Leah Fury: What’s In a Name? History, Violence and Agency

A powerful commentary piece in Vermont Digger April 2, 2018 (read full article):

While doing research on my family genealogy, I learned that my late grandfather, a child of German Jews, was born with the middle name Adolph. I knew that his family had changed their last name from Slawitsky as his father, my great-grandfather, faced insurmountable anti-Semitism while serving in the U.S. military against the German Nazis due to his surname. What I didn’t know was that when making the anglicized legal switch from Slawitsky to Lawton, the family had also changed my grandfather’s middle name from Adolph to Tilden, defiantly distancing him from a dangerous oppressor while assimilating to avoid discrimination. While I do grieve the loss that my family suffered through the assimilation of our last name, I also celebrate the agency that allowed my grandfather to feel liberation from one of the most despicable practitioners of violence and hate. The name Tilden was passed on to his own son, and just a month ago my cousin gave the name to her newborn son, his great-grandson who he did not live to meet.

Here in Vermont we have an unfortunate history of refusing individuals their agency that has played out from the first time that European settlers arrived, simultaneously and paradoxically denying both the presence and the humanity of the Western Abenaki. Since that relatively recent arrival, the Abenaki have survived genocide taking the forms of land theft, property destruction, mass murder, scalping and more – insult after injury after insult after injury. The forced sterilization of Abenaki en mass in the 1930s and early ‘40s via the Vermont Eugenics Survey is only one of the more recent manifestations of this genocide… (see link above for balance)

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Ed Gregory: Turner’s Falls Massacre Was Revenge

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Read Ed Gregory’s full column in the Greenfield Recorder.

As of late there’s been quite a stir about the Turners Falls High School “mascot.”

Recent Recorder letters have alluded to the Capt. Turner raid on the Indian gathering at Riverside (not the Turners Falls side of the Connecticut River), mentioning that Turner indiscriminately killed the Indians that were there at the time of the foray.

As a historical fact, Turner and his men did kill a sizeable number of the Indians encamped there. For those folks who believe Turner had nothing better to do than kill Indians, let’s briefly examine why this took place.

Before King Philip’s War, concerted Indian attacks were waged upon the English settlers in Massachusetts and elsewhere. The Indians, stole crops and cattle, burned buildings and, in some instances, kidnapped and killed settlers. These attacks went on for a number of years. There came a point in time when the settlers had to make an attempt to put these assaults to rest.

A contingent of settlers approached the then-governing body of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to plead their case.

Hearing and understanding the concerns of the settlers, the officials were aware of a person that was jailed in Boston for being a religious dissident. This person they knew had a military background, and as an enticement for him to form a group of a few military men and settlers, commuted his sentence and allowed him to formulate plans for the encounter at Riverside. This person was Capt. William Turner.

The raid took place in the dark hours of the morning of May 19, 1676. Turner had little knowledge of the size of, or the number of, Indians gathered there. It turns out that most of the Indian braves were away hunting, and the gathering was made up of mostly women and children.

The rest should be familiar to those so interested in the Turner incident.

Now here’s the rub. Indians are not as innocent as some would believe. Native American advocates never mention the aggressiveness and vicious intent of the various Indian tribes in and about the New England area at that time. In some instances, that aggression was duly wrought.

Turner’s raid was sanctioned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. I say again: sanctioned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. With its blessing, the encounter at Riverside now resides in the annals of New England and Indian history.

Concerning this truncated historical account, and the knowledge that the Massachusetts Bay Colony officials endorsed Turner’s actions, some of those who wish to change the Turners Falls High School “mascot” (name and logo) are now advocating changing the name of the village of Turners Falls to whatever.

They may also want to consider changing the name of Massachusetts. After all, the Massachusetts Bay Colony officials would be the leading contributer to the entire Riverside episode. I would think that this would be far more offensive than an “Indian” moniker or head-dressed brave … the rather mundane but proud T.F.H.S. “mascot.”

I would encourage those so inclined to sympathize with the Indian culture and tradition to expand their historical understanding in regard to this: the Falls Fight of King Philip’s War (also known as Metacom’s Rebellion). One will also learn that the Falls Fight would be the leading contributor to ending the 1675 to 1676 King Philip’s War.

Numerous historical accounts of King Philip’s War and the Falls Fight are available via the internet and local libraries.

Learn the rest of the story before making judgment.

Ed Gregory is a historian of the town of Montague and village of Turners Falls. Born and raised in Turners Falls, he resides in Greenfield.

