Posts Tagged ‘Native Americans’

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Fur, Fortune, and Empire: A History of American Fur Trade

“The fur trade was a powerful force in shaping the course of American history from the early 1600s through the late 1800s,” Eric Jay Dolin writes in his new comprehensive history Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. “Millions of animals were killed for their pelts, which were used according to the dictates of fashion — and human vanity,” Dolin writes. “This relentless pursuit of furs left in its wake a dramatic, often tragic tale of clashing cultures, fluctuating fortunes, and bloody wars.”

The fur trade spurred imperial power struggles that eventually led to the expulsions of the Swedes, the Dutch, and the French from North America. Dolin’s history of the American fur trade is a workmanlike retelling of those struggles that sits well on the shelf beside Hiram Martin Chittenden’s 1902 two-volume classic The American Fur Trade of the Far West, and The Fur Trade in Colonial New York, 1686-1776., the only attempt to tell the story of the fur trade in New York. The latter volume, written by Thomas Elliot Norton, leaves no room for the Dutch period or the early national period which saw the fur trade drive American expansion west.

Dolin’s Fur Fortune, and Empire, is not as academic as last year’s Rethinking the Fur Trade: Cultures of Exchange in an Atlantic World by Susan Sleeper-Smith. It’s readable, and entertaining, ranging from Europe, following the westward march of the fur frontier across America, and beyond to China. Dolin shows how trappers, White and Indian, set the stage for the American colonialism to follow and pushed several species to the brink of extinction. Among the characters in this history are those who were killed in their millions; beaver, mink, otter, and buffalo.

Eric Jay Dolin’s focus, as it was with his last book Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America, is the intersection of American history and natural history. Readers interested in the history of the New York fur trade will find this book enlightening for it’s connection of the state’s fur business with the larger world as the first third deals with the period before the American Revolution, when New York fur merchants and traders were still a dominate factor. Yet, like last year’s Sleeper-Smith book, Dolin’s newest volume is simply outlines the wider ground on which the still necessary volume on the fur trade in New York might be built.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Two Hendricks: A Mohawk Indian Mystery

In September 1755 the most famous Indian in the world was killed in the Bloody Morning Scout that launched the Battle of Lake George. His name was Henderick Peters Theyanooguin in English, but he was widely known as King Hendrick. In an unfortunate twist of linguistic and historical fate, he shared the same first name as another famous Native American, Hendrick Tejonihokarawa, who although about 30 years his senior, was also famous in his own right. He was one of the “Four Indian Kings” who became a sensation in London in 1710, met Queen Anne, and was wined and dined as an international celebrity.

Both Hendricks were Mohawk warriors. Both were Christians who aided Great Britain against France in their struggles for empire. Both served as important sachems who stressed cooperation instead of bloody confrontation and who helped negotiate the relationship between their fellow Mohawks and European colonials who recognized that the Iroquois Confederacy was critical to the balance of power in early 18th century America. Both Hendricks, were later confused by historians into one man. Eric Hinderaker’s The Two Hendricks: Unraveling a Mohawk Mystery sets out to unearth the lives of these two important Mohawk men and untangle their stories from a confused history of colonial Native American relations.

King Hendrick (1692-1755), whose death in battle and burial place are memorialized in almost forgotten ground along the highway between Glens Falls and Lake George Village, was already famous at the time of the Bloody Morning Scout, the same attack that claimed
the life of Ephraim Williams, founder of Williams College (the year before he died he gave an important speech at the Albany Congress of 1754). His death during the French and Indian War in the cause of British Empire however, propelled his fame and ships and taverns were named in his honor abroad.

The earlier Hendrick (c.1660-c.1735) took part in King Williams War, including the failed attempt to launch an all-out invasion of Canada in retaliation for Frontiac’s raid in February 1690 which destroyed Schenectady. He was among the Mohawks of Tiononderoge (the Lower Castle), who were swindled out of their lands along the Mohawk by their colonial neighbors.

Part of the value of The Two Hendricks, however, lies not only in its untangling of the two men, but also in coming to grips with the ways in which the swindling often worked both ways. Hendrick, a common Dutch name equivalent to Henry, was just one part of their names, but Mohawk names comprise the other part. Hinderaker’s new book demonstrates that both Hendricks gave as well as they got in building alliances, fame, and power that left them among the most famous Native Americans in history.

Photo Above: Henderick Peters Theyanooguin (King Hendrick), wearing the English coat he wore on public occasions and his distinctive facial tattoo. This print, published just after his death and titled “The brave old Hendrick, the great Sachem or Chief of the Mohawk Indians,” is considered the most accurate likeness of the man.

Photo Below: Hendrick Tejonihokarawa, one of the “Four Indian Kings” who traveled to London in 1710. The print, by John Verelst, is entitled “Tee Yee Neen Ho Ga Row, Emperor of the Six Nations.” The title “Emperor” was a bit of a stretch, he belonged to the council of the Mohawk tribe, but not to that of the Iroquois Confederacy as a whole.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Epic Stories of the Iroquois" at the Adirondack Museum

The Iroquois people are the original residents of what is now New York State. There were five tribes in the first Confederacy: the Mohawk, Seneca, Oneida, Onondaga, and Cayuga. Eventually, a sixth nation, the Tuscarora tribe, joined.

On Sunday, March 14 Mohawk storyteller Darren Bonaparte will recount stories and legends of the Rotinonhsion:ni (Iroquois), including “The Creation Story” and “The Great Peacemaker” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake. The program, “Epic Stories of the Iroquois,” is part of the Cabin Fever Sunday series.

Darren Bonaparte is a storyteller, Mohawk historian, artist, teacher, and maker of wampum belts from Akwesasne. He is the author of Creation and Confederation: The Living History of the Iroquois as well as A Lily Among Thorns: The Mohawk Repatriation of Káteri Tekahkwí:tha.

Bonaparte is a also former elected chief of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. His articles have been published in Aboriginal Voices, Winds of Change, The Nation, and Native American magazine. He is also the creator of “The Wampum Chronicles: Mohawk Territory on the Internet” at www.wampumchronicles.com.

The presentation will be held in the Auditorium, and will begin promptly at 1:30 p.m. Cabin Fever Sunday programs are offered at no charge to museum members. The fee for non-members is $5.00. There is no charge for children of elementary school age or younger. Refreshments will be served. For additional information, please call the Education Department at (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit the museum’s web site at
www.adirondackmuseum.org .

Also on March 14, the Adirondack Museum Education Department will hold an Open House for Educators from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. Area teachers are invited to visit the Mark W. Potter Education Center to discover the variety of hands-on programs available for students in Pre-K through grade 12. All are designed to meet curricular needs. Educators can learn about the museum’s School Membership program and enter to win a day of free outreach classes for their school. For more information, contact Christine Campeau at (518) 352-7311, ext. 116 or [email protected]

Photo: Darren Bonaparte with wampum.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Abenaki Candidates to Address Voters Saturday

Denise Watso, a descendant of the legendary Abenaki Chief Louis Watso who lived in Lake George Village for a time and figures prominently in 19th century Native American life there, sent the Almanack a press release (below) about an upcoming candidate forum in Albany on Saturday, October 24.

This is a significant event in the history of the Abenaki Nation. It was only within this decade that the substantial membership of the Odanak Abenaki First Nation living in the Albany area have been able to vote for their chief and council members. This is the first election in which off-reserve Abenaki are able to run for office as well as vote.

Here is the press release:

The Capital District will host one of three forums for Abenaki voters to hear directly from candidates for Chief and Council of the Odanak Abenaki First Nation. The forum will be held from 12-4 PM, Saturday, October 24 at the German-American Club, 32 Cherry Street, Albany, NY 12205. This is an exciting time in the history of the Abenaki people – all Abenaki enrolled at Odanak are invited and encouraged to attend with their families.

Two additional forums will be held during the election season at Sudbury, Ontario, and on-reserve at Odanak. Elections will be held Saturday, November 28, 2009, although voters may also cast their ballots by mail.

The Abenaki are the aboriginal people associated with homelands in much of northern New England and adjacent parts of New York, Massachusetts and Quebec, as well as with the Odanak (Saint Francis) and Wôlinak (Becancour) reserves in central Quebec (and historically with the Penobscot Nation in Maine, too). Abenaki derives from Wabanaki (“people from where the sun rises,” “people of the east,” or “people of the dawn”), and this latter term is often used in a general sense to refer collectively to the Mi’kmaq, Malecite, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and Abenaki peoples.

While many Abenaki have been thought of as “Saint Francis Indians,” living at Odanak, in truth many Abenaki families have maintained part-time or full-time residence within their homelands south of the border continuously since the American Revolution. In fact, the first election held by the Odanak First Nation under the Indian Act, the legislation regulating aboriginal affairs in Canada, occurred January 18, 1876, after many Abenaki (and their Indian Agent) complained that the three chiefs serving the community at the time – Louis Watso, Solomon Benedict and Jean Hannis – were away from the reserve so often that two additional chiefs were required to ensure adequate representation. (The aged chief Louis Watso was actually living at Lake George, where a good deal of his family resided.) Samuel Watso and Lazare Wawanolett were chosen from a field of six candidates, and elections for office have been held at regular intervals ever since.

Abenaki history on the upper Hudson dates to at least the late 17th century when many ancestors of the modern Abenaki people lived at Schaghticoke, near the mouth of the Hoosic River. Continuing Abenaki presence in New York State is attested to by such notable 19th century Adirondack Abenaki as Sabael Benedict, Mitchell Sabattis, and the late 19th/early 20th century Indian Encampments at Saratoga Springs, Lake George and Lake Luzerne were primarily occupied by Abenaki. Despite a lack of recognition by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, these Abenaki families have persisted within and beyond their homelands: today, the Albany metro region is a major Abenaki population center. Other significant concentrations of Abenaki people are located in Waterbury, CT; Newport, VT; and Sudbury, Ontario.

