I was asked by someone recently what is it that makes the Kwenitekw, n’sibo, our river, sacred. Is it the traditional fishing places? Is it the burials of the ancestors? What follows is my reply:
Thank you for asking; these are understandings that are foundational and go below the surface of things. I hope we have a chance to speak together again some day, for it is simpler to express these things in person. But I will share a few things:
- It is important to remember that words have power and they derive from our worldview, which is expressed in the cultural tool we call language. There are many languages, and many ways of seeing the world. They differ dramatically, and the use of a word, or concept, can mean very different things to different people. Thus, “sacred.” When speaking of Abenaki cultural concepts, one cannot look at it through a Western religious lens. The dictionary definitions that fit “sacred” best are (from Merriam-Webster): 1) entitled to reverence and respect and 2) highly valued and important, as in “a sacred responsibility.” It is not a religious designation, but rather a spiritual recognition.
- So, with regard to your questions of the river’s significance regarding fishing locations or burial grounds, the answer is yes, all of that, and much more. The reason being that we are all related, all equally significant, and part of the same great circle of Creation. Time does not exist in a linear sense, but is a continuum, constantly changing but all part of the same. Thus, we as human beings (in common with, say, plant beings, fish beings, stone beings, wind beings) have a ongoing responsibility to honor these relationships. We cannot act to harm the River, as it is as deserving of respect as anyone else, and in fact, we derive our very life from it – it would be very shortsighted to do otherwise..
- As indigenous people (defined as the original people of a distinct place), we so identify with our homelands that we see ourselves as part of it, inseparable and continuous. For example, when an Abenaki person identifies him- or herself, they would not say “My name is so-and-so and I live in Brattleboro.” They would state “… I am Brattleboro.” Consequently, one’s attitudes and actions toward the River, are as unto one’s very self and one’s family, because it is exactly that. We (most of us!) consider human life to be sacred. So is the river.
- You have heard the expression, especially this past year with the action at Standing Rock, that “Water Is Life.” This plays out clearly in the Abenaki language, which by nature embodies its cultural worldview. Let me explain that, in a Native sense, the well-known term “medicine” means anything that promotes or sustains health and vitality – this makes complete sense, but in our Western way of thinking it has been separated and limited into a drug that addresses (often only symptomatically) sickness. It has got the relationship backwards and misses most of the bigger picture of the interconnectedness of life. The word for water in Abenaki is “nebi”; the word for medicine in Abenaki is “nebizon.” So, you can see, that water is at the heart of life. The River is our great provider, for which we can only be grateful.
- To learn that burials are often at the edge of the River is no coincidence. I don’t think I even need to explain that one! It is a place where strong connections have always been made, and where they can be accessed over and over. We go there to pay our respects to our ancestors, to say thank you to the water, and to pray for the same blessings for the generations to come. It is our “church.” There are certainly other places that are important as well, but the River is at the heart of them all. It unifies and connects – think in terms of a watershed – a flowing cradle, a web, an endless cycle enveloping the people.
The Northern Pomo people of California thrived in the lush wetland valley known as Bito’m-kai for millennia, fishing salmon from percolating creeks, gathering natural medicines and managing natural resources to feed thousands.
By the time anthropology researcher Samuel Barrett arrived in the early 1900s, many of the Pomo village sites he assiduously recorded had been abandoned. Barrett noted that the village of Yami, on the south shore of the valley, once “supported a considerable Indian population.”
More than a century later, state road building officials emailed chairmen of the Pomo tribes: Yami had been affected during nighttime construction of the Willits Bypass, a $300 million, 5.9-mile roadway that would cleave the valley. The village site had not been recorded by the California Department of Transportation’s archaeologists. Contractors had pierced it with 1,100 wick drains burrowing 60 feet underground and covered the area with tons of fill dirt.
Although it received no national media coverage, the 2013 destruction of Yami presaged what happened at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Sept. 3 – one of the most infamous days of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. With cameras rolling, contractors started pushing dirt over burial sites within view of protesters.
Read the full report by Mark Dadigan in Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Recent and ancient synchronicities.
Read this overview of the Nashoba Praying Village, and its larger story, by Daniel Boudillion.
