I was asked by someone recently what is it that makes the Kwenitekw, n’sibo, our river, sacred. Is it the traditional fishing places? Is it the burials of the ancestors? What follows is my reply:
Thank you for asking; these are understandings that are foundational and go below the surface of things. I hope we have a chance to speak together again some day, for it is simpler to express these things in person. But I will share a few things:
- It is important to remember that words have power and they derive from our worldview, which is expressed in the cultural tool we call language. There are many languages, and many ways of seeing the world. They differ dramatically, and the use of a word, or concept, can mean very different things to different people. Thus, “sacred.” When speaking of Abenaki cultural concepts, one cannot look at it through a Western religious lens. The dictionary definitions that fit “sacred” best are (from Merriam-Webster): 1) entitled to reverence and respect and 2) highly valued and important, as in “a sacred responsibility.” It is not a religious designation, but rather a spiritual recognition.
- So, with regard to your questions of the river’s significance regarding fishing locations or burial grounds, the answer is yes, all of that, and much more. The reason being that we are all related, all equally significant, and part of the same great circle of Creation. Time does not exist in a linear sense, but is a continuum, constantly changing but all part of the same. Thus, we as human beings (in common with, say, plant beings, fish beings, stone beings, wind beings) have a ongoing responsibility to honor these relationships. We cannot act to harm the River, as it is as deserving of respect as anyone else, and in fact, we derive our very life from it – it would be very shortsighted to do otherwise..
- As indigenous people (defined as the original people of a distinct place), we so identify with our homelands that we see ourselves as part of it, inseparable and continuous. For example, when an Abenaki person identifies him- or herself, they would not say “My name is so-and-so and I live in Brattleboro.” They would state “… I am Brattleboro.” Consequently, one’s attitudes and actions toward the River, are as unto one’s very self and one’s family, because it is exactly that. We (most of us!) consider human life to be sacred. So is the river.
- You have heard the expression, especially this past year with the action at Standing Rock, that “Water Is Life.” This plays out clearly in the Abenaki language, which by nature embodies its cultural worldview. Let me explain that, in a Native sense, the well-known term “medicine” means anything that promotes or sustains health and vitality – this makes complete sense, but in our Western way of thinking it has been separated and limited into a drug that addresses (often only symptomatically) sickness. It has got the relationship backwards and misses most of the bigger picture of the interconnectedness of life. The word for water in Abenaki is “nebi”; the word for medicine in Abenaki is “nebizon.” So, you can see, that water is at the heart of life. The River is our great provider, for which we can only be grateful.
- To learn that burials are often at the edge of the River is no coincidence. I don’t think I even need to explain that one! It is a place where strong connections have always been made, and where they can be accessed over and over. We go there to pay our respects to our ancestors, to say thank you to the water, and to pray for the same blessings for the generations to come. It is our “church.” There are certainly other places that are important as well, but the River is at the heart of them all. It unifies and connects – think in terms of a watershed – a flowing cradle, a web, an endless cycle enveloping the people.
A timeless sight, via Jess Robinson.
An invitation from the Nolumbeka Project
Join this anti-pipeline rally at noon on March 11 on the Greenfield Town Common. The Standing Rock and Native Nations who are organizing the DC March say: “We ask that you rise in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples of the world whose rights protect Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) for the future generations of all.”
We will gather on the Greenfield Town Common on Saturday, March 11 at Noon for a Rally to Stand With Standing Rock and Native Nations. All are invited to stand together in community prayer, song, and peaceful action in support of Standing Rock Water Protectors and Indigenous people.
Standing Rock and Native Nations have called for solidarity actions to support their March 10th Washington DC march in prayer and action. The Standing Rock and Native Nations who are organizing the DC March say: “We ask that you rise in solidarity with the Indigenous peoples of the world whose rights protect Unci Maka (Grandmother Earth) for the future generations of all.”
The Native Nations’ demands for the peaceful DC March include respect for tribal rights and the protection of the environment and future generations.
We will post more information as the organizers provide us with it. If you wish to participate or take part in any way, as a possible presenter or helper, please e-mail to this address and we will forward your message to the organizers.
From the New York Times shortlist of President-elect Trump’s possibilities for Secretary of the Interior, who will oversee the BIA, National Parks and Forests, public lands and waters, cultural and historic sites, and rule-making affecting all of the above and more.
A vintage postcard, from sometime shortly after 1909.
The river central to the vista is the Wantastekw, now known as the West River, just west of its confluence with the Kwanitekw (today’s Anglicized Connecticut River), in the northeast corner of Brattleboro, Vermont. The postcard’s legend could more accurately be described as northwest from the northern end of Mount Wantastiquet’s ridgeline. As far as dating this scene, the wide expanse of blue in the foreground indicates that the river’s water level is higher as pictured than its natural state of repose, due to the impoundment of the Connecticut by the construction of the Vernon hydroelectric dam eight miles downriver in 1909, by a business consortium which became known as New England Power. But the area known as the Retreat Meadows – the medium brown swathe just left of the broad watery area – had not yet been subsumed by the impoundment, as it is has been today – flooded permanently. An effort to maintain the Meadows as agricultural land, using a dike and a pumping station paid for by the hydropower developer, was successful for a few years but subsequently abandoned. Also worth pointing out is the fact that color cues in a hand-colored photograph such as this are not always reliable: studio artists often worked from a photographer’s notes remote from the site, and mistakes of interpretation were made. In this case, the thin band of blue at the lower left is mistakenly tinted as water; it is actually open land, perhaps that of the Richards Bradley farm, west of Putney Road and just south of the West River bridges.
The same view today (Niben – Summer 2016).
Alton Natural Gas Storage Limited is developing a huge storage site for hydrocarbons (natural gas and others) in Brentwood, Colchester County, Nova Scotia. They will use water from the Shubenacadie River to flush out underground salt deposits. “During construction of the caverns, brine will be released into a constructed channel connected to the Shubenacadie River where it will mix with the tidal (brackish) river water to maximize dilution.”¹ It will be directly discharged into the Shubenacadie River through the channel. The amount of salt from these caverns amounts to over 8 million cubic yards – 500,000 dump truck loads, depending upon how many caverns are created.
This is of great concern to Mi’kmaq citizens, fishers, local landowners, environmental organizations and allies since this unique river ecosystem is home to several endangered and at risk species. The discharge site is near the mouth of the Stewiacke River, one of the last breeding grounds for striped Bass and also habitat for endangered Atlantic Salmon. Despite continued outcry and court challenges from First Nations, local landowners and fishers regarding the lack of consultation and meaningful environmental assessments, the company has received all necessary approval. An overruling by the Minister of Environment, Premier or Federal Critical Habitat designation could still stop the project before the brine dumping takes place.
Learn more about this immediate significant threat to indigenous rights in Mi’kmaki, on the north central Acadian peninsula.