On a Hillside

cupules guilford large center hole

A compilation of some information about anthropic holes created in native rock, for future learning about the ways of ‘being here.’

Pictured above are cupules, which are circular man-made hollows on the surface of a rock or a rock slab, in a bedrock deposit of local Waits River marble. The holes are in a vertically-split slab of the formation, which is a common sight here lying in beds running north-south some distance west of the Connecticut River. It is very soft and easy to carve, and always covered with a heavy growth of moss and lichen, because of the high calcium levels. It weathers to dark brown.

While Waits River marble is easily eroded, and often assumes the most fantastic shapes because of this weathering – I’m quite familiar with it in this region – these holes look to me to be human creations. My first thought was bullet holes, given its exposed flat face, but there is no shatter as would be expected. They are rather deliberate cup-shaped depressions, with well-defined edges. As a first impression, I noted that there was a cluster of three, encircled by a rough ring of other holes, about 270 degrees around (not quite a full circle). There are a couple other single holes that don’t seem to fit a pattern, at first blush.

Here’s a Wikipedia article on the subject. The article is generalized and worldwide; practices would necessarily differ depending on the associated place-based culture. It is my understanding – very incomplete, but expanding – in this landscape (Sokwakik/Sokoki country) that these creations are a product of ceremony, a direct accessing of knowledge held inside the rock, and centered only in certain locations. It is a form of petroglyph, which function similarly. As I understand, each hole is a symbolic entrance into the underworld/spiritworld and the past, to facilitate transfer of power into the present through the intermediation of a medicine person.

cupules guilford close up

I am still learning how to understand these ways, in this specific landscape. The evidence of these actions is, I feel, necessarily place-based and not randomly transferable, at will. While there are some generally applicable explanations for the methodologies (the how/what), it is much more challenging to understand the reasons they are focused in discrete areas (the why/who/when). Certain people went to certain places at certain times for certain reasons. What makes these places a destination? What are the associations that create the recognition that these are places of certain power?

These are not the only rock carvings in the area. There is another site a couple thousand feet away. The prospect from here is roughly east to southeast, on a slight hillside, looking across a small valley with a sizable brook. I happen to be aware from research that the first Euro settler in this town established himself nearby, in the valley immediately below; that is usually a significant clue that the area was known as significant and utilized in some manner. As a matter of course, there is a Native trail passing nearby.

Various scholars have undertaken to study this practice, with all of the usual differences in approach and conclusions. Some probably draw closer to the sources than others. An entire conference was organized in the last decade around cupules. Here are two papers from that conference’s presentations:

The Interpretation of cupules by Robert G. Bednarik

The ambiguity of depressions in rock art by Maarten van Hoek

 

 

Can You Hear It?

first harris hill ski jump

From Brattleboro Historical Society’s Facebook Page today, the caption: Feb. 4, 1922 the ski jump on Cedar Street officially opened for the first time. This was the contraption you needed to climb in order to ski down the jump and fly 150 feet in the air to the landing area. Later this became known as Harris Hill.

Unfamiliar things in the woods. These forests have been here a long time, thousands of years. As have the People – thousands of years. They know these woods.

They are still here, those things and the People. The land remains.

This hill had a different name before Harris.

Can you hear it?

 

Shad Above Kchi Pontekw

w8bimagw shad 1939 illustration

It is conventional historical knowledge that, when the American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) made its prodigious late-spring spawning runs up the Kwenitekw, the silver flood of fish was stopped at Kchi Pontekw (the Great Falls), between today’s Bellows Falls,VT and North Walpole, NH. This was said to be the northernmost point on the Connecticut River for the annual migration. The  49-foot drop of the River there (over a short stretch of rapids and falls) was said to be an effective block to the passage of the shad, but not to the accompanying Atlantic Salmon who were also seeking their natal tributaries. This claim can be found in 99.9% of the sources, over a long period of time. Here’s just one recent example, from the NH Fish & Game Department:

Fish passage has been provided at the first three dams on the Merrimack River, although shad have difficulty navigating the fish passage facility at the Pawtucket Dam in Lowell, MA. On the Connecticut River, fish passage for shad is available at the three mainstream dams up to the historic limit of upstream shad migration at Bellows Falls.

There is much that can be related about this particular and significant ancient place, with respect to the seasonal gifts of sustenance and the intersections of spirit there, but those many stories will be explored elsewhere. In this post, I would like to simply document differing statements about the extent of the anadromous shad run, drawing from a local history 40 miles upstream at Lebanon, NH. In the 1908 “History of Lebanon, N.H., 1761-1887 by Charles Algernon Downs“, we find the following statement on page 189:

history of lebanon downs pg 189 shad reference

We can make a few observations in reflection upon this contradiction to the accepted notions about the travels of w8bimakok, the shad…

  • First of all, Charles Algernon Downs may have been mistaken. But given his long and early presence in Lebanon, and his character, this seems unlikely. Indeed, the Rev. Mr. Downs may well have personally known people who had fished for shad in the Mascoma, as he stipulated. This knowledge would have been well-engrained in the local lore at the time. There may very well be other such obscure references in other historical literature north of the Great Falls.
  • It would seem that, if his assertion is true, although the great rocky impediment to passage at Kchi Pontekw did indeed block the great majority of shad from traveling further upstream, a small amount found success. The many stories of the sheer number of shad that would congregate at the Great Eddy below the tumult are testimony to its effectiveness as a blockage – and its fame as a favored indigenous fishing place for millennia. Yet if vast numbers of salmon were quite successful in climbing the cataract, perhaps a percentage of shad accompanied them. The number who passed successfully may have paled in comparison to the total and thus been of lesser note to historians.
  • The complex process of shad migration is informed extrinsically and intrinsically by many factors. Some are environmental and fluctuating, such as flow velocity, temperature, salinity, light levels, and competition, among others. Others are innate: the strong homing instinct of the individual fish to the original river of its birth. The fish migrate to their respective spawning streams using genetic memory informed by chemical and magnetic guidance. Recent studies have demonstrated the incredible accuracy of this instinct. Why would there be so many shad below the falls? The migration is not a race to set an indeterminate record. It might follow that shad seeking to pass Kchi Pontekw would be following the pull of their birthplaces upstream.
  • It is no accident that Downs documented the appointment of fish inspectors Buck and Bailey in the years 1795-1797. Lebanon, NH (chartered July 4th, 1761) had only begun to be an organized colonial town a few years beforehand. It took awhile to get town business thoroughly refined, but immediately after these appointees were chosen, the dam across the Connecticut River downstream at Turners Falls, MA (now-called) was completed in 1798. It is a universally-acknowledged fact that all anadromous fish migrations dropped off drastically in that year, their journey effectively cut short at that point.
  • As a curious side note, the name of the Mascoma River, singled out by Rev. Downs as the objective of the spawning shad in his locale, is derived from the Abenaki name for the salmon. No doubt the river was, in actual use, a shared goal by both species. That word in Aln8ba8dwaw8gan is “mskwamakw’ – pronounced muh-SKWAH-mahk-uh, nearly the same as its English variant – and means, literally, “red fish.”
  • And, in an odd coincidence, the American Shad’s Latin generic name “Alosa” is identical to the Abenaki word for “to go”, which is exactly what the fish prefer to do. The Latin root, however, derives from “alausa” – a fish.

 

 

First Putney Road Bridge at Wantastegok

Three Bridges West River 1911

The famous Three Bridges at the mouth of Wantastekw/West River, looking southeast from the north bank of the River. The confluence with Kwenitekw/Connecticut River can be seen under the bridge to the left, which carries the Vermont & Massachusets Railroad, later the Boston & Maine. The covered bridge in the center carries Putney Road; the steel truss structure farthest to the right carries the West River Railroad. Note the high water, following the construction of the Vernon Dam ten miles downstream in 1909.

Two stories, like two rivers, converge at the south approach of the original trestle bridge built to carry Brattleboro, Vermont’s Putney Road over the mouth of Wantastekw/West River, just above its confluence with Kwenitekw/Connecticut River. This was not the town’s first ever bridge to span the River; the initial structure  was up the West less than  a mile away, and was constructed sometime in the 1770s. That is another story for another post. A succession of covered bridges followed that early trestle bridge at the mouth, until the last one was replaced by a steel truss slightly upstream in the twentieth century.

 

Three Bridges West River

A direct view at the north entrance of the  covered bridge that succeeded the original trestle bridge of 1796 – “Walk Your Horses.”

Thomas St. John mentions in his Brattleboro History compendium  – under the entertaining “Pike Fishing 1848” entry – the fact that:

“During the Civil War and later, a popular summer evening stroll was taken out the Asylum Street, then down the path leading through the meadows of Holland Pettis to a view of Indian Rock, then along by the old covered bridge, and the return to the Common by the Putney road. William Cabot had purchased a cigar store Indian, and for years it could be seen, propped up before the south entrance to the covered bridge.”

I have not yet been able to locate the original source for this Cabot-Cigar Store Indian anecdote; the full explanation of why William Brooks Cabot may have chosen to place such a carved wooden likeness in that location is, again, another account unto itself. But suffice it to say that Mr. Cabot, scion of one of Brattleboro’s prominent banking families, had a lifelong fascination and familiarity with northeastern Indigenous Peoples. Coupled with local historical knowledge, it is not surprising that he took this particular action at this specific place. And that leads to another, earlier account centered on the building of the trestle bridge itself in 1796, at the behest of John Blake, Esq.

“An examination of the files of the “Rising Sun,” one of the earliest newspapers published in Keene, N. H., between 1795 and 1798, shows definite information of the dates of opening [of] the bridge over the West River in Brattleboro…”

Dateline: Keene, N. H., Nov. 15, 1796.

“Last week, as the workmen at West River Bridge, Brattleboro were leveling the land adjoining the southward abutment, they dug up the bones of an Indian with some Indian implements. From the figures cut on the adjacent rocks, it appears that the place has been no mean rendezvous of the savages.”

Not only did the paper’s editors make note of the juxtaposition, but it would seem that – in recalling the incident many decades later – William Cabot was aware on a certain level that the presence of burials in the vicinity was closely linked to the nearby petroglyphs, only a few hundred feet to the west. Although it is the first such exhumation on record (that I have located thus far), this would not be the last time the ancestors of the Sokoki Abenakiak  were taken from their resting places in the name of progress.

Centered on this place of great power, Wantastegok, these Old Ones are witness to the understanding that in death, as in life, the People and the Land are one and the same. N’mikwaldam – we remember.

Abenakis Celebrate the Greetings Moon & the New Year: A Forgiveness Day Announcement

Join Abenaki Community members on December 26, as the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center celebrates the beginning of the New Year.  The first New Moon after the Winter Solstice “sets” the traditional Abenaki agricultural calendar year.  However, this astronomical event is more than a simple calendrical observance, it is also a time to pause and reflect about our relationships with others.  Bring yourself, family friends and a small piece of scrap of untreated wood, cardboard or organic tree trimming, to the “Tavern” at the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum at 4:00 PM on December 26 to learn how it is done.

