Abenaki Storytellers at Brattleboro’s Retreat Farm

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As part of  this year’s Brattleboro Winter Carnival celebration, the newly-minted non-profit Retreat Farm‘s Open Barn schedule includes two sessions with Abenaki storytellers. Stop in to join Willow Greene on Friday and Roger Longtoe Sheehan on Saturday for the winter tradition of storytelling, along with other opportunities hosted by the Farm.

Friday, February 24
Noon – 4:00
Open Barn Preview
Bonfire (with food!*)
Children’s activities & animals
2:00 Abenaki storyteller Willow Greene

Saturday, February 25
Noon – 4:00
Open Barn Preview
Bonfire (with food!*)
Children’s activities & familiar animals
2:00 Abenaki storyteller Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief of the ELNU Abenaki tribe

Sokwakik, the Change Begins: Whitelaw’s Map of Vermont 1796

whitelaw map 1796 vermont

Title – “A correct map of the state of Vermont, from actual survey :  exhibiting the county and town lines, rivers, lakes, ponds, mountains, meetinghouses, mills, public roads, &c   / by James Whitelaw, Esqr., late surveyor general ; engraved by Amos Doolittle, Newhaven, 1796, and by James Wilson, Vermont, 1810.

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An inset detail of Windham County (click to enlarge).

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The label for the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River tributary (known today as West River) is given as “Wantastitquck or West River” – very close in pronunciation to both Wantastekw and Wantastegok.

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Let’s look at some details for Wantastegok/Brattleboro, at this relatively early date of British settlement. The east-west Turnpike which became the basis for Vt Route 9 has not been built yet (about 1800). The road existing at the time running westward was known as the Great Military Road, or the Albany Post Road, circa 1746. This was the road used for scouting and patrolling by militia between Fort Dummer (in the southeast corner of Brattleboro, not shown here) and Fort Massachusetts (in what is now Williamstown, MA) and onward to Albany, NY. It was a repurposed Native trail, a single-file footpath, as were all of the earliest roads. In fact, there is a good chance most of the roads shown on this map as dotted lines were of the same provenance. The courses of these roads as marked on the map are general and somewhat imprecise, and some are missing. The Great River Road, a major Abenaki trail running parallel to the west side of the Kwanitekw, which is now VT Route 5, was now enjoying benefits of the first bridge at the mouth of the Wantastekw/West River, opened in 1796, the year of this survey.

More to follow…

French and Indian War Ends: February 10, 1763

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On February 10, 1763, the “French and Indian War” officially ended with the Treaty of Paris, giving the British victors license to continue their mission to destroy Native culture and displace the People from their homelands.

In 1754, before the creation of the United States of America, the British declared war against the French, pitting the countries against each other in a battle that began with the Ohio Valley, which the French had already claimed.

Tribes allied with the French hoped to keep British expansion at bay. The French had caused less strife than the British, who were bringing their wives and families to settle while the French were intermarrying with Native women (editor’s note: oversimplified, but a telling difference).

With 1.5 million British settlers along the eastern coast from Nova Scotia to Georgia and only about 75,000 French in North America, it was critical for the French to rely on their strong alliances with Natives across Canada, who were willing to support the efforts against further British colonization.

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The full onslaught of colonialism in Vermont started right here in Windham (Cumberland) County, immediately following the cessation of hostilities. Fort Dummer, within the borders of what is now known as Brattleboro, was the northern frontier outpost protecting the British settlements southward down the Kwanitekw. Once the perceived danger of the allied French/Native forces was over, the floodgates were opened to settlers who swarmed in by the hundreds to usurp the fertile river bottoms and surge up into the hills. This is ground zero. Brattleboro, Guilford, and other southeasternmost county towns were among the most populous settlements in the territory (then contested by New York and New Hampshire) for several decades.

Read an overview article in Indian Country Today.

 

Kwikweskas

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First robin seen this year! On January 28th… we are now into the beginning of the second Abenaki month, Pia8dagos, “makes branches fall in pieces moon.” Kwikweskas = whistlemaker = American robin.

We were out for a family walk in the skamonikik8n/cornfield ( just north of Wantastekw/West River near The Marina restaurant. There are a series of tamakwa nebisisal/beaver ponds at the back edge below the next terrace, where the river ancient course had been, many many generations ago… The steep bank faces south there and provides a warm, sheltered place on a bright winter  day. I had been hearing a bird call as we explored the frozen ponds, and couldn’t place the familiar sound. Just as it dawned on me (out of context), I saw a flash of orange motion and a robin flew over to a luxuriant spray of bittersweet berries on a tall tree. Another came to join a few minutes later. Kwai kwikweskasak!

Brattleboro’s RTM to Vote on Townwide Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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On Tuesday, January 31, 2017, the Selectboard of the Town of Brattleboro, VT, voted to approve the Warning (agenda) for Representative Town Meeting to be held March 25, 2017. The last regular item of business, Article 22, states “Shall the Town of Brattleboro advise the Selectboard to proclaim the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in place of Columbus Day?” The article was brought to the Selectboard for consideration on Oct. 4th, 2016. They declined to take action on it that night by a vote of 2-3, and required that voter signatures be gathered by petition to show support. With the help of many hands, the required 5% of registered voter’s signatures (about 440) were collected and presented on Nov. 22, 2017.

In the meantime, Gov. Peter Shumlin had issued an Executive Proclamation, declaring that October 6, 2016 would be observed statewide as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day. The Proclamation was for the year at hand only; soon, a bill will be introduced to the Senate to make this a permanent change. Before that makes its way through the legislature, Wantastegok/Brattleboro – now joined by Marlboro through the efforts of Tyler Gibbons – may be the first towns to begin the long-overdue switch.

The supporting documents for the 1.31.2016 Selectboard Meeting may be found here.

The Vernon Dam Part 2 from BHS and BAMS: Flooding Wantastegok

This is Part 2 of a two-part story, within the podcast series from Brattleboro Historical Society, produced by Joe Rivers and his BAMS history students. You can check out Part 1 here. It gives additional background to the subsuming of critical areas in Sokwakik, and particularly the flooding of  the Retreat Meadows, by the completion of the Vernon, Vermont hydroelectric dam in 1909. Prior to this date, the now-flooded meadows – known as mskodak in Aln8baiwi – were prime farmland for the Sokwakiak who dwelt here, and subsequently the European settlers that arrived in the mid-1700’s. There are multiple newspaper reports of native burials being exhumed within this alluvial bowl, just west of the mouth of the Wantastekw (I will be documenting them here over time). Sokoki Abenaki heritage and interests were ignored and ravaged, a situation which remains ongoing and challenging.

Retreat Farm Expansion Underway

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The Retreat Farm’s makeover-in-progress is mostly likely observed if you’re driving in or out of Brattleboro via Route 30. The Windham Foundation donated the property to Retreat Farm LTD and grants have propelled the nonprofit to this point. “We’re just about to kick off additional fundraising,” said Arthur “Buzz” Schmidt, Retreat Farm president. Close to $1 million has already been spent on planning, groundwork and renovation of the farmhouse, according to Schmidt’s estimate.

Retreat Farm was transferred to his group on Aug. 19, a little later than originally anticipated due to issues with subdividing the land. The Grafton Cheese Factory had to be separated from the parcel. The business is owned and operated by the Windham Foundation. Last winter, the state approved an Act 250 permit so some development on the property could begin. A master plan application will still be needed for Act 250 review.

Altogether, there are 600 acres that Schmidt’s group is responsible for maintaining, including Retreat Meadows, trails, woodland and a farmstead. “It’s an expansive complex property,” Schmidt said. “There’s an underlying easement with the Vermont Land Trust that restricts the development on the property really to one 25-acre farmstead. That’s where all the development has to occur. We can develop farm resources on the other lands and we’re doing that.”

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Note: The land at and near the Retreat Farm is highly sensitive for indigenous heritage and cultural lifeways, in more ways than one. Discussions have been initiated with the team (specifically Buzz and Lu, at this point); they are aware of this aspect and intend to incorporate awareness and respect into their long-range plans.

Full story by Chris Mays in the Brattleboro Reformer.

More information can be found at retreatfarm.org and on Facebook.