Podawazwisen Sokwakik: Council Rock at Squakheag

 

northfield-marker-council-rock

Photo above from Lisa Brooks’s “Our Beloved Kin” webguide to the book of the same name (2018).

Looking at confluences of kinship, trade, travel, community in the homeland…

It starts with a narrative from the conventional historic perspective, looking back to the past, situating it in the frame of celebrated cultural domination and advancing civilization – in other words, linear time and the paradigm of progress.  First reference is J. H. Temple and George Sheldon’s  “A History of the Town of Northfield, Massachusetts, for 150 Years, with an Account of the Prior Occupation of the Territory by the Squakheags: and with Family Genealogies” (1875).

sheldon temple history of northfield title page

“Council Rock was a noted spot in Northfield’s early history. It was a huge mass of pudding-stone that cropped out in the middle of the town street, just against the south Warwick road. The rock rose three feet above the general level of the ground, was nearly flat on the top, and about 20 X 30 feet in diameter. Here the old men were accustomed to gather, on summer evenings, to hear the news, discuss politics and tell stories ; and the boys were on hand, to listen to the stories, or have a game of goal. About the year 1821, the rock was blasted away, and the fragments put into a stone wall, which stands a little way to the south-east. The travelled way, which formerly ran on the east side of the rock, now passes directly over the centre of its ancient bed.”

Note: Nowadays, the “south Warwick road” is the Gulf Road, which is called Maple Street within the village itself.

council rock map squakheag northfield ma

Another account (“All About Northfield: A Brief History and Guide”, by Arthur Percy Fitts, 1910), quotes the former, but with a slight update, stating:

“The traveled way formerly ran on the east side of the [council] rock, which was blasted away in 1821, and still more when the state road was built : but the bare rock ledge is still visible in the highway.”

mary rowlandson captivity narrative 1682

From Mary Rowlandson’s very early captivity narrative, we can read of her entry into the Sokoki village of Squakheag in 1676 with her Native captors, on this very same path. The Gulf Road led to an intersection with the north-south river path, and, beyond, to a crossing over the Kwenitekw. An early attempt at land claims and settlement by the Massachusetts Bay colonizers had been met with multiple raids and many deaths, and abandoned the year before.

“THE SEVENTH REMOVE: After a restless and hungry night there, we had a wearisome time of it the next day. The swamp by which we lay was, as it were, a deep dungeon, and an exceeding high and steep hill before it. Before I got to the top of the hill, I thought my heart and legs, and all would have broken, and failed me. What, through faintness and soreness of body, it was a grievous day of travel to me. As we went along, I saw a place where English cattle had been. That was comfort to me, such as it was. Quickly after that we came to an English path, which so took with me, that I thought I could have freely lyen down and died. That day, a little after noon, we came to Squakeag, where the Indians quickly spread themselves over the deserted English fields, gleaning what they could find. Some picked up ears of wheat that were crickled down; some found ears of Indian corn; some found ground nuts, and others sheaves of wheat that were frozen together in the shock, and went to threshing of them out.”

******

The story of the removal of Council Rock in 1821 is told in Herbert Parson’s “A Puritan Outpost: A History of the Town and People of Northfield, Massachusetts” (1937):

field home council rock wall

It’s interesting to consider that this great stone presence in the midst of the road – which came to be seen as an obstacle to the carrying-on of the affairs of the Town of Northfield – was, for so many long years, actually the point upon which the trails intentionally converged. It wasn’t “in the way’ – it was the locus, the lodestone, the place of wisdom. It was the destination for Native diplomacy, ceremonies, exchanges, feasts, storytelling, reunions, and long discussions held by the community of Sokoki Abenaki, with their kin up and down the valley.

“Pod-”  to blow (as with air or water), by extension to breathe out/speak/smoke

“Podawaz” to smoke, speak with someone. Thus, to council. To exchange breath imbued with the message-carrying of smoke.

