Wanascatok: Wanaskatekw

wanasquatok wanaskwatekw

A deep, green pool at Broad Brook, toward the top of the main gradient, near the site of one of the first mills in Guilford, Vermont. 

Wanascatok (sometimes, later, as Wanasquatok) is the name historically attached to Broad Brook, which flows from the heart of today’s Town of Guilford, Vermont into the Kwenitekw just below the Brattleboro/Vernon line. It is recorded thus in the 1687 colonial land deed, the last of several that together constituted the Town of Northfield, Massachusetts. The deed covered an area of about 65,000 acres identified as Nawelet’s land, and was signed by that person, identified as a chief of the Squakheags, along with Gongequa, Aspiabemet, Haddarawansett, and Meganichcha (as recorded). The legality of these deeds will be discussed elsewhere; suffice it to say this document is a good primary source on several counts.

1687 nawelet wanascatok northfield deed

A transcription of the 1687 Northfield land deed by Nawelet with four others, from Temple and 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.”

A contemporary Abenaki spelling would be Wanaskatekw, which roughly translates as “end of the river” or even “the rivers meet.” Wanask- signifies ‘an end’ or ‘a meeting’ and -tekw is ‘river’, as in ‘flowing, moving water.’ The reason for applying this name to this particular place requires a little exploration, informed by some familiarity with the lay of the land. Broad Brook is a medium-sized tributary of the Connecticut, with a watershed of 23.8 square miles. Since it is obviously not at the end of the Connecticut, the reference is likely to the end of Broad Brook itself – in other words, the point of its confluence with the larger river, the place where they meet. This, in turn, indicates that Wanaskatekw is not the name of the brook after all, but indicates the specific location at its mouth, as a landmark. This fits with its use in the 1687 Northfield deed to denote the northernmost bound of the land running up the west side of the Connecticut. For some reason,  later historians (not Native speakers) presumptively chose to spell the word as ‘Wanasquatok’, adding the ‘qua’ or kwa’ sound, but this is not the original form.

It follows that this location was familiar to the Sokwakiak inhabitants, and, by extension, the earliest Euro-colonizers (more on this elsewhere); amateur collectors, known to include Jason Bushnell, and probably Walter Needham and John Gale, were active in this immediate vicinity in the last century. The topography has all the hallmarks of a good site: fresh water, a confluence, good visibility, well-drained, sheltering hills to the west, and readily defensible. There are substantial wolhanak (rich alluvial planting lands) immediately adjacent, much of which are now submerged since the 1909 construction of the Vernon hydroelectric dam four miles downstream.

Bushnell Old Red Mill Vernon VT

A postcard for Jason Bushnell’s museum at the Old Red Mill in Vernon, VT, where he displayed his life’s collection of “Indian relics” and oddities. It burned down in 1962.

There was a convergence of trails here also. The primary north-south path on the west side of the Kwenitekw – the Great River Road – ran parallel to the Connecticut, hugging the bottom of the closely encroaching hills. And there was a path running west from here up the narrow ravine of Broad Brook itself, which rises in a steep gradient of about 200 feet in a mile and a half, to a lush valley nestled in the uplands. It is recorded that the earliest British settlers of what is now Guilford Town took this trail to stake their claims, first among them being Micah Rice at Weatherhead Hollow in 1761; it is the only ready access point to the uplands from the Long River and became the first road.

It should be kept in mind that place-name references in Algonquian language usages are nearly always directly descriptive, referring to observable natural attributes. Any place that matches a set of general descriptives may carry a similar toponym, in its own context. The name Wanascatok, or a variant, appears in several other places in New England. It fits here, once one is familiar with the circumstances.

Skamonkas: Corn Maker Moon

skamonkas corn maker moon

Catching up on the calendar again: tonight’s new moon (September 28, 2019) begins a new month, but we will take that up immediately after we acknowledge Skamonkas, the moon just ending .

The ninth month of the Abenaki lunar calendar is the Corn Maker Moon, Skamonkas, following the preceding eighth month of Temez8was, the Cutter (Harvest) Moon. The flint corn crop has ripened and is finally dried on the stalk, ready for harvesting. The dried ears will be gathered and stored for later use, often by grinding into flour or meal.

