Presentation Discusses Native Relationship with Connecticut River

chief roger longtoe sheehan northfield ma crc

Though the seventh day of the Connecticut River Conservancy’s From Source to Sea journey didn’t go quite as planned, no one seemed to mind. A presentation was meant to be on the water, but organizers say the new boat was not certified by the Coast Guard in time for the event. So instead, the group held the presentation at the Northfield Mountain Recreation Center’s picnic area on the shore of the Connecticut River.

Roger Longtoe, Rich Holschuh and David Brule all spoke during the one and a half hour event on Sunday afternoon. Longtoe and Holschuh are from the Elnu Abenaki tribe out of Vermont, and Brule is the president of the local Nolumbeka project, a non-tribal Native American organization that promotes education on Native issues.

All three men discussed how their tribes and organizations intersect with the river. Longtoe discussed its previous use as a “grocery store” where local tribes were able to get fish, as well as the areas along the river that were used as camps and meeting places between local tribes. “It’s a place where you gather, come and eat, and they’ve been doing this for a very long time,” he said.

Holschuh talked about the Abenaki language and how it relates to the indigenous culture around the area. Brule discussed more recent events and history around the river.

Andrew Fisk, executive director of the Conservancy, said incorporating Native American viewpoints into the ongoing work on the river has been helpful. He said the Conservancy’s main job is to listen and understand other points of view. “This has been incredibly informative for us, to listen and hear about how they see the river,” he said.

Fisk said the goal is to continue to celebrate the river and tackle the challenges surrounding it, especially related to the dams along the river and ensuring there is a smaller ecological footprint left behind.

The From Source to Sea journey began on July 16 and ends on July 30. It started at the mouth of the river, Fourth Connecticut Lake and will end at the Long Island Sound.

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Elnu Abenaki Tribe: Native Americans Present Local History

roger longtoe sheehan elnu northfield history day

The Abenaki are here. They exist. And yet, they still live in a reality where not everyone is aware of that. But that is changing, slowly, but it is changing, said Joe Graveline, a member of the Northfield Historical Commission.

“They are having a renaissance, a rebirth in understanding their heritage,” he said. “They are finding their voice.”

A better understanding not only of the history of the Abenaki people but their place in the here and now — is just one of the many reasons why living history events like the one the Northfield Historical Commission is sponsoring this weekend are so important, Graveline said.

Read the full article in the Brattleboro Reformer. Two previous posts on Sokoki Sojourn reference Greenfield Recorder articles about the same event (here and here). Unfortunately, this well-written article ran a week too late. The Northfield event had already been held the previous weekend, on June 11, 2017.

Also, one correction, with respect to the quote “Among the Abenaki people, who made their homes in the Connecticut River Valley of what is now New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, were the Sokoki and a smaller, related band called the Squakheags — both members of the larger Abenaki nation.” These are, in fact, the same people. A simple linguistic comparison between Squakheag and Sokwakik (Sokoki, in today’s usage) makes that clear. More on that soon…

Afternoon Encampment Teaches Pre-Colonial History

bryan blanchette northfield history day

Residents of Northfield and the surrounding area spent Sunday afternoon at the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center, learning more about pre-colonial and Native American traditions and customs from the Connecticut River Valley.

Those who attended the afternoon encampment listened to songs and stories while browsing crafts. It was an interactive event where Elnu Abenaki tribal leaders presented to the group, told stories, and answered questions about pre-colonial times in the Pioneer Valley. The event was hosted by the Northfield Historical Commission.

Elnu Abenaki Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan and Bryan Blanchette both presented during the event, which ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and about 50 [ed. note: closer to 100] people attended on Sunday.

Read the full article by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

roger longtoe sheehan elnu northfield history day

Abenaki Lifeways Focus of Northfield’s Day of History on Sunday

elnu abenaki northfield squakheag living history

Residents will get a taste of local Native American history Sunday, as members of the Abenaki tribe recreate the mid-17th century lives of their ancestors as part of Northfield’s Day of History. The Day of History, organized almost every year by the Northfield Historical Commission, serves to raise awareness of the commission while teaching residents about the town’s history, according to Historical Commission Chairwoman Carol Lebo.

