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.”

 

 

 

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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.

Elnu Abenaki Prefiled Testimony in VT PUC Docket #8880

Link to pdf below:

Prefiled Testimony Elnu Abenaki Rich Holschuh VT PUC 8880

Vermont Yankee Buyer Assures Tribe It Will Hire Cultural Adviser

Rich Holschuh VY Sale Mike Faher

If NorthStar Group Services gets a chance to decommission Vermont Yankee, the company will have a hired cultural expert watching over its work.

In a nod to Native American concerns about the Vernon site’s historical importance, NorthStar CEO Scott State is committing to enlisting a consultant on matters such as archaeology, anthropology and history.

The costs of that expert, State pledged, “will not impact the Nuclear Decommissioning Trust or the Site Restoration Trust, and instead will be borne solely by NorthStar.”

Rich Holschuh, a Native American activist representing the Elnu Abenaki tribe in Vermont Yankee proceedings, applauded NorthStar’s commitment but expects to stay closely involved in decommissioning issues. “I see this as the first conversation in an ongoing dialogue,” Holschuh said.

Read the full story by Mike Faher in vtdigger.org here.

The same Mike Faher story in the Brattleboro Reformer here.

And a version in The Commons here.

Northstar’s Scott State Files Testimony Responding to Elnu Request

From Northstar Group Services CEO Scott State’s October 17, 2017 rebuttal/surrebuttal testimony in Vermont Public Utility Commission’s Docket #8880:
Q5. Mr. Holschuh’s testimony expresses a request for the project to be undertaken with sensitivity to not disturbing previously undisturbed portions of the site, since the site is considered sacred to the Elnu Abenaki tribe and may contain burial remains and other important cultural artifacts. Does NorthStar have a response to this request?
A5. I appreciate Mr. Holschuh’s view and recently met with him and the Chief of the Elnu Abenaki and Missisquoi Abenaki. NorthStar will continue a dialogue with the tribes and has committed to them that NorthStar will engage a cultural expert to advise as a consultant on the project (the costs of which will not impact the Nuclear Decommissioning Trust (“NDT”) or the Site Restoration Trust, and instead will be borne 1 solely by NorthStar).

VT Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel: Meeting 9/28/17

Testimony during the public comment period at the end of September’s regular meeting, requesting a baseline survey regarding the extent of previously disturbed vs undisturbed soils at the VY site.

Tribe Seeks Voice in Nuclear Plant Cleanup, Land Restoration

lisa rathke elnu abenaki vermont yankee decommissioning

Two Native American tribes want a say in the cleanup of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and the future use of the land in an area that was once the site of settlements and fishing grounds for the groups’ ancestors.

Last month, the Elnu Abenaki tribe, based in southern Vermont, filed testimony with the Public Utilities Commission. The tribe said it wants any activities that disturb the earth in this area to be overseen by qualified people and it wants to be involved in helping to determine the standards for how the land on the Connecticut River is restored. “Our concern is for the earth, the soil of our homeland, that of our ancestors, and all of our relations,” the testimony said.

The Missisquoi Abenaki, based in Swanton, Vermont, is also taking part in the state’s review of the proposed sale, which must be approved by state and federal regulators.

Paleo-Indians first moved to what is now Vermont 12,900 years ago, and native communities have continued to live in the state since, according to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs.

After the land is restored, the tribe would like to see it “lie at rest and allow it to heal as much as possible,” said Rich Holschuh, a public liaison for the Elnu Abenaki. “It should be a place where everyone can remember, and listen and learn, and dream, and offer hope of a better way for the next generations to be in this place,” he said

The Vermont Yankee plant shut down in 2014. Its owner, Entergy Nuclear, is seeking to sell it to demolition company NorthStar Group Services, which has promised to demolish the reactor and restore the site by 2030.

NorthStar has agreed to meet with the Elnu Abenaki next week. “NorthStar is sensitive to the concerns expressed by the representatives of Elnu Abenaki … and would like to begin a dialogue,” said CEO Scott State.

“A lot of this is about establishing a voice,” said Holschuh. “The presence of the indigenous people has not been acknowledged in the past. It’s kind of a glaring omission if you look at Vermont’s history.”

Article and photography by Lisa Rathke for the Associated Press.