After a few words of welcome and greeting, we take and silently hold those small pieces of clutter and quietly think about the scraps of physical and emotional disorder that have accumulated in our lives through the dying year.  This gentle meditation is the Anhaldamôwadimek, the “forgiveness time.”  Through thinking sincerely, we may begin forgiving ourselves and others for hurts given and received.  In doing so, we transfer a year’s remembrance of pain and disorder to the scraps in our hands.  Then, as the sun sets, we bring those scraps to the Pileated Woodpecker Dance Ground, where the Sacred Fire has been lit and tended by the fire keeper.  At precisely 4:52 PM, the moment when the sun sets on the year, we throw the scraps into the fire — to represent giving ourselves and others the grace of forgiveness.  As the scraps are burning brightly at sunset, the Round Dance celebrates our collective hopes for a clean emotional and physical slate for the upcoming year.  After the symbolic clutter in our lives is consumed by cleansing fire, we retire back indoors for the New Years’ greetings ceremonials.  We pass around the Alnôbaiwi wampum belt of mourning; for people to share, if they wish, stories of loved ones who have passed.  This witnessing ritual carries memory safely into the infant year.  And, in a new wrinkle to the old Alamikkôwadin (“people greet each other time”) tradition, we go through our cell phone contact list, then text a greeting to old, but neglected friends and colleagues.  Drumming, singing and greeting old and new friends punctuate and complete the ceremony.  It is now up to us to live up to the ancient promises, covenants and relations among, sun, moon, and our feelings — and in so doing, set the stage for a wonderful New Year.

Where: Ethan Allen Homestead Museum

            1 Ethan Allen Drive

            Burlington, VT 05408

            (802) 865 4556

Time:   December 26, 2019

            4:00-7:00 (ish)

PROGRAM: Forgiveness Day Celebration Program

  1. Welcome by EAHM and Heritage Center

            Welcome Song, Greeting song

  1. Explanation of the Ceremony
  2. Thinking about Forgiveness
  3.  Procession to the Fire @4:45
  1. Four Directions and Countdown to Sunset
  2. Throwing in the scraps @ 4:52 PM
  3. Round Dance
  4. Procession Back to the Tavern
  1. Death Song
  2. Passing the Mourning Belt
  3. Song (TBD)
  4. Cellphone Ceremony
  5. Song (TBD)
  6. Goodbye

Community and Mental Health Providers Tackle Rising Suicide Among Abenaki

From the St. Albans Messenger – December 7, 2019 – Full article

By Michael Frett, Messenger Staff Writer

SWANTON – For several months now, a coalition of community leaders and health care providers have come together in Northwest Vermont as a disturbing trend became more apparent: Vermont’s growing suicide rates might be disproportionately affecting the Abenaki.

Suicide rates in Vermont have swelled above the national average for at least a decade now, reaching a high of 18 people per 100,000 residents in the Green Mountain State in 2018. The state currently has one of the fastest growing suicide rates in the U.S., second only to North Dakota.

A previous Messenger report examining gun-related fatalities in Northwest Vermont centered heavily on recorded suicides, the predominant source of gun violence in both Northwest Vermont and statewide.

Death certificates examined by the Messenger and Vermont Public Radio’s Gunshots project found the majority of victims to be white, middle-aged men, many of whom had a record of military service.

However, according to Brenda Gagne, an Abenaki tribal member and coordinator the Circle of Courage Afterschool Program; Jeff Benay, the Director of Indian Education for Franklin County Public Schools; and Northwestern Counseling & Support Services (NCSS)’s Director of Behavioral Health Services Steve Broer, many of those who passed were Abenaki.

“We would go through the death certificates,” Gagne said, “and we know who our people are.”

“We started meeting ten years ago and tracking the data on Abenaki suicides, and it was what we feared,” Benay said. “I think it was a lot higher than what we feared.”

Out of respect for the Abenaki community, members of the grant-funded coalition calling itself Community Partners for Suicide Prevention (CPSP) declined to share how many members of the community had died by suicide.

While state death certificates do allow for Native American identification, very few are explicitly identified among the death certificates previously analyzed by the Messenger alongside VPR’s Gunshots project.

In an email with the Messenger, a representative from the Vermont Dept. of Health said demographic information for death certificates is collected from the family, funeral directors or others responsible for the disposition of the deceased’s remains. While there is an option to list an individual as “American Indian or Alaskan Native” with a tribal affiliation, there are no assurances the reporters either include or would be aware of those affiliations.

Anecdotally, though, Benay and Gagne said the impact has been deep enough that members of the Abenaki community have joined with area health care providers and the statewide Vermont Suicide Prevention Center (VTSPC) to address regional trends in suicide that appeared to be disproportionately affecting the Abenaki.

Organized through a University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center grant by the Title VI Indian Education Program of Franklin County’s Parent Advisory Committee (PAC), NCSS, area community health centers and VTSPC, CPSP expects to have a selection of answers developed from the bottom-up with the explicit support of the Abenaki community – new for a Native American community historically relegated to part-time subjects by health researchers.

“In the Abenaki community, there’s long been a sense that people come in and research the community, but they come at it as researchers and look at the community as objects,” Benay said. “We’re trying to remove the objectification… by doing it together.”

“It’s coming from us,” Gagne said. “We’re doing something for us and not to us.”

According to an abstract from CPSP’s application to the UVM Medical Center, while results gleaned from CPSP’s long term study will focus on “culturally sensitive care for Abenaki populations,” infrastructure and programming recommended through CPSP could be expanded for the general population.

The group will spend the next few months interviewing members of both the Abenaki community and the health care community in order to identify barriers to mental health services that might keep members of the Abenaki community from seeking mental health services.

Though CPSP’s grant application does not cite specific barriers to service, it notes that its particular region of focus – Grand Isle County – struggles with many of the risk factors typically blamed for the steady climb in suicide rates in both Vermont and the U.S. at large.

The predominately rural area remains largely isolated from service providers, and a lower population density means public health agencies struggles to reach people with information, the application says.

The Champlain Islands targeted by CPSP’s study especially struggle with their distance from service providers, many anchored in nearby Franklin County, and transportation costs can prevent those in need from seeking help.

According to Broer, regional data on deaths by suicide is tracking with national estimates that found 70 percent of those who died by suicide were not actively seeking help in the mental health care system, though many had apparently met with a primary health care provider at least a month before their passing.

Suicide rates in Vermont have ebbed and flowed over the past decade, but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over at least the last five years Vermont’s suicide rate has tracked above federal suicide rates, as both continue an upward climb overall.

In Vermont, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death, and with 112 Vermonters dying by suicide in 2018, suicide continues to claim more lives in Vermont every year than traffic accidents.

According to Broer, while professionals have attributed suicide trends to everything from rural isolation and the ongoing opioid epidemic to the prevalence of social media, there is no singular, clear cause for what health care providers and commentators have called a national suicide epidemic

“There are so many different pathways to suicide,” Broer said. “We’re concerned about youth. We’re concerned about older Vermonters. We’re concerned about individuals from the Abenaki community. We’re concerned about veterans.”

More generally, Broer said stigmas continue to influence discussions around suicide as well, adding, “there’s a lot of shame attached to it, too,” and many still see mental health treatments in terms of hospitalization, something that may keep some from seeking help.

“There is also the fear of being psychiatrically hospitalized when the reality is most individuals who experience suicidal thoughts, feelings and behaviors can be effectively treated in our community,” Broer said in a follow-up email to the Messenger.

NCSS, Broer said, is currently using a more personalized, evidence-based treatment called Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicide (CAMS) in response, allowing the mental health care provider to approach patients with more flexibility when it comes to addressing suicide.

The U.S. Dept. of Health cites CAMS as a “program with evidence of effectiveness,” meaning the program has shown at least some positive impacts on treating suicide by health department metrics.

Reports of the Abenaki being disproportionately affected by trends in suicide, would track with national trends. According to the CDC, suicide impacts Native American communities more than any other demographic group in the U.S.

The Abenaki, like many First Nation peoples, saw their longtime home gradually whittled away as European – and later American – settlers spread into what is now known as New England.

According to historians William Haviland’s and Marjory Power’s The Original Vermonters, the Abenaki had lived in Vermont for centuries before the eventual arrival of Europeans. Even after initial contact with Europeans through the fur trade and French missions, the Abenaki remained the dominant culture in Vermont for some time.

