Kwenitekw – The Long Story

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It is a traditional understanding that Creation is continual – the only constant is change. What we see now was once something else, and what may come afterward will only be known when it is here. All that we encounter is made of the same substances… combining, recombining, transitioning, growing, fading. It has all “always been here” and it is still here. We are each a part of everything else in this whole we call Creation, in a very pragmatic manner, and even now there is change underway: things will be different afterward but Creation continues.

To state that something is “exactly this or that” is to not see the situation as it truly manifests itself. This is the mind of separation and objectification – the illusion of control – which, after all, is the process of colonization, and the (literal) force that has been and is having a great effect upon our existence here on this Earth. When we step out of a recognition that we are in a continually evolving relationship with everything around us, we move away from balance and toward increasing disarray and dysfunction. We are no longer fulfilling our roles and responsibilities.

We see the world in part, for at least several reasons. Internally, our individual life lessons color our experience; in other words, we can only understand the world in terms of what we already know of it, and if we encounter something unfamiliar, we either learn from that moment, or not. Externally, our cultures frame our worldview; they provide the tools, including language, by which we make meaning and interpret our intersections with our surroundings. And, on a practical, material level, our degree of perspective is necessarily limited by both the physical location at which we are situated, and by how much attention we devote to the moment. We see what is before us, if we are present there and then, using our full senses – and those need not be limited to the basic five. There are many ways to be “sense-itive.”

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All of this suggests that there are multiple, equally valid experiences of existence – many ways of being – and all of these entities are experiencing each other at the same time. There are layers of relationship, always in motion and shifting, seen and unseen, moving between forms and effects, all present at once and energized by the Spirit within. There is no “one objective way of being,” since all is in constant flux and centered on the interactions of that moment. This is not license for carelessness and anarchy, but a call to recognition and responsibility.

This is an Indigenous view of the world. This is why Place is so important. These interactions and overlapping realities are shaped by the ways that the entities of a particular place are relating to each other, in the moment – they are present, together, in that Place. In any other location, there would be necessarily be a different set of actors, interacting in different ways. The dictionary definition of an Indigenous person is “ the original people of a place.” The critical characteristic here is the landscape within which the People (and every other entity there) are connected; the Place is the lens through which they define themselves. They, and the Place, are the same thing. It is no accident that the Abenaki word “tôni” means both “where” and “how.” The setting matters that much.

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Quite often, this is the way that Aln8ba8dwaw8gan (the Western Abenaki language) works… A word may evoke more than one meaning at the same time, since there is more than one possible reality, and the language allows for that. A term may have a direct, descriptive significance, and at the same time it may make a metaphorical reference. It can be a launching point for a deeper exploration of significance or suggestion, totemic for an entire story or understanding. That the language structure itself is polysynthetic – combining smaller, individual root words, known as morphemes, to add inflection – means that a single word can express a complex concept.

This is the case with Kwenitekw (KWEN- ee – took – uh, the last syllable almost voiceless), the Abenaki word for today’s Connecticut River. On a pragmatic level, it is usually taken to mean “Long River”. The two morphemes that impart inflection in this word are “kwen-” and “-tekw”, with the “i“ connector. “Kwen-“ is an adjectival modifier suggesting extended length and usually translated as “long” or “tall”, a spatial dimension. And “-tekw” is a bound suffix, used for water in the form of rivers, tides, and waves. At first examination, this results in the straightforward “Long River.” And it is a long river – the longest in the region – flowing southward over 400 miles, from the eponymous series of Connecticut Lakes at the US/Quebec border to the Atlantic Ocean at Long Island Sound. But it doesn’t stop there.

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It has been said that the Abenaki did not focus on the idea of the River as an object unto itself, a stand-alone geographical feature. Of course, in the grand web of inter-relatedness, it certainly is not. Rather, it is a unifying presence, a vast watery web of connections, drawing together the rainfall, snowpack, brooks, ponds, vernal pools, marshes and swamps, and tributaries of an 11,260-square-mile watershed. Where today we see a dividing boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire, the Kwenitekw is more inherently the central heart of a vast community of communities, the Abenaki homeland of Ndakinna.

