Koasek the Focus of Piermont Lecture Series
Fred Wiseman, a tribal scholar from Johnson State College, explains the development of the atlatl for hunting during a lecture on the history and culture of the Abenaki at the Old Church in Piermont yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Peggy Fullerton, director of the White Pine Association, laughs while listening to Wiseman’s presentation. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Kim Longmore, right, looks on as her son Nathan Longmore, 12, talks with White Pine Association Director Peggy Fullerton about his interest in learning the history of the Abenaki that populated the area surrounding his home in Newbury, Vt. Longmore says he has found arrowheads near his home. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Some of Fred Wiseman's tools, including a spear tip, are ready at hand during his six hour lecture on the history and culture of the Abenaki. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Piermont — Fred Wiseman, for a day, had transformed the Old Church into an Abenaki mini-museum.
To the right of a wealth of folding chairs was small display of his owned and borrowed Native American artifacts, small as spear points, laid atop red fabric, large as 8-foot-tall shafts, on which the points are placed.
Wiseman stood at the front of the room, looking out at about 40 people, packed together in a configuration of folding chairs. “The key that’s going to unlock the past,” Wiseman said, “is the issue of identification.”
Wiseman, of Johnson State College, who has a doctorate in geosciences and a specialization in Abenaki culture, was at Piermont’s meeting center to talk about the Upper Valley’s Native Americans. It was the first in a planned five-lecture series, one a month, during which Wiseman and members of the Koasek Traditional Band of the Abenaki will work to provide those who live in the Newbury, Vt., and Haverhill areas about their indigenous pasts. “I think it’s important for any community to understand its history,” said Rebecca Bailey, who introduced Wiseman.
Before he tackles issues such as spirituality and where the Abenaki fit in with the rest of the indigenous world, said Wiseman, who is himself one-quarter indigenous, he planned on starting with the question of identification, before heading back in time to the very beginning of the tribe.
So, before sending everyone back 400 generations to talk about scimitar cats and massive ice buildings, Wiseman began in the present.
Last May, the Vermont portion of the Koasek band was granted state recognition, meaning it won a battle its New Hampshire brethren haven’t yet.
“It just saps you,” said Wiseman, who lives in Vermont and fought for the state recognition. “You have people saying you aren’t who you say you are.”
Many of the curious locals who attended the lecture, though, were more interested in learning the human history of where they live. Some of them have Native American blood, from only a few generations into the past.
Kim Longmoore, of Newbury, said her grandfather was a full-blooded Native American, though she wasn’t sure of the tribe. So half of the reason she came was to learn a little more about a community history that she shares on a personal level.
Also, her 12-year-old son, Nathan, really wanted to check it out.
“I wanted to learn more about our history and our land,” said Nathan, yesterday’s youngest visitor.
But in order to paint the fullest picture, Wiseman needed to start at the very beginning. An hour into yesterday’s lecture, he fired up a projector.
“Here’s our time machine,” Wiseman said.
The video began. A woman walked out of Vermont’s Franklin County Courthouse. At the bottom of the screen was a year: 2006.
The camera zoomed toward her and through her eye, triggering a quick stream of pictures, heading back in time. The 20th century became the 19th. Tribal-sounding music built toward a crescendo.
The photographs became intricate portraits, which became cruder drawings. Wiseman, off to the side, narrated his personal genealogy: “Grandmother’s marriage. Great grandmother.”
The 1800s sped by. Then the 1700s. Chanting filled the small room.
Finally, the pictures switched back to video. The year read 1609, and three women, dressed in traditional garb, walked through forested land in what would one day be known as the Upper Valley.
Jon Wolper can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3248.