Not Relics of the Past: Conserving the West River Petroglyphs

 

west river petroglyph brattleboro annette spaulding

A group has hopes of purchasing land near petroglyphs under the Connecticut River (correction: Wantastekw/West River) with the goal of preventing future development on land it sees as culturally meaningful.

“This is all part of the Abenaki people trying to re-establish themselves… to raise awareness and reinforce the idea that these are not relics of the past,” said Rich Holschuh, a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs from Brattleboro.

“These are significant to people who are still here… people who still observe their significance and incorporate that into their lives because they are the descendants of these people.”

Abenaki people and other members of the public hope to preserve the land, keeping it open for hiking and other recreational activities. The project is also about protecting the Hogle Wildlife Sanctuary.

Read the full story by Chris Mays, with photography by Kristopher Radder, in the Brattleboro Reformer.

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Return to the River Part 1: Franklin, NH’s First Inhabitants

paul pouliot franklin nh elodie reed
Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People Chief Paul Pouliot stands for a portrait on a fishing and observation deck along the Winnipesaukee River in Franklin. He is in front the bend in the river by Odell Park, a place he said would have provided indigenous people abundant fishing as well as good grounds for agriculture for thousands of years.

Beneath cool, overcast skies, Paul Pouliot took in the land, the river, the trees – all the geophysical features – of Franklin’s Odell Park.

The chief of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook Abenaki People looked past the empty baseball field, the dilapidated mill buildings and the developed river banks. Eyeing the U-shaped bend where the river slowed, Pouliot knew – that’s where his Native American ancestors would have fished.

He pointed to the spot just in front of the historic Riverbend Mill, under renovation for an affordable housing project. It was downstream from the river’s rapids, where local community partners are suggesting a whitewater play park can be installed to attract eco-adventure tourists and help revitalize New Hampshire’s second poorest city.

The natural resource Franklin is turning to for its new lifeblood, Pouliot pointed out, is why people came to the area in the first place.

Read the full article by Elodie Reed in the Concord Monitor, the first in a multi-part story.

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.