The Abenaki (and the Wabanaki, by extension) see themselves as river-centric people, using the place-based paradigm of indigeneity, applied to their various dwelling places in the lush, well-watered mountains of the Northeast. Scholar Lisa Brooks makes mention of this in her relation of the Native leader Polis, who lived on the Presumpscot River in the early 18th century. When he travelled to Boston, protesting colonial abuse and usurpation of the Presumpscot, he referred to it as “n’sibo” – “the river to which I belong.” Each band of Abenaki people had their own river, or other body of water, each with its own associated name – which typically became their name for themselves as well. The tributaries of the Kwenitekw provide examples: Wantastekw, Ammonoosuc, Ashuelot, Mascoma, Ompompanoosuc, Nulhegan, Pocumtuk. These places (often at confluences) were centers unto themselves, a network of relations connected by the River, but also by kinship, trade, culture, diplomacy, seasonal gathering, and more, down through the generations.

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By allowing these cultural understandings to illuminate underlying concepts of the two constituent morphemes, the name Kwenitekw can evoke something much more encompassing and suggestive than simply Long River. “Kweni-” can also suggest “duration”, as in a continuance – a length of space/time. An ongoing, sustained series of connected moments: a story line. A cognate, perhaps, to what the Aboriginal People of the Australian continent call a dreaming track or a songline. And the suffix “-tekw” more closely means means “flow” as in “water in dynamic motion” – thus, it is used for rivers, tides, and waves – but not lakes, ponds, and bays. Rather, it is water as the essence of life – moving and shifting, transitioning from one place to another – it is imbued with power.

So, while Kwenitekw can be seen to express the “Long River” as a rather straightforward toponym, it can also describe an expansive concept. In sentence form, it might be expressed as “a continuous, connecting flow of spirit-power in transition.” One might think of it as an Abenaki expansion of the expression attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus “No man ever steps in the same river twice…” When this broadened perspective is absorbed, it begins to inform many other concerns, such as relationship, change, presence, responsibility and balance, to suggest a few. This is the way of it.

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This essay appeared online in the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum blog on March 25, 2020. I encourage you to visit them, in Warner, NH, when you have an opportunity.

The Other Side of Plymouth Rock

david brule joe graveline nolumbeka river stories

“…Native Americans in the Valley and elsewhere in New England are looking at the [Plymouth] 400th anniversary through a different lens. For them, Plymouth Colony was the opening chapter of a far grimmer story, one in which regional tribes would be stricken by European diseases such as smallpox, forced from their land, and finally decimated by the violence of King Philip’s War in 1675-1676. It’s a fraught memorial, much like 2019, which marked 400 years since the introduction of African slaves to North America.”

Read the full story in The Recorder.

Podcast: David Brule on River Stories 2020

david brule river stories podcast valley advocate

David Brule, president of the Nolumbeka Project, based in Greenfield, speaks about a series focusing on Native Americans in the Valley. The series, which will consist of about a dozen events, is in part a response to this year’s Plymouth 400 observance, which is more focused on white settlers and the 1620 Plymouth Rock landing by the Pilgrims.

Check out the podcast at the article link.

Field Research for Battle of Great Falls/Wissantinnewag-Peskeomskut Continues

battlefield study recorder

“This year is the fifth year, and third phase, of the grant, which has studied the event of May 19, 1676, the Battle of Great Falls/Wissantinnewag-Peskeomskut that took place during King Philip’s War.

The Battlefield Grant Advisory Board — composed of the Aquinnah Wampanoag, the Chaubunagungamaug Band of Nipmuck Indians, the Elnu Abenaki and the Narragansett Indian Tribe, as well as historical commissioners from Montague, Greenfield, Gill, Northfield and Deerfield — have been meeting monthly over the past five years, coordinating this battlefield study of the complex massacre and counter-attack in 1676 that has marked the region over the subsequent centuries.

“Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey said one of the unique aspects of this study is the involvement of Native Americans. “We have a balanced approach to our research. We are working with different tribes of Native Americans that can inform history,” Ramsey said. “Because previously, all we had was the history written by the colonists.”

Brule added that by working with many people on the study, it’s enriched with more perspectives. “We’ve had one perspective for so long. Now this study is overseen and monitored by tribes that have a voice,” Brule said. “They are also being compensated for their expertise.”

Read the full article by Melina Bordeau at The [Greenfield] Recorder here.

Nebi, Abenaki Ways of Knowing Water

A just-released short film by Vince Franke of Peregrine Productions, LLC, created to support the watershed education programs of Lake Champlain Sea Grant, UVM Extension, the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and to help preserve these stories for the Abenaki and others. Funding was provided by NOAA, Sea Grant, and an anonymous donor.