This particular lunar month began in the current year’s sun cycle with the new moon on August 30, 2019, and progressed through the full moon September 14th, which gives the name. The name itself derives from the simple addition of skamon for corn plus -ka for maker plus -s as a short ending for moon (kizos).

N’wliwni, Nigawes Kizos – nd’alamizi.  I thank you Grandmother Moon – I am grateful.

Sogalikas: Sugar Maker Moon

native maple squirrel tradition

With the most recent new moon on April 5, 2019 in Sokwakik, we are now well into Sogalikas, the Sugar Maker Moon, fourth in the lunar year. Climate change has brought an earlier spring in recent years, shifting the time of sap harvest back toward Mozokas, but there is still some overlap, and the further north one travels, the longer the season persists. The Abenaki annual cycle is flexible and can be adjusted to reflect present realities… perhaps Mozokas will have a different face some day.

Agwa – “it is said” – that Native people learned of this delicious source of energy from the red squirrel nation, observing them nip off the end bud of a maple twig and drinking the sap that flowed from the tip. Following this example, a slanting cut was made in the bark of the tree as the days grew warmer from the strengthening return of kizos (the sun), and fitted with a shaped piece of bark or wood to direct the sweet water toward a bark container. The sap was boiled down in a large wooden trencher using red-hot stones.

Written historical accounts state that the first maple sugaring performed by  British settlers – in the person of Alexander Kathan – within what is now Vermont, took place at Sweet Tree Farm on Route 5 in Dummerston, just north of Wantastegok/Brattleboro and adjacent to the Kwenitekw/Connecticut River. The new arrivals would have learned this skill from the indigenous Sokwakiak, and most likely appropriated an existing sugar orchard for the purpose. Sugaring still takes place at the farm today.

Putney Mountain Association Annual Meeting 01-13-2019

putney mountain association presentation poster

I was asked to speak at this event last Sunday, Feb. 13, 2019, at the Putney Community Center on Christian Square (slight irony) in Putney, VT. Super turnout – maybe 80-100 people? There may be video coverage on BCTV at some point soon; my friend Russ was there filming…

Link to a pdf of the poster here: putney mt association 2019 poster

Here We Are: with Wendy O’Connell on BCTV

Here We Are” is a weekly half-hour talk show (interview/conversation) on Brattleboro Community Television,  conceived and hosted by Wendy O’Connell. Wendy interviewed me in early December and the show is now post-production and was released for airing and on Youtube on Dec. 31, 2018. Wliwni Wendy!

Askwa nd’aoldibna iodali – we are still here.

BCTV link here.

Youtube link here.

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.

With Andy Fisk for CRC Valley Gives at the Rock Dam

One of a series of Facebook Live on-site interviews on May 1, 2018, for the CT River Conservancy’s “Valley Gives” fundraising campaign. We are at the Rock Dam site, on the Kwenitew below the Great Falls at Peskeompscut/Mskwamakok, now Turners Falls in Montague, MA, with very high spring run-off.

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.”

 

 

 

Wantastegok: Tracing the Stories

kendall weathersfield vt carved tree

Edward Augustus Kendall, “Travels Through the Northern Part of the United States, in the Years 1807 and 1808,” Vol. 3, 1809, p. 207.

It’s time to begin a concerted effort to post markers from the many story trails I am tracing, some faint, some bold, as a part of the project I call “Reclaiming Wantastegok.” Some are drawn from the (often scant) written European record, others are extrapolated from the land itself.  This an exercise in, as Lisa Brooks has phrased it, “reclaiming Native space.” Stories are told, changed, omitted, discarded, forgotten, fabricated. But they are all still here,  responsive to those who will listen – this is the land where they originate – they are of this landscape. Indeed, indigeneity is expressed as that which is original to a place – in fact, inseparable from it – and they are the aspects, be they human or other-than-human, that define it, with its complex relationships, as distinct.

Some of these traces may lead in several directions. Others may circle back and overlap. Still others may open up into a network of connections as yet unseen. Together, they can help to re-imagine, restore, reclaim, and revitalize what it means to “be this place.” The Sokwakiak Abenaki are the original people of this place. These understandings are for/with/of/from them – the Aln8bak, their ancestors, their allies, and all of their relations.  Kchi wliwni – with great thanks. K’wlibaamkani – good travels for you.