In recent years, the commission has offered a home and garden tour, an exploration of 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody’s birthplace and a history-oriented walk down Highland Avenue. But Lebo said the commission wanted to try something new this year. “Up until recently, the Historical Commission has been mostly interested in colonial history,” she said. “More recently we’ve become more interested in pre-colonial history and in archaeology … We decided this year that we’d sort of go back to earlier history.”

Through connections to different bands of the Abenaki tribe, the commission was able to arrange for members of the Elnu band to offer a re-enactment Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside of the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center.

Read the full article by Shelby Ashline in the Greenfield Recorder.

FirstLight’s River Erosion Study for FERC Relicensure Contested

ct-river-turners-falls-northfield-impoundment

The Franklin Regional Planning Board and the Connecticut River Streambank Erosion Committee have responded formally to a study that largely clears Northfield Mountain pumped storage project of blame for river bank erosion. The response to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about FirstLight’s operation of the hydroelectric project criticizes the methodology used and arguments made in the study, which was submitted in September. The study is part of a relicensing application for hydroelectric plants along the river.

That study concludes that the hydroelectric facility is responsible for only 4 percent of the erosion caused along the banks in the 20-mile river segment between the Turners Falls and Vernon, Vt. dams. “Despite this extensive scientific literature, FirstLight claims that most of the erosion in the Turners Falls Impoundment (TFI) is due to the ‘natural’ erosion that happens during high flows in an undammed, unregulated river. FirstLight goes so far as to draw comparisons between the erosion in the TFI and erosion seen in ‘natural alluvial’ rivers in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.”

Full story by Richie Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

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Observations: The combined operational impacts of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage and the Turners Falls Hydroelectric Projects, utilizing what is known as the Turners Falls Impoundment (TFI) on the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River, contributes to the accelerated erosion of the banks for 20 miles. Effects upon this entire stretch of the river are highly sensitive for the Sokwakiak Abenaki people and their ancestors; it is the heart of the lower Sokoki homelands, today’s Northfield, MA being the derivative of the Native settlement known to the British settlers as Squakheag. Both sides of the Kwanitekw – from the site of the Vernon dam south to the corresponding Turners Falls structure – were occupied for millennia before the arrival of the Europeans (as well as areas further north, above the TFI). The landscape remains sacred to the People, a part of the collective cultural consciousness, with sacred sites, stone structures, burials, and long-established relationships embodied within the land and water. The constant raising and lowering of the river’s surface level due to daily operations of the Projects, unlike a natural alluvial river system, is accelerating the destruction and loss of this ancient homeland, and compromising the relationships necessary for the community’s vitality.

 

A Long Time Ago in Brattleboro

Worth sharing in its entirety: this post by Lise LePage appeared on iBrattleboro.com last month, amidst the effort to make a change from Columbus day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in Brattleboro. She used the occasion to give a synopsis of her personal research over the years into the pre-contact and early contact history between the Sokwakiak and the first British settlers. For those unfamiliar with the details of that first clash of cultures in what we now call Vermont, it’s a good look at a quintessential example of colonialism at work right here. Original link here.

Brattleboro Celebrates First Indigenous Peoples Day

By Lise | Sun, October 09 2016

It’s not often that something happens that cries out to be corrected and then, in a matter of days, it is.  I’m not talking about Vermont’s GMO law either (which Congress mooted within the month) – no, I’m talking about Indigenous Peoples Day which has been proposed, here and elsewhere, as a less racist and more fair alternative to traditional Columbus Day.  Unfortunately, honoring native American people was not something the Selectboard could get its collective mind around and Indigenous Peoples Day lost here in Brattleboro by a vote of 2-3.  But just when you thought all was lost, along comes Governor Shumlin with a state-wide proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day, signed, sealed, and delivered.  What do you know, we get to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day after all.

This is a good thing.  We should celebrate the native people of our country – for starters, we’re sitting on their land. In fact, the first beachhead established by the British settlers in the Brattleboro area was on the site of a Squakeag village situated on the Hinsdale side of the Connecticut just above the Vernon Dam.  Ironically, Fort Dummer was established to control the Indians moving up and down the river, especially those raiding the English villages further south.