And the latest seismograph record from the Harvard, MA Seismic Station, immediately adjacent to Nashoba Hill.
Things happen here.
A comprehensive resource listing of the ongoing situation in Sandisfield/Otis, MA, along the planned route of the Kinder Morgan – Tennessee gas pipeline expansion project.
“FERC filings and newspaper articles are expressing some deep concerns over Kinder Morgan / Tennessee Gas’s (TGP”) plans for dealing with ceremonial stone landscape (“CSL”) features sacred to native peoples with cultural, religious and historical connections to land in Sandisfield, Massachusetts along the proposed route of the TGP Connecticut Expansion Project.
73 CSLs were identified in an on-the-ground survey conducted by several Tribes in the second half of 2016. According to Deputy Tribal Historical Preservation Officer Doug Harris of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, a full one-third of these CSLs will be destroyed during the construction of this pipeline.”
Full article at No Fracked Gas in Mass here.
A previous post on Sokoki Sojourn, as the story was developing, is here.
A short article by Lisa McLoughlin of the Nolumbeka Project, outlining a number of useful strategies to recognize and preserve existing Native stone assemblage sites. Ongoing land development and a general lack of public awareness, not to mention ignorance or dismissal, brings constant destructive pressure upon these ancient interactions of land and spirit.
“…I’d say that while many stone features have been destroyed, there are still thousands left. They are hiding in our back yards, in our state forests, along our waterways — everywhere in plain sight. Help others realize why they should be respectful of these when they find them, help them imagine what it might mean to have a religiously-important structure (e.g. something built to honor someone in your family) technically belong to someone else, or be at risk from vandals, pot-hunters, and developers. These stone structures are examples of how humans found a way to interact respectfully and in a mutually-beneficial way with nature. They are Natural Cultural nodes, blueprints for how we will need to think in the future if we are to survive and allow our natural world survive. They are important beyond the specific, and they should give us hope.”
Link to the article on No Fracked Gas in Mass.
Two articles today, from VTDigger and the Rutland Herald.
A Native American tribe is seeking a role in the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee, citing the importance of the land that hosts the shut-down nuclear plant. The Windham County-based Elnu Abenaki Tribe has filed a motion to intervene in the state Public Service Board’s review of the plant’s purchase by NorthStar Group Services, a New York-based decommissioning company.
Full article by Make Faher at VTDigger.org.
The Elnu Abenaki tribe has filed for intervenor status with the Public Service Board over the proposed sale, decommissioning and cleanup of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. A spokesman for the Elnu, which are based in the southeastern part of the state, said Wednesday the Vermont Yankee site was of cultural significance to the Abenaki. He said significant archaeological Abenaki sites are nearby, near the Vernon hydroelectric dam, which is owned by TransCanada, as well as in neighboring Hinsdale, New Hampshire.
Full article by Susan Smallheer at the Rutland Herald.
Aerial photo by Kristopher Radder of the Brattleboro Reformer.
Edit: March 9, 2017 The Brattleboro Reformer picked up Mike Faher’s story also.
Edit: March 15, 2017 The Greenfield Recorder picked up Susan Smallheer’s story.
With the proposed sale of the shuttered nuclear power plant known as Vermont Yankee in Vernon on the Kwanitekw, there has been a flurry of news coverage about the regulatory process and related interests. As noted on this blog, activity in this sensitive and sacred area of Sokwakik brings concern to Native people here in n’dakinna. Below are a few of the latest articles:
VTDigger 03/03/2017 https://vtdigger.org/2017/03/03/vermont-yankee-sale-review-attracts-crowd/
VTDigger 03/07/2017 https://vtdigger.org/2017/03/07/feds-commit-vermont-public-meeting-yankee-sale/
VPR.net 02/28/2017 http://digital.vpr.net/post/psb-sets-march-14-first-hearing-vermont-yankee-sale#stream/0
The last cited article reports that the first of two planned public hearings by the VT PSB will be held on Tuesday, March 14, 2017 at the Vernon Elementary School, across the road from the plant.
The NRC has committed to holding a local meeting sometime soon, after much pressure. A date has not been set yet.