Finding Balance in Place

A personal musing.
When looking for understanding and self-guidance on something that is fraught with implications and possibilities (such as the thorny question of  identity), I try to back way up to a starting point for as much clarity and grounding as possible, before I move ahead into the present. It seems that when one jumps into the midst of a currently-transpiring moment, there are a lot of moving pieces: actors, past experiences, expectations, emotions, outcomes… all the elements of drama. It is nigh on impossible to see clearly, so gaining perspective as soon as is practical is important. With the challenge of the charged moment, it can be difficult to get one’s footing, or stay focused. The more that I can bring that groundedness to the matter-at-hand from the get-go, rather than try to develop it on the spot, the better my chances of coping adequately and mindfully. I have come to the realization that, as a human, the only thing I have any “power” over are my choices in the present. It is only the present which actually exists, with the past and the future existing as integral parts. So I try to make the best choices in the moment, by way of seeking balance in the place where I am.
So I think about things beforehand, when I am able, before diving in to the “question du jour.” I try to operate from an “ideal” perspective (to the best of my understanding), and then temper it with the realities of the situation and the others with whom I am involved. Note that “the others” are not limited to simply human. So, I try to handle identity in this manner as well. My basic understanding is that grappling with identity, as with everything else, is a seeking of balance. There is the way in which I see myself, and there is a way in which others see me. Ideally, I will conduct myself in an appropriate manner so these things are as clear as possible. I will be guided in these decisions by what I perceive as my responsibilities. I want to meet them as best as I can, to maintain the relationships with which I have been gifted in this state of being called “my life.” We are all a part of each other, in the totality called Creation, constantly changing and interacting. I am honored to do the best I can with what I have been given – this moment. It’s all I have. It’s all any of us have.
Then, all of the other “stuff” – the drama – gets added in, and I seek to navigate it as mindfully as possible, always keeping the basic understanding centered within. The balance acts as an anchor. The question arises: there are so many things to choose from (belief systems, religions, cosmologies, ideologies)… how do you decide what you will use for your anchor? what is your basic reference point? This is where I feel that place-based understanding, indigenous wisdom specific to the location where one finds oneself is the best choice (because those are the relationships within which you are a part, just then, whether you acknowledge them or not). And so, I seek to learn from the land, and from the people who know this land best, from intimate relationship with all of it for thousands of years. I look for those “original instructions.” This is how I will form my concept of identity…. I will identify with the place where I am. I am this place and this place is me. This is the essence of community, of being in relationship.
Bringing this around full circle, I will borrow a quote from Lisa Brook’s “Our Beloved Kin” which I just came across, reading the last chapter while on vacation in Maine (extracted from the discussion in pp. 339-342). This quote seems to embody the concept of seeking balance in the midst of tumult and influences pulling one way or another. During negotiations with the English during strife over land claims, with encroaching settlements and Native resistance, Wabanaki sagamores Moxus and Madoasquarbet express their desire (making their best choice) for stillness in the midst: “Our desire is to be quiet.” This speaks of balance. Finding the center. This, to me, is at the heart of me finding identity. If I can maintain that centeredness, to the best of my ability – making my choices to honor my relationships in place, in the present, to be quiet – I will best be myself.
And I must add, this is not about being as individualized as possible… far from it. The cult of the individual – the disease of separation which rules our modern Western society – is at the heart of our dysfunction and lack of relationship/community. It is estrangement and not at all life-affirming. When I recognize that I am a part of everything else, and start acting like it, I become who I was meant to be. And the corollary, I will then be best able to relate to all others around me. They will have to figure that balance out for themselves, of course, and bring it to the conversation. Some will be more coherent and collaborative, some will be agitated and discordant. That is the human story.
As a benchmark, I understand the gift of indigenous spiritual leaders, the medicine people, to be the highly developed ability to work with spirit to seek balance. They have great insight and understanding, and thus great responsibility to help their people. But, at the core, we all have those responsibilities, to all of our relations. It is not a religion, but a way of life. I am honored to do the best I can, always learning, always changing, because that is the way of Creation. Creation is a process, a totality, ongoing, not a point in time. There is no “time.”
Yesterday I realized a new way to understand the expression “We Are Still Here” – in Abenaki “Askwa n’daoldibna iodali”:  Be here. Be still. We are still, here.

Long River, Deep History

Long River Deep History poster

A discussion with Lisa Brooks, PhD, “Our Beloved Kin”, and Christine Delucia, PhD, “Memory Lands”.

‘Our Beloved Kin’ and ‘Memory Lands’ Review: On the Trail of a Lost Northeast

Native Americans called the place Wôpanâak, or “the land where the sun is born every day.” The colonists called it New England, or “the English Israel which is seated in these goings down of the Sun.” Where the sun comes up or where it goes down, or as far east as a native person could conceive or as far west as a European could imagine, the large cosmic view or the small human perception: Perspective is everything in telling history, especially stories about war.

