“Sacred to the memory of Colo. John Sergeant Who departed this life July 30th 1798 in the sixty sixth year of his age. Who now lies in the same town he was born & was the first person born in the state of Vermont.”
Hidden behind a mountain high above Wantastegok, a small brook drains a forgotten swamp lush with high-bush cranberry, chickadees, and sphagnum moss. Secreted beyond the forested ridgeline, hemmed with mountain laurel and hemlocks, the clear amber water seeps through the roots and fallen leaves, and gathers into a narrow crease as it seeks a way to the Kwanitekw below. Dikes of schist ledge rise in its downward path, nudging it here and there, slow and now fast, as the pull of gravity leads it toward the great river in the valley. One such ledge offered an opportune notch toward the goal of confluence, but someone, long ago, saw a better moment nearby. Stones were laid into the gap, diverting the flow a few feet further south toward another opening, where a vein of pure white quartz crossed the bedrock.
The water coursed over the bright light of the stone, continuing on its journey, the same flow but now infused with caring and energy. Still it moves down the mountain, many hundreds of lives later, following its destiny and carrying the intentions of an ancient heart and sharing the gift with all of its relations.
“Indians Dancing Around a Circle of Posts” by John White (1585-1586)
An integral part of this place, here in Wantastegok (Brattleboro):
I have also been told, that among the broken hills back of where Joseph Goodhue now lives, was to be seen, not long after the commencement of the settlement of this town by civilized people, the remains of an establishment for the Indian dance. A circle trodden hard, so hard that it refused vegetation, was distinctly marked, and a substantial post was standing in the centre, with holes in the earth around it, supposed to be places for fire.
From “Lecture on the Early Settlement of Brattleboro” by Rev. Jedediah L. Stark (May, 1832)
Pieces of the past, to be woven back into the fabric of our lives in this land. #ReclaimingWantastegok #1
Notably amongst the northeastern Algonquian tribal territorialities, the W8banakiak have been described as a riverine people. The various band’s homelands are centered on watersheds – a river and its dependent streams, lakes, marshes, and floodplains. Whereas many other tribes would reckon their lands in terms of primarily terrestrial landmarks such as mountains, rivers, lakes, and perhaps a certain forest or clump of trees, denoting borders within which they circulated, the Abenaki centered themselves within the waters, ranging out through a branching, interconnected bowl [sources: Speck, Snow]. As an example, in this place I dwell, known today as Brattleboro – near where the states of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts converge – the annual cycles of life revolve around the gathering of the Kwanitekw, Wantastekw, and Azewalad Sibo (Connecticut, West, and Ashuelot Rivers), with their respective tributary brooks, lakes, and ponds pitching down from the valleys and ranges .
A family’s hunting territories, above the plantings flourishing upon the floodplains and river terraces (the wolhanak), were bounded by these watery, connecting sinews, and stretched up into the hills and mountains to the next ridge top division. A person would describe their homeland as n’sibo, my river, allying with that flowing, veined world as a part of their own identity, a unity, all the same. Intimately familiar with the land, and its fellow dwellers – whether animate or inanimate – a person saw themselves as a continuous part of the spirits there, with roles to play and responsibilities to honor, inconceivably separable.
This merging may perhaps be seen in the phrase n’dai, which can mean “I am” – describing oneself – as well as “I live” – in a certain place. An understanding of this can help to inform the depth of the relationship between the homeland and its people, one so profound they merged into a single entity. The people are the land, and the land is the people. To separate them, as recent history has so graphically inscribed, is to assault the meaning of life itself, leaving it broken and futile. Healing can be found only in a restoration of relationship, a re-balancing through reciprocity among the community of beings. Note the prefix “re-” occurring in all of these words, meaning “again” and speaking of cycles, and the Great Hoop of Life.
This healing comes through an awareness of what is lacking, or what is interfering, with the flowing continuity of the river of life, and then addressing that lack, or obstruction. At the beginning of the New Year – Alamikos – with the winter solstice and the return of the sun, the Abenaki have a custom of asking for forgiveness, and a fresh start in the new season. As elder Joseph Elie Joubert tells us: “The new year’s forgiveness time is called Anhaldamawadin = The act of forgiving. We would go to the house of the people we offended during the past year and say the following: “Anhaldamawi kassi plilawawlan”. It is basically saying “Forgive me for the many wrongs I did you.”
N’sibo, my river, is Wantastekw, where it meets Kwanitekw. N’dai Wantastegok, Sokwakik, known today as Brattleboro. And so I say, to all my relatives here:
N’didam n’dal8gom8mek Wantastegok: Anhaldamawi kasi palilawalian.
Please forgive any wrong I may have done to you in the past.
It is a new year. Alosada, mina ta mina. Let us walk together, again and again.