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.

Hydroland: an Interview About the Vernon Dam’s Cultural Impacts

A well-crafted video project put together by two Brattleboro Union High School  (BUHS) students – Forest Zabriskie and Mason Redfield – for a recent class assignment.

To gather varied perspectives on the utilization of the Connecticut River – specifically the circa 1909 Vernon dam at the Great Bend in Sokwakik – they interviewed Matthew Cole, Community Relations for Great River Hydro (dam owner and operator); Kathy Urffer, River Steward for the Connecticut River Conservancy; and yours truly, for an Abenaki cultural viewpoint.

There are many ways to be in the world…

Troubled Dreams

Quote I came across tonight:

“Ohio was the only state to house four separate facilities of the national nuclear fuels and weapons complex, each one of them built in proximity to an ancient Indian earthwork.”

It is no accident that VT Yankee sits where it is, on the Great Bend of  the Kwenitekw in Sokwakik. But it is a painful reality. Exploitation of the sacred places, the places where “it all comes together” is a hallmark of Western society. It is all here yet, the land, the water, the sky, the ancestors, all of our relations, though perhaps much diminished, and with great hurt and troubling, disturbing dreams.

VT Yankee Citizens Panel Reviews Memorandum

Three newspaper articles covering the VT NDCAP meeting held on March 22, 2018 at BUHS, to discuss the Settlement Agreement reached as part of the Docket #8880 examination of the sale of VY by Entergy to Northstar for decommissioning and site restoration.

By Richie Davis in The (Greenfield) Recorder.

By Susan Smallheer in the Rutland Herald.

By Mike Faher in VT Digger.

A followup commentary by Guy Page in the Rutland Herald.

Great River Hydro’s FERC-Filed Notes from the 3/8/18 Study Results Summary

Cover letter:

Great River Hydro, LLC (“Great River Hydro”) is the owner and licensee of the Wilder Hydroelectric Project (FERC No. 1892), the Bellows Falls Hydroelectric Project (FERC No. 1855), and the Vernon Hydroelectric Project (FERC No. 1904). The current licenses for these projects each expire on April 30, 2019. On October 31, 2012, TransCanada initiated the Integrated Licensing Process by filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC” or “Commission”) its Notice of Intent to seek new licenses for each project, along with a separate Pre-Application Document for each project.

With this filing, Great River Hydro submits its March 8, 2018 Updated Study Results Meeting Summary for the three projects, as required by 18 C.F.R. §5.15(c)(3) and the Commission’s current Process Plan and Schedule (dated February 15, 2018). The meeting for the Updated Study Reports filed between May 1, 2017 and February 9, 2018 was held at Great River Hydro’s Renewable Operations Center in Wilder, Vermont, with teleconference and call-in capability for participants who could not attend in person.

Below is a comment excerpt:

ILP Schedule – Brandon Cherry reviewed the Revised Process Plan and Schedule FERC issued on February 15, 2018, noting that GRH is required to file a progress report on May 15, 2018 and every 90 days thereafter until studies 9 and 24 are completed. The progress report is to include the status of study 33 – Cultural and Historic Resources Study.

Study 33 – Cultural and Historic Resources Study – Rich Holschuh concurred that this study is still open and indicated that while the draft TCP includes timetables for consultation, no consultation has taken place. John Ragonese disagreed that no consultation had occurred, citing several meetings with native American tribal leaders and informational resources but recognized the present open status of the study. He said the Programmatic Agreement (PA) and Historical Properties Management Plan (HPMP) are in development and will be shared for comment and review. The PA is a signed agreement among affected parties that usually includes SHPO’s, licensee and federal tribe(s). GRH suggests that no federal tribe is affected by this PA, but local tribes are and therefore should be included. The PA will reference the HPMP which includes details of how properties will be managed.

VT Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel: VT NDCAP Mtg 3/22/18

Brattleboro Community TV (BCTV) has archived the proceedings at the regular Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (VT NDCAP) meeting held at Brattleboro Union High School (BUHS) on March 22, 2018. The focus of the evening was to learn about the Settlement Agreement reached between all the parties involved, with the exception of CLF. The author, representing Elnu Abenaki with the support of Nulhegan and Koasek, adds his comments regarding the process at 51:37, and answers questions at 1:10:56 and 1:18:27.

State, NorthStar Strike Deal for Sale of Vermont Yankee

Vermont-Yankee-aerial-Kristopher-Radder

After 15 months of sometimes-contentious debate, there’s been a breakthrough in the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee to a New York decommissioning company. A deal released Friday calls for the plant’s current and prospective owners to set aside nearly $200 million in additional funds to support decommissioning at the Vernon site.

Additionally, the companies agreed to new restoration standards including a “comprehensive assessment” of contamination at the property.

In return, three state agencies and several other parties have agreed to support the sale of the idled plant from Entergy to NorthStar Group Services. Those supporters include the Brattleboro-based New England Coalition, which had been the sale’s harshest critic. “We now consider ourselves allies and partners with NorthStar and will do our best to help them achieve a state-of-the-art, best-practices and environmentally responsible decommissioning, as free of nuclear pollution as possible,” said Ray Shadis, a coalition board member and adviser.

But not everyone agrees with the compromise. The Conservation Law Foundation declined to sign on, with senior attorney Sandra Levine saying the deal “falls far short.”

Read the complete article by Mike Faher at VTDigger.org. Photo by Kristopher Radder at the Brattleboro Reformer.

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.”

 

 

 

VT Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel: VT NDCAP Mtg 10/26/17

Brattleboro Community TV (BCTV) has again archived the proceedings at the monthly Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (VT NDCAP) meeting held at Brattleboro Area Middle School (BAMS) on Oct. 26, 2017. At previous meetings, primary focus has been on the Docket #8880 Petitioners – Entergy and Northstar – along with state regulators; on this evening, several of the Intervenors had been asked to briefly present their interests to the Panel and public, and to answer questions if needed. The author, representing Elnu Abenaki with Nulhegan and Koasek, adds his remarks at 1:33:08, with other comments and questions 1:54:25 through 2:05:05.