Centering on Bitawbagw/Lake Champlain and then water in general, the film is a series of interviews with people in the Native community expressing their understanding of  being in relationship with life-giving water. Each story teller provides their own unique interpretation; I was honored to participate in this group effort with Chief Don Stevens, Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief Eugene Rich, Melody Brook, Lucy Cannon Neel, Cody Hemenway, Morgan Lamphere, Bea Nelson, Fred Wiseman, and Kerry Wood.

#WaterIsLife

Direct link to Vimeo here.

The Commons: The American Myth of Thanksgiving, from Green Mountain Mornings

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Brattleboro, VT and Windham County’s independent weekly newspaper “The Commons” (editor Jeff Potter) published a transcript of the previous week’s interview with Olga Peter’s at WKVT’s Green Mountain Mornings show. The interview itself was posted at Sokoki Sojourn here.

Transcript article here.

From the sidebar:
This interview is adapted from the Nov. 15 broadcast of Green Mountain Mornings on WINQ-AM (formerly WKVT) and is published with the station’s permission. Host Olga Peters was for many years the senior reporter at The Commons and now writes for the paper part-time. The show airs daily from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. To hear audio of this show on demand (podcast), visit the show’s Soundcloud page at soundcloud.com/wkvtradio.

Burlington Free Press: Abenaki Heritage Weekend Coming Up

abenaki heritage weekend drumming lcmm

Join the Abenaki community on June 23 and June 24 at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum near Vergennes for a weekend of family fun and cultural sharing that is deeply rooted in local Native American heritage.

Organized by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association with members of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk, Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation, Missisquoi Abenaki Tribe and guest artists, the event is designed to give visitors an Indigenous perspective on life in the Champlain Valley both past and present.

Activities will include drumming, storytelling, craft and cooking demonstrations, an Arts Marketplace, and presentations by guest artists including Black Hawk Singers Drum Group, and Jesse Bruchac telling stories in Abenaki and English, accompanied by flute and drum.

See the full story in the Burlington Free Press.

Leah Fury: What’s In a Name? History, Violence and Agency

A powerful commentary piece in Vermont Digger April 2, 2018 (read full article):

While doing research on my family genealogy, I learned that my late grandfather, a child of German Jews, was born with the middle name Adolph. I knew that his family had changed their last name from Slawitsky as his father, my great-grandfather, faced insurmountable anti-Semitism while serving in the U.S. military against the German Nazis due to his surname. What I didn’t know was that when making the anglicized legal switch from Slawitsky to Lawton, the family had also changed my grandfather’s middle name from Adolph to Tilden, defiantly distancing him from a dangerous oppressor while assimilating to avoid discrimination. While I do grieve the loss that my family suffered through the assimilation of our last name, I also celebrate the agency that allowed my grandfather to feel liberation from one of the most despicable practitioners of violence and hate. The name Tilden was passed on to his own son, and just a month ago my cousin gave the name to her newborn son, his great-grandson who he did not live to meet.

Here in Vermont we have an unfortunate history of refusing individuals their agency that has played out from the first time that European settlers arrived, simultaneously and paradoxically denying both the presence and the humanity of the Western Abenaki. Since that relatively recent arrival, the Abenaki have survived genocide taking the forms of land theft, property destruction, mass murder, scalping and more – insult after injury after insult after injury. The forced sterilization of Abenaki en mass in the 1930s and early ‘40s via the Vermont Eugenics Survey is only one of the more recent manifestations of this genocide… (see link above for balance)

With Nolumbeka at GCC: Christine DeLucia’s Memory Lands

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A powerful study of King Philip’s War and its enduring effects on histories, memories, and places in Native New England from 1675 to the present.

“A brilliant exploration of the interweaving of past, present, and future, Memory Lands casts a fresh light on the maelstrom of violence known as King Philip’s War. The landscape of New England will never look the same after reading this important and haunting book” – Karl Jacoby, author of Shadows at Dawn: A Borderlands Massacre and the Violence of History

Noted historian Christine DeLucia offers a major reconsideration of the violent seventeenth-century conflict in northeastern America known as “King Philip’s War,” providing an alternative to “Pilgrim-centric” narratives that have conventionally dominated the histories of colonial New England. DeLucia grounds her study of one of the most devastating conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers in early America in five specific places that were directly affected by the crisis, spanning the Northeast as well as the Atlantic World. She examines the war’s effects on the everyday lives and collective mentalities of the region’s diverse Native and Euro-American communities over the course of several centuries, focusing on persistent struggles over land and water, sovereignty, resistance, cultural memory, and intercultural interactions. An enlightening work that draws from oral traditions, archival traces, material and visual culture, archaeology, literature, and environmental studies, this study reassesses the nature and enduring legacies of a watershed historical event.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Christine M. DeLucia
is assistant professor of history at Mount Holyoke College. She grew up in Amoskeag/Manchester, New Hampshire, and presently lives in South Hadley, Massachusetts, in the heart of the Kwinitekw/Connecticut River Valley.

Praise for MEMORY LANDS:
“Having tromped through woods, swamps, and widely-flung archives, Christine DeLucia has produced a powerfully poetic study of the dynamic, frequently conflicting meanings of Indigenous and settler memoryscapes in New England.”
—Jean M. O’Brien, author of Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England
“A remarkable ‘reopening’ of the history of New England. Christine DeLucia turns our attention to the ‘memoryscapes’ in our midst, demanding reconsideration of the markers, monuments, objects and placeworlds that memorialize King Philip’s War, alongside the processes that alternatively repress and recover Indigenous histories of survivance.”
—Lisa Brooks, author of The Common Pot: the Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast

‘Our Beloved Kin’ and ‘Memory Lands’ Review: On the Trail of a Lost Northeast

Native Americans called the place Wôpanâak, or “the land where the sun is born every day.” The colonists called it New England, or “the English Israel which is seated in these goings down of the Sun.” Where the sun comes up or where it goes down, or as far east as a native person could conceive or as far west as a European could imagine, the large cosmic view or the small human perception: Perspective is everything in telling history, especially stories about war.

As Jill Lepore argued in “The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” (1998), even the choice of what to call the conflict was fraught, and not just because it was imposed by the English winners. “King Philip” was a title the government of Plymouth colony bestowed, partly in derision, on the Wampanoag sachem Metacom (though he sometimes used it for himself). To personalize the conflict with a presumed leader’s name ignores the complex politics among often rivalrous Algonquian-speaking peoples, and makes the war a matter of a single man’s grievances rather than a result of political oppression and economic dispossession. King Philip becomes a literary type, the tragic vanishing Indian, the man who—like Tecumseh or Crazy Horse—epitomizes a savage (or is it noble?) way of life doomed to be replaced by a civilized (or is it savage?) European modernity.

This mythic view of Philip took shape in histories crafted after the war by clergymen such as Increase Mather and by military commanders (and land speculators) such as Benjamin Church. And it more subtly entrenched itself through the one book by a participant in King Philip’s War still read today, the captivity narrative of Mary Rowlandson, a Puritan clergyman’s wife whose account of her ordeals Mather shepherded to publication. Rowlandson’s work made the war a divine drama in which native people figure primarily as a test of a colonist’s religious perseverance, and hence of the perseverance needed for a settler society to replace Native Americans. Mythic Philip becomes a small contributor to a larger saga.

OUR BELOVED KIN

By Lisa Brooks

Yale, 431 pages, $35

MEMORY LANDS

By Christine M. DeLucia

Yale, 469 pages, $40

Two new books explore a very different view of the Anglo-Indian struggle. Lisa Brooks, a prominent scholar who teaches at Amherst College, offers “Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War.” Christine DeLucia, once Ms. Brooks’s student at Harvard and now an assistant professor at Mount Holyoke, gives us “Memory Lands: King Philip’s War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast.” Each book eschews grand narratives of European conquest and indigenous disappearance in favor of approaches that emphasize intimate scales and native points of view. Each deeply researched volume intensely focuses on specific localities—Ms. Brooks calls them “place-worlds,” Ms. DeLucia “memoryscapes”—that the author has personally walked and rewalked, contemplating what happened and continues to happen there.

These are not spots outsiders—or even insiders—will necessarily find resonant. “Never heard of King Philip’s war,” a Rhode Islander told a late-19th-century journalist searching for the sight of one battle, “guess you’re mistaken about a battle ever having been fought in this neighborhood.” As this exchange quoted by Ms. DeLucia reveals, keeping one’s distracted eyes open for larger meanings when an enthralled author delves into small details can be a tall order.

Read the full review by Daniel K. Richter in the Wall Street Journal.