The Turners Falls Indians: Not Your Mascot

turners-falls-indians-graphic

Another showdown is brewing at Peskeompskut, at the southern edge of Sokwakik and just a few miles down the Kwanitekw. Below are links to the breaking story from area media this week:

http://www.recorder.com/Turners-Falls-Indian-Mascot-4718496

http://www.recorder.com/Mascot-review-sparks-petition-4745616

http://www.westernmassnews.com/story/33096260/turners-falls-considers-changing-mascot

The Gill-Montague Regional School District is considering a proposal for a review process of the Turners Falls High School Indians mascot. A draft of the review procedure was heard at the Committee’s Tuesday (Sept. 13, 2016) meeting; in reaction, a Change.org petition was begun the next day by those opposed to the considering the change.

Lew Collins, an alumni, is quoted as saying “…he views the mascot as a show of respect, not as something derogatory.”  “It really hurt that something like this could be taken away,” Collins said. “Everything we have, all of our traditions, could be pulled out from under us.”

This is practically a dictionary definition of entitlement… Whose traditions were (and are) summarily removed? It is a measure of the distance from the true nature of this situation that the usurpation becomes the defense. It is hardly even necessary to point out that the mascot graphic itself, rather than paying “homage to the Native American Men and Women who died as a result of the King Philip’s War,’ is a stereotypical portrayal of generic Plains culture regalia – the “ideal American Indian”. It bears no resemblance to the material culture of the indigenous peoples of the mid-Connecticut River valley: the Pocumtuk, the Nipmuk, the Nonotuck, and the Sokwakiak, and their allies present at the 1676 massacre, among them the Wampanoag and Narragansett. This is no tribute; it is a continuation of appropriation, exploitation, marginalization, and denial. Time for a reality check. The times they are a-changin’.

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There Are No Unsacred Places

sokwakik-great-bend-vernon-vt

This story and article reported by Howard Weiss-Tisman appeared yesterday on Vermont Public Radio: To Fill Void Left By Vermont Yankee, Vernon Looks For New Energy Projects.

Sokwakik, Squakheag, Great Bend, Cooper’s Point, Vernon Dam, Vermont Yankee…

Once again, I am struck with the antithetical values and legacies embodied in this place, so close to home. It’s almost hard to comprehend. It hurts.

Looking ahead, this toxicity will be with us for a long, long time, essentially forever: the land is basically condemned, which is a chilling sentence. Looking back just as far, essentially forever, most people have no idea what Vermont Yankee (and the Vernon hydro complex) is sitting upon… Once a favored and sacred fishing place, with small villages surrounded by corn fields, Native people have lived and died here for thousands of years. The people and the land were one, not separated. It is still a very special place, although sullied and scarred.

I think again of Wendell Berry’s words: “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”

Recognizing the Symbolic Power of Words

sokoki falls brockways mills gorge vt

A bid to honor the Sokoki people within their homeland by naming the set of waterfalls on the Williams River at Brockways Mills, Vermont as Sokoki Falls has made substantial progress. Approved by the Vermont State Board of Libraries, the designation must now pass muster with the Federal government, an action which is expected to be in agreement with the local decision (article here).

“The majority of what is known as the State of Vermont has been, and remains, Abenaki traditional homelands. Specifically, the indigenous people in the central Connecticut River valley and its environs are known as the Sokwakiak Abenaki, or Sokoki. Over many millennia of occupation, all of the natural topography became intimately known and was referenced in the native tongue, Aln8baodwaw8gan (Western Abenaki). In the process of, and as an integral aspect of, colonization by European settlers and their several governments, the vast majority of the terrain was renamed. While some of the original references have survived, many (including this instance) have been lost – but it is important to acknowledge both that heritage and the actions that have displaced it. Recognizing that words have power, and that exercises in toponymy have an effect far beyond simple words on a map, it is appropriate to consider these choices carefully.”

The First Person Born in the State of Vermont

john sergeant grave marker locust ridge

“Sacred to the memory of Colo. John Sergeant Who departed this life July 30th 1798 in the sixty sixth year of his age. Who now lies in the same town he was born & was the first person born in the state of Vermont.”
This grave marker stands in the Locust Ridge Cemetery,  in the north end of Brattleboro, Vermont. Once known as the Sergeant Cemetery, it is near the former farms of the Sergeant brothers, John and Thomas. This was land that their father Lt. John (Sr.), who was part of the garrison at Fort Dummer, was granted following his petition in 1738, long before it was considered “safe” to settle – it was described as all of the land between the West and Connecticut Rivers north to the Dummerston line. This area of town was known, quite literally, as “West River.” Son John was born within the walls of Fort Dummer in 1732, when that northernmost British outpost on the Connecticut River had been standing 8 years. Brother Thomas followed about 1734. Many descendants of these Sergeant siblings (also Sargent/Sergent/ Sargeant) lived on the farms and nearby afterward.
Col. John Sergeant has often been cited as being the “first person” (read white or Anglo-Saxon) born in what later became the State of Vermont and this is the claim made by his epitaph. However, other information shows clearly that the first British child born (at Fort Dummer) was Major Timothy Dwight in 1726, son of the commander, Lt. Timothy Dwight, and father of a third Timothy Dwight, who became President of Yale University.
The point being: all of this is to ignore, and dismiss, the thousand generations of indigenous Abenakiak and their ancestors, who have been in and of this land for millennia. They were here when the new people appeared and they are still here.
Askwa n’daoldibna iodali – we are still here. #ReclaimingWantastegok #3

Let the Light Flow

brook ledge opening stoned up

Hidden behind a mountain high above Wantastegok, a small brook drains a forgotten swamp lush with high-bush cranberry, chickadees, and sphagnum moss. Secreted beyond the forested ridgeline, hemmed with mountain laurel and hemlocks, the clear amber water seeps through the roots and fallen leaves, and gathers into a narrow crease as it seeks a way to the Kwanitekw below. Dikes of schist ledge rise in its downward path, nudging it here and there, slow and now fast, as the pull of gravity leads it toward the great river in the valley. One such ledge offered an opportune notch toward the goal of confluence, but someone, long ago, saw a better moment nearby. Stones were laid into the gap, diverting the flow a few feet further south toward another opening, where a vein of pure white quartz crossed the bedrock.

brook white quartz flow

The water coursed over the bright light of the stone, continuing on its journey, the same flow but now infused with caring and energy. Still it moves down the mountain, many hundreds of lives later, following its destiny and carrying the intentions of an ancient heart and sharing the gift with all of its relations.

#ReclaimingWantastegok #2

An Establishment for the Indian Dance

algonquian dance circle

“Indians Dancing Around a Circle of Posts” by John White (1585-1586)

An integral part of this place, here in Wantastegok (Brattleboro):

I have also been told, that among the broken hills back of where Joseph Goodhue now lives, was to be seen, not long after the commencement of the settlement of this town by civilized people, the remains of an establishment for the Indian dance. A circle trodden hard, so hard that it refused vegetation, was distinctly marked, and a substantial post was standing in the centre, with holes in the earth around it, supposed to be places for fire.

From “Lecture on the Early Settlement of Brattleboro” by Rev. Jedediah L. Stark (May, 1832)

Pieces of the past, to be woven back into the fabric of our lives in this land. #ReclaimingWantastegok #1