Franklin Regional Planning Board and the Connecticut River Streambank Erosion Committee have responded formally to a study that largely clears Northfield Mountain pumped storage project of blame for river bank erosion. The response to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about FirstLight’s operation of the hydroelectric project criticizes the methodology used and arguments made in the study, which was submitted in September. The study is part of a relicensing application for hydroelectric plants along the river.

That study concludes that the hydroelectric facility is responsible for only 4 percent of the erosion caused along the banks in the 20-mile river segment between the Turners Falls and Vernon, Vt. dams. “Despite this extensive scientific literature, FirstLight claims that most of the erosion in the Turners Falls Impoundment (TFI) is due to the ‘natural’ erosion that happens during high flows in an undammed, unregulated river. FirstLight goes so far as to draw comparisons between the erosion in the TFI and erosion seen in ‘natural alluvial’ rivers in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.”

Full story by Richie Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

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Observations: The combined operational impacts of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage and the Turners Falls Hydroelectric Projects, utilizing what is known as the Turners Falls Impoundment (TFI) on the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River, contributes to the accelerated erosion of the banks for 20 miles. Effects upon this entire stretch of the river are highly sensitive for the Sokwakiak Abenaki people and their ancestors; it is the heart of the lower Sokoki homelands, today’s Northfield, MA being the derivative of the Native settlement known to the British settlers as Squakheag. Both sides of the Kwanitekw – from the site of the Vernon dam south to the corresponding Turners Falls structure – were occupied for millennia before the arrival of the Europeans (as well as areas further north, above the TFI). The landscape remains sacred to the People, a part of the collective cultural consciousness, with sacred sites, stone structures, burials, and long-established relationships embodied within the land and water. The constant raising and lowering of the river’s surface level due to daily operations of the Projects, unlike a natural alluvial river system, is accelerating the destruction and loss of this ancient homeland, and compromising the relationships necessary for the community’s vitality.