This will be the second time that a formal forum for candidates for Chief and Council has been held in Albany. Approximately 60 people attended a similar event two years ago, and an even higher turn-out is expected this weekend. Off-reserve Abenaki were not allowed to vote in Odanak’s election until after the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Corbiere ruling struck down the voter residency requirement of Canada’s Indian Act.

The importance of the off-reserve vote has been increasing with each passing election. This election, however, may bring about even greater change as it will be the first time since the Indian Act was enacted that off-reserve Abenaki will be eligible to accept a nomination for office (per the 2007 Federal Court of Appeals’ Esquega decision). The potential impact of this development places an even greater spotlight on the role of off-reserve voters in the civic affairs of the Abenaki Nation.

It is also a point of pride for many Abenaki who think of both Odanak and the Albany area as home. Susan Marshall, a lifelong resident of Albany and Rensselaer, is looking forward to attending the candidate’s forum and voting for her first time. “I just wish my mom (Mary Jane Nagazoa) was here to see this, knowing how proud she would be.”


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

An Adirondack Poison: White Snakeroot

‘Tis the season for White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima). This pretty, weedy plant can be found blooming in many of our forests from late summer “until frost.” Hm…that could be any day now, if you believe the weather reports!

One of the nice things about white snakeroot is that it is one of our native plants. According to my field guide, it is classified with the bonesets and Joe Pye weed – a Eupatorium. However, botanists, like birders, can be found reclassifying living organisms on an almost daily basis, it seems, and now this plant is in a separate genus: Ageratina.

I think that because we are surrounded these days with warnings about non-native invasive species, we tend to slip into the idea that native plants must all be good. In one sense they are: they are good for the ecological niche in which they have evolved. But this doesn’t make them “good” plants, necessarily. White snakeroot is an excellent example of this, for it is poisonous.

Back in the 19th century, many many people died from a disease that was labelled “milk sickness.” It seems that some milk (and, it turns out, meat) was tainted with something that made the cattle ill and killed people. The disease was known to wipe out large portions of early settlements (Abraham Lincoln’s own mother was one of its victims), and it became such a problem in parts of Kentucky that a $600 award was offered in the early 1800s to anyone who could find the cause of the disease.

Although not officially identified until 1928, legend has it that Dr. Anna Bixby (1809-1869) identified the causative agent long before that. Supposedly many of her patients were dying from milk sickness, and, as was probably fairly common at the time, the disease was blamed on witchcraft. Dr. Bixby knew there must be a more rational explanation, and noted that the disease only turned up in late summer and into the fall, and it seemed to be based on something the cattle were eating. One day she met up with a Shawnee woman who told her that white snakeroot was the culprit. Dr. Bixby fed a bit of the plant to a calf, which promptly displayed all the symptoms. She had all of the plant torn out from the fields and forests where cattle were grazing, and remarkably, the disease went away. Sadly, she never got credit for this (nor did the Shawnee woman).

What happens is that cattle eat white snakeroot when there is no other forage around, so it’s not like it’s a primary food choice for them. The plant contains tremetol, which is the poisonous compound. Tremetol is stored in the meat and milk, and thus it gets passed on to people who consume these cattle products.

That said, according to Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany, the Cherokee and Iroquois did use this plant for a variety of medicines, including treatment for urinary ailments, as a diuretic, and as a treatment for venereal diseases. He doesn’t say, however, how well the medicines worked.

Still, just because a plant is toxic doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it – just don’t eat it! As you walk through the woods, perhaps along a shady path, keep your eyes open for a scraggly-looking plant about three to five feet tall. The leaves are jagged, and the top has a flattened cluster of white flowers. If you are lucky, you may find some butterflies nectaring on it, for it is one of their foods. Take the time to get to know it, for it is a lovely plant. Then note where it is so you can be sure your cattle don’t graze upon it.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Abenaki Day at The Adirondack Museum

Abenaki is a generic term for the Native American Indian peoples of northern New England, southeastern Canada, and the Maritimes. Members of the Abenaki Watso family will share the traditions, culture, and heritage of their ancestors at an upcoming event at the Adirondack Museum on Saturday, July 11, 2009. These Native Peoples are also known as Wabanaki (Eastern Abenaki – Maine and the Canadian Maritimes) or Wôbanakiak (Western Abenaki – New Hampshire, Vermont, and southeastern Canada). In the Native language Wôbanakiak translates roughly to mean “People of the Dawn.”

A majority of the Watso family who will demonstrate or present at the Adirondack Museum are from the Odanak reserve in the province of Quebec. The Abenaki Nation at Odanak, historically called the St. Francis, is now called the Odanak Band by the Canadian government.

“Abenaki Day” will feature demonstrations of traditional skills from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The demonstrations will include: sweet grass and black ash basket making by Barbara Ann Watso; bead work with Priscilla Watso; pounded black ash splint making with John