Recorder Op-Ed: Melody Walker Brook

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“The Indians mascot debases 500 Nations by treating us as all the same”

The Greenfield Recorder has just featured a column in their My Turn section, with Melody Walker Brook’s (Elnu Abenaki) perspective on the Turners Falls mascot/logo debate. A slightly different version of her thoughts appeared in the Montague Reporter recently and can be found in this post. I have reprinted the column in its entirety below; the Recorder’s original can be found here.

Quote:

As I tried to formulate my response to a sports team that continues to hold on to a caricature of an indigenous person as their mascot, I stepped back in order to understand the whole picture.

I looked up statistics surrounding missing and murdered indigenous women.

I looked up suicide rates.

I looked up statistics of heart disease and diabetes.

I looked up incarceration rates.

My Facebook feed this morning was full of images of the Dakota Pipeline Water Protectors and protests in Mi’kmaq territory surrounding natural gas storage sites, both of which are absent on mainstream media sources.

There was even a photo of football players in their Redskins uniforms raising their fists in support of Black Lives Matter and wearing a jersey that proves how others, even other marginalized groups, see indigenous people.

What does this have to do with a mascot in Turners Falls?

Everything.

These seemingly unrelated issues are connected to a theme of invisibility and a lack of empathy for indigenous people, one of the most marginalized populations on Turtle Island. The issues that plague Indian country are symptoms of a much broader problem that perpetuate them.

A mascot that debases more than 500 Nations into a single (and incorrect) stereotype represents more than 400 years of colonialism and is the symbol for a world that has never cared about their suffering.

The people advocating for the mascot do not see the faces of the indigenous children shipped to boarding schools.

They do not see the societies confined to reservations, outside of the public eye, struggling with substance abuse and health issues.

They do not see the constant attack to indigenous values or the bodies of all of those killed creating a country that people are proud to call home.

They see a caricature of an Indian with a headdress, the stereotypical Plains warrior of legend, doomed to fall. The warriors of the past long gone.

They may even think it is honoring them, but, to at least some indigenous people, this is a further affront to countless individuals and groups, shredding every last ounce of their souls to reclaim their past and secure a better future, one filled with pride and the possibility that every other American thinks they have — the pursuit of happiness. Most importantly, people are struggling just to be seen as human beings.

The Turners Falls mascot is a generic “Indian” with the Plains style headdress — in the Northeast. What does that message convey? It has nothing to do with the history of the area.

As a citizen of a local tribe, this mascot does not represent me. It certainly does not honor me. I am hard-pressed to come up with an example in the Northeast of a headdress style similar to the Plains region. It does not fit.

The generic “Indian” mascot, in essence, wipes out the identity of more than 500 Nations, because placing that image in a locale that has nothing to do with the Plains smacks of the message that it does not matter whether they depict local groups or Plains groups: They are all the same.

The regional piece is lost, and all Indians once again are painted in the typical vein of ambiguity and the fake image of the noble savage or the mystical warrior.

When we as a society marginalize and shape human beings into caricatures, we are complicit in the violence against them, metaphorically and literally.

What happens when people are reduced from personhood, and they are no longer seen as human beings? What happens when real human beings are left out of the media or ignored by most people in dominant society? Society can continue to treat them as they always have, while symptoms of what was broken remain in their communities.

Mascots could be a visible reminder of people often forgotten, and yet you do not see their real faces. The mask of what you want Indians to be shields you from the realities of indigenous life.

Misrepresentation is a dishonor. It is more than that. It is a travesty and it is no wonder that in this world, indigenous women are stolen and attacked at higher rates than other populations.

It is no wonder that indigenous people have little to no media coverage of efforts just to be able to have clean drinking water or to safeguard their sacred sites from those looking to turn a profit. Apathy begins when people are young and is perpetuated by those who do not place value on all walks of life.

All “Indians” are just generic warriors or a dying race of people without identity. To mainstream society, they are not people.

We can do better. Change the mascot and teach students how to be responsible citizens in a world desperately in need of them.

*****

Melody Walker Brook is a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe and is an educator, activist and artisan. She has served on several state level committees, including two terms as the vice chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs and as a member of the Waolwozi N.H. Minority Board of Health Steering Committee. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Vermont in history and currently teaches and works at Champlain College.

Video Footage: First GMRSD Mascot Public Forum 10/25/16

First public forum hosted by the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee, filmed live by Montague Community Television, 10.25.2016, at the Turners Falls High School, Turners Falls,  MA. Original link here.