Saturday, March 1, 2014

Brule Counters Mistaken Claims Regarding Ceremonial Hill

West Along the River
 by David Brule                                    
  27 February, 2014
  Reprinted with permission from the Montague Reporter

Uprising at Peskeompskut

   Great Falls.  There are stirrings out there, out beyond our living rooms and comfortable chairs, on the other side of our storm windows where spring awaits in frigid air.  Out on the river, frozen on-again off-again in deep winter, is free of ice this week. From the French King down to the Wequamps Sugar-loaf in South Deerfield, there are stirrings.

  Not just the stirrings of wintering-over diving ducks, the mergansers, who are courting, displaying, and mating in the dusk hours, not just the primal reawakening of lethargic prehistoric sturgeon in the depths of the Connecticut River.
   No. There are stirrings going on in another dimension, in a place few of the contemporary inhabitants of our river villages ever give a second thought.
   Some of us however, are witness to the stirrings of the ancient peoples, long silent, who inhabited our river shores and woodlands, fields, pine barren plains, even our backyards for 10,000 years.
   If you consider entering that parallel dimension, if you look for the clues that show you how, you will see a valley full of people, many thousands strong, living, working and dying on this landscape that is so familiar to us. You will see wigwams and wetus, homefires and lodges, men and women loving and raising children, living out their lives. You will see a place, foreign to many now, where all objects have lives and meaning, where nothing is inanimate, where all human beings , animals and objects are interconnected in the past, present, and future simultaneously, where prayers are embedded in stones.
   You will see that. Or maybe you won’t.

   Those spirits are stirring, are demanding attention, demanding to be recognized, to be validated.

   Some of us hear this message, others are in deep denial.
   Those of us who do hear, are doing something about it.  We are keeping our minds open. We are joining the ancient ones, ancestors for some of us, in demanding respect, recognition, and acceptance for our role here, and for the ancient places in this landscape.
   There is a growing coalition in this Valley seeking to rediscover and restore the balance to this river that drew us here.  Some of us are renewing our connection with this ancient landscape, and our numbers are growing.
   The Nolumbeka Project volunteers are restoring trails and replanting gardens on the mist-shining hill of Wissatinnewag, that some know as Canada Hill and Mackin’s Ridge. They are fighting a dysfunctional city government in Greenfield, trying to protect the final resting places of indigenous peoples, fighting to accord them the same respect as any other Christian or Jewish cemetery.
   Investigative journalists like Gary Sanderson, and local historians like Bud Driver are fighting bureaucracies and vested interests to help us better understand and protect our public heritage.  Karl Meyer is keeping watch over the migrating multitudes of shad and  other fish species, who are finding themselves decimated by the power canals and selfish policies of the hydroelectric companies.
   Joe Graveline and Howard Clark patiently persevere in efforts to convince the hydroelectric giants to respect and protect Native American vestiges and sacred sites in the re-licensing process for the dams built up and down the river.
   People of good will up and down the Valley from Sugarloaf to Northfield are fighting the good fight, demanding respect for sites populated by thousands of people over 10,000 years before Europeans settled here.
   We have had to fight our own State of Massachusetts Historical Commission for information about our own history!  We have had to fight our own Town of Montague Selectboard chairman for a simple vote to support a grant project application to investigate and gather data about the Peskeompskut massacre of 1676, the fight that gave the village of Turners Falls its name!

   Even in these pages, just a week ago, another writer tried to revive an argument over the now-accepted Ceremonial Hill on the edge of the Montague Plains.  Jeff Singleton felt he had to be the apologist for Chairman Mark Fairbrother who is still carrying around anger over the decision to list the Ceremonial Hill as eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places.

   It seems that Singleton and Fairbrother continue be upset over that 2008 decision.  Singleton writes that  “Native American activists blocked the runway extension.”  First of all, these were not “Native American activists” which seems to suggest some starry-eyed do-gooders from the fringe, but in fact the Tribal people who intervened were Tribal Historic Preservation Officers of the Wampanoag of Gay Head(Aquinnah) and the Narragansett Indian Tribe who have federal status and are required by statute and tribal imperatives to oversee and protect ceremonial sites.  The tribes really could care less about whether or not there was a runway extension, in fact they are supportive of current plans for just such a project.  However,they did not want the Ceremonial Hill to be bulldozed, removed, and used for fill under the runway extension.  Fill could be brought in from elsewhere and the extension would have been built. The Tribes had no issue with that.
   Singleton goes on to lament the lack of hard scientific archeological evidence, which if cited would appease his sense of outrage over the NPS report.  He mocks Native American and White oral tradition as vague and based on second-hand hearsay.  He falls into the Eurocentric trap of Western thinking that science and only science equals knowledge, that hard, scientific evidence is the only valid source of knowledge.
   I would suggest that Mssrs. Singleton and Fairbrother procure a copy of “Indigenous Archeologies”, published in 2010, sponsored by the World Archeological Congress and edited by Leverett resident H. Martin Wobst, in collaboration with Margaret Bruchac and Siobhan Hart.
  This would provide Jeff Singleton with clues to new and evolving concepts in the field of archeology, where Indigenous ways of knowing can reveal new holistic knowledge to the purveyors of Western reductionism such as our Mr. Singleton who accepts only “hard, scientific evidence”.
   The NPS report he cites was published in 2008, more than five years ago.  All parties involved on both sides of the argument, including the FAA, have accepted the findings of the NPS report as a fact of life, and have moved on.  I suggest that our friends Singleton and Fairbrother get over it, move on, and get on the right side of history.

David Brule
A Member of the Nolumbeka Project Board of Directors, David Brule writes a bi-monthly column "West Along the River" for the Montague Reporter and has published two volumes of collected stories by the same name.  A teacher, writer, linguist, time traveler and fiddler,  David currently lives in his great-grandfather's house in the Miller River Valley, not far from his childhood home above the narrows of the Connecticut River at the place called Peskeompskut by the Native American's who lived there for 12,000 years.

As the coordinator of the historic Town of Montague Battlefield Grant Application to the National Park Service he has collaborated with the leadership of six tribal groups;  The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Wampanoag Tribe of Mashpee, Nipmuck Tribe of Massachusetts, Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans, Narragansett Indian Tribe, Mohegan Tribe; as well as regional museums, historic commissions and libraries.  If the grant is funded it will include an unprecedented Native American account of the events surrounding the 1676 massacre of 300 Native American non-combatants at the Great Falls.

For more on David and his writings: