Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Brief, Respectful Ceremony

Thanks to Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno and the Montague Reporter for their excellent coverage of the Nolumbeka Project's May 19 gathering--and for their permission to reprint this article in its entirety.  Reconciliation Elegy, a poem by Montague Selectwoman Patricia Pruitt (which we have published elsewhere on this site) was also part of that May 23 issue.

(All photos courtesy of Christoper Sawyer-Laucanno)

Healing Ceremony Held at Discovery Center for the Great Falls Massacre

     TURNERS FALLS---"The reason we are gathered here today is to continue the process of healing," said Joe Graveline, president of the Nolumbeka Project, as he welcomed a crowd of nearly 80 to the Great Falls Discovery Center on May 19.  The gathering to commemorate the 337th anniversary of the Great Falls Massacre, featured talks by Graveline, Barry Higgins (White Crow) master flute maker of Pennacook-Abenaki descent who also played one of his hand-made instruments, and an invocation for peace and healing led by Strong Oak, Circle Keeper of the Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle.
Joe Graveline, president of Nolumbeka Project
Graveline began his talk by thanking the 2004 Montague Selectboard for initiating the Reconciliation Ceremony held at Unity Park in Turners Falls on May 19, 2004.  This ceremony, which took place on the 328th anniversary of Captain William Turner's attack on the peaceful encampment of Native Americans at Peskeompskut (Great Falls), sought to "put the traumatic echoes of the past to rest." The ceremony last Sunday was an effort to continue and renew the spirit of cooperation and healing initiated in 2004.  Two members of the 2004 board, Patricia Allen and Patricia Pruitt, as well as town administrator, Frank Abbondonzio, were in attendance.  Allen Ross, the third member of the 2004 board, was unable to attend.

     Graveline noted that 20 generations had the opportunity to shift the sinister and negative energy to a positive and healing focus, but only in 2004 did this begin to happen.  He stressed that for over ten thousand years this site had been a place of peace, and that it should be again.  The Pocumtucks and their ancestors had long welcomed Native peoples from throughout the region, as the village was located on the confluence of two major Native American travel routes, the Mohawk Trail and the Connecticut River.  Diplomacy, marriage, trade and ceremonies had been held on the site for thousands of years.  In the spring, when the salmon and shad ran the river, Native people's from far and wide came to partake in the river's spectacular bounty.  It was precisely this traditional gathering that was attacked on May 19, 1676.

Graveline said he did not expect those gathered to forgive Captain Turner, but he did urge the crowd to try to understand who he was and what he was up against as a human being.  He recounted Turners' past as a Boston tailor and a marginalized Baptist, who was thrown in jail in Boston for his beliefs.  With the outbreak of Metacom's War (King Phillip's War) in 1675 Turner was released from prison in return for his commitment to raise a company of men to fight the Indians.  By this point, however, Turner was already in ill health, suffering from advanced tuberculosis.  Indeed, said Graveline, he was very likely near death.
Strong Oak invokes the Ancestors
     Turner, nonetheless, recruited a company of men.  At dawn on May 19, 1676, with 50 garrison soldiers, among them Lieutenant Samuel Holyoke, and 100 other men, mostly farmers, the company led a surpise attack on the main Indian camps at Peskeompskut.  Although the accounts of the number of Indians killed varies from 200 to 350, what all agree on is that the victims were mainly elders, women and children.  Graveline also said that after the initital attack, Turner was somewhat aghast at what he had done but that Holyoke urged on the colonials by dragging three children from their hiding place and killing them with his sword.  Turner, along with 36 of his men, was killed on the retreat to Northampton; Holyoke was wounded but survived.
     In speaking of Captain Turner's Baptist religion as making him an outsider in Puritan society, Graeline said "Marginalization of a person creates hostility in that individual toward others who are also marginalized."
     Barry Higgins in his address drew comparisons between Turner's attack at Peskeomskut and the Wounded Knee Massacre.  In both instances, innocent Indians were killed.  At Wounded Knee it was a land grab; at the Great Falls, it was an attempt to break the back of the Native people during Metacom's War.  He followed up his talk with a soulful and plaintive flute piece that he played on his own handcrafted flute.
     Following Higgins, Strong Oak intoned a prayer for healing and reconciliation, and then led the
Barry Higgins plays Native Flute
assembled group in an Ojibway prayer to the four directions.

     This moving event was followed by informal conversation, a sampling of food and drink, and outside the Center, a lighting of sacred herbal incense as a way of sending prayers for healing upwards into the gray skies slaked with rain.
     After the ceremony, which lasted about 90 minutes, all were invited to tour the Wissatinnewag property in Greenfield.  This property, a sacred Native site stretching back 10,000 years, was bought from Peter Mackin by the Friends of Wissatinnewag, a group co-founded by Monique Fordham and Howard Clarke, on March 30, 2001.  The Friends of Wissatinnewag blended into the Nolumbeka Project on February 4, 2013.
     The Nolumbeka Project's website http://www.nolumbekaproject.org states their mission as follows:  "To promote a deeper, broader and more accurate depiction of the history of the Native Americans/American Indians of New England before and during the European contact and colonialization; to protect and preserve sites sacred to, and of historic value to, the Native Americans/American Indians of New England; to create and promote related educational opportunities, preservation projects and cultural events; and to work in partnership, as much as possible, with the tribes."