Before the English got here, the Squakeag  (southernmost branch of the Abenaki) were the inhabitants of the land from Brattleboro down to Northfield, Massachusetts.  It was a good place to live – abundant beaver and salmon along the waterways, decent land for cultivation, and best of all, maple sugar in the spring.  The Squakeag apparently loved to sugar – it was the one activity that brought the whole family of men, women, and children, young and old together.  Then as now, people like a sweet treat.

There’s an anecdote published in Thomas St. John’s Brattleboro History Scrapbook that suggests that the area around the Retreat Meadows might once have been a regular gathering place for native people.  According to Rev. Jedidiah L. Stark of West Brattleboro (writing in the 1830s), unspecified native people used to come here and dance in the meadow above where the Retreat Farm used to be.  According to Mr. Stark, the circle was so compacted from the weight of those many dancing feet that it remained visible and free of vegetation years after the Indians stopped coming.

Another indicator that Brattleboro’s Retreat Meadows was at the least a notable location for native people are the pictograms found carved in the rocks around the Meadows.  Surely there was a reason to mark this spot so strategically located at the confluence of two rivers.  Perhaps (I surmise) people came through here often on their way to other places and stopped to camp (and perhaps dance) here.  It would make sense.  The first lasting  settlement in Brattleboro by an English person* was Arms Tavern, an inn and stagecoach stop, located where the Retreat Farm buildings are now.   One marvels at the coincidence.

Native people made one of their last visits to our area in the 1850s when an elderly chieftain made his final visit to Bellows Falls.  He and his people had made summer visits for generations, and the old chief wanted to be buried with his ancestors.  As autumn turned to winter, he passed away and was buried by his sons, who then traveled back to Canada never to return.  The Indians who visited Bellows Falls had long since ceased to be scary and local residents looked forward to their arrival each spring.  It was a sad year when Bellows Falls realized that their Indian visitors would not be coming back.

Today, many descendants of the Squakeag band live in the St. Francis area of Canada where they were driven in the aftermath of King Philip’s War.  Others still live here in Vermont, assimilated under English names, partly in self defense.  We can’t alter the past, but here in the present we can take one small step toward owning that past.  Happy Indigenous People’s Day, everyone!

*The first less lasting settlement was located in the exact same location, a homestead built by Captain Fairbanks Moore for himself and his family.  Unfortunately, he and his son were both killed in an Indian raid soon after taking up residence there, and the remaining Moores, after being redeemed from captivity, moved away.

Sokoki Sojourn and the Turners Falls Indians Debate

connecticut-river-sokwakik-map-brooks

The mid-Connecticut River valley, showing the traditional homelands of the Sokwakiak Abenaki (the Sokoki), known as Sokwakik (labelled in the center), south below Koasek to Peskeompskut (today’s Turners Falls). Map from Lisa Brooks’ The Common Pot: the Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (2008).

Why would Sokoki Sojourn concern itself with the current discussion around the implications of maintaining or changing the Turners Falls Indians athletic mascot? As the social, cultural, ethical, and historical implications will be examined thoroughly in the ongoing media coverage (archived here), I would simply like to make the connection, geographically and personally, with several simple observations.

To the immediate north of what is now called Turners Falls, named after British colonial Captain William Turner, but known beforehand as Peskeompskut, lies the homeland of the Western Abenaki. Gill, Northfield, Bernardston, Vernon, Hinsdale, Brattleboro, and many other nearby towns, heading northward, lie upon this ancestral landscape and, due to their continuing presence, within the selfhood of the indigenous people.  The people of this land were and are called the Sokwakiak (today’s Sokoki), meaning “the people who were set apart or who separated.” The linguistic and historical connection  can be seen and heard clearly in the early European settler’s name for Northfield: Squakheag. This is an Anglicized derivation from the Abenaki name for the region, Sokwakik.

The people of this land were most certainly present at Capt. Turner’s dawn raid upon the sleeping fishing village on May 19, 1676. They were the de facto hosts at this peacefully neutral encampment, receiving their Algonquian cousins and political allies in Metacom’s Uprising (King Philip’s War): the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, the Nipmuck, the Pocumtuck, and no doubt members of other similarly disenfranchised Tribes. Hundreds died that day – primarily children, women, and elders – and the lives of the communities were never the same again. Which, really, brings us up to today: this is why Sokoki Sojourn has taken up the mantle. The story continues and there can be no peace without justice, no honor without truth.