As Jill Lepore argued in “The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” (1998), even the choice of what to call the conflict was fraught, and not just because it was imposed by the English winners. “King Philip” was a title the government of Plymouth colony bestowed, partly in derision, on the Wampanoag sachem Metacom (though he sometimes used it for himself). To personalize the conflict with a presumed leader’s name ignores the complex politics among often rivalrous Algonquian-speaking peoples, and makes the war a matter of a single man’s grievances rather than a result of political oppression and economic dispossession. King Philip becomes a literary type, the tragic vanishing Indian, the man who—like Tecumseh or Crazy Horse—epitomizes a savage (or is it noble?) way of life doomed to be replaced by a civilized (or is it savage?) European modernity.

This mythic view of Philip took shape in histories crafted after the war by clergymen such as Increase Mather and by military commanders (and land speculators) such as Benjamin Church. And it more subtly entrenched itself through the one book by a participant in King Philip’s War still read today, the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan clergyman’s wife whose account of her ordeals Mather shepherded to publication. Rowlandson’s work made the war a divine drama in which native people figure primarily as a test of a colonist’s religious perseverance, and hence of the perseverance needed for a settler society to replace Native Americans. Mythic Philip becomes a small contributor to a larger saga.

OUR BELOVED KIN

By Lisa Brooks

Yale, 431 pages, $35

MEMORY LANDS

By Christine M. DeLucia

Yale, 469 pages, $40

Two new books explore a very different view of the Anglo-Indian struggle. Lisa Brooks, a prominent scholar who teaches at Amherst College, offers “Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War.” Christine DeLucia, once Ms. Brooks’s student at Harvard and now an assistant professor at Mount Holyoke, gives us “Memory Lands: King Philip’s War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast.” Each book eschews grand narratives of European conquest and indigenous disappearance in favor of approaches that emphasize intimate scales and native points of view. Each deeply researched volume intensely focuses on specific localities—Ms. Brooks calls them “place-worlds,” Ms. DeLucia “memoryscapes”—that the author has personally walked and rewalked, contemplating what happened and continues to happen there.

These are not spots outsiders—or even insiders—will necessarily find resonant. “Never heard of King Philip’s war,” a Rhode Islander told a late-19th-century journalist searching for the sight of one battle, “guess you’re mistaken about a battle ever having been fought in this neighborhood.” As this exchange quoted by Ms. DeLucia reveals, keeping one’s distracted eyes open for larger meanings when an enthralled author delves into small details can be a tall order.

Read the full review by Daniel K. Richter in the Wall Street Journal.

Native Insight: Local Scholars Offer Fresh New Look at an Old War

king philips war lithograph

…how could the timing of two new Yale University Press books by local scholars examining King Philip’s War be better? Both books are scheduled for a Jan. 9 release. One, by Amherst College historian Lisa Brooks — who may be familiar to readers for her previously authored “The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (2008)” — is titled “Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War.” The other, by Mount Holyoke College historian Christine M. Delucia, is titled “Memory Lands: King Philips War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast.”

Both authors write from the authority of their own Native American lens, as both share Wabanaki roots and understand what West Coast poet Gary Snyder calls “The Old Ways” — a belief system under which all animate and inanimate objects are beings with palpable spirits. That includes lakes and ponds and streams, mountains and swamps and high, lonesome glacial-erratic boulders, beavers and bears and deer, insects and worms and underworld serpents with ominous rattling tails. Viewing the world through such a holistic lens, buttressed by deep oral history recited in song, dance and ritual performance around warm winter fires, puts a different spin on life, one that conflicts in a major way with the Christian way Europeans transported with them to the New World. It is this world-view that backbones Brooks’ and Delucia’s refreshing narrative and challenges conventional, accepted conclusions about KPW.

Both of these fresh, New-Age female scholars refuse to buy the tired documentary evidence supplied by the likes of old-standby colonial clergymen William Hubbard and Increase Mather, entrepreneur John Pynchon, or Narragansett-country colonial land-grab military officer Benjamin Church. The recorded histories from these primary sources are, in Brooks’ and Delucia’s opinion, those of conquerors publishing second-hand accounts that are, at the very least, biased if not totally invalid. Of course, these two young scholars are not the first veritable historians to challenge the long-accepted, often-repeated norms of KPW history. They’re just taking similar positions to previous chroniclers like Francis Jennings, Howard Zinn, Jill Lapore and others pejoratively called “revisionary historians” by more conventional colleagues and critics.

Read the review by Gary Sanderson in The Greenfield Recorder.