By the end of the 18th century, however, decades of conflict with European settlers and increasingly large territorial claims by European and American businessmen carved the Abenaki’s longtime home into white landholdings.

As white settlements started supplanting the Abenaki across Vermont, many of the Abenaki opted to remain in their ancestral homeland. According to Haviland and Power, many took to European culture as a means to survive, eventually becoming “all but invisible” to the white neighbors who displaced them.

According to Benay and Gagne, the traumatic loss of that homeland and the ensuing marginalization of the Abenaki that followed Vermont’s statehood might have left emotional scars on the community informing at least some of its current struggles with mental health.

Researchers studying the psychological effects of historical events like genocide and mass starvation have found evidence suggesting behaviors and emotions tied to traumatic events, like anxiety or insistence on food hoarding, can also be observed several generations after the event.

The Abenaki were infamously signaled out for forced sterilizations under Vermont’s eugenics program in the first half of the 1900s, and, according to Gagne, discrimination in schools and targeting by state organizations deepened that trauma and inspired further distrust of the state and institutions among members of the Abenaki community.

“We’ve been told not to air our dirty laundry,” Gagne said. “That’s been born into us.”

That distrust, according to members of the CPSP, has trickled into the medical world as well, potentially leaving community members skeptical of mental health care providers like NCSS where, according to Gagne, identification as Abenaki might inspire certain prejudices and stigmas by default.

“We’ve already been labeled,” Gagne said. “So, if you seek out mental health care and you’re Abenaki, that’s a mark against you.”

According to NCSS’s Broer, curtailing those stigmas was one of the places where organizations like NCSS could start when it came to addressing suicides among the Abenaki. While the organization has implemented cultural competency training related to the Abenaki in the past, Broer admitted there was still a need for more systematic training for staff.

Those trainings, in turn, could be shared with other health care providers, he suggested.

Another novel pilot suggested by the group would connect veterans within the Abenaki community to one another, helping bridge some of the feelings of isolation that can come from rural life and life after military service.

According to Benay and Gagne, strides had also been made in the schools, where Gagne said she remembered growing up facing discrimination and where, through work steered by groups like the PAC and through programming like the Circles of Courage, current Abenaki students had found room to express themselves and learn about their culture that, until recently, was stigmatized in places like Swanton.

Already this year, flags were raised over the schools of the Missisquoi Valley School District and an Abenaki totem was installed at the Swanton Schools, reminding people that, according to Gagne, “we’re here and we’re going to continue to be here.”

The CPSP’s work is ongoing and members of the group warned there would likely be no single answer to the disproportionately high suicide rates facing the Abenaki.

As interviews within the Abenaki community occur, though, and as members of the community come together to discuss ways to curtail those trends, those involved appear optimistic. “It’s coming from the community,” Benay said. “It’s messy and it’s time consuming… but this is what we have to do.”

VTSPC, one of the CPSP’s leading partners, is a subset of the Center for Health and Learning, a Brattleboro-based nonprofit dedicated to suicide and substance abuse prevention.

 

Wabanaki Tribes Growing Heirloom Seeds for Heritage & Health

wabanaki ancestral squash

Maine’s Passamaquoddy people are once again growing and eating ancestral crops and saving the often rare seeds. These simple yet significant acts are tied to new research that sheds light on the sophisticated agriculture and accompanying plant-centric diet of the early Wabanaki people of northeastern North America, who lived and farmed in what we call Maine for 12,000 years before the European migration and colonization…

Planting these heirloom seeds is part of a wider effort by the Passamaquoddy to increase the amount of food produced on tribal land.  All the ancestral seeds have been linked to tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy, which includes the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet, Micmac and Abenaki.

In 2014, Koasek Abenakis, the Seeds of Renewal Program and retired Johnson State College humanities professor Frederick M. Wiseman, who is Abenaki, gave these ancestral seeds to the Passamaquoddy tribe at Motahkokmikuk. The following spring, the seeds returned to Passamaquoddy soil and flourished.

Read the full article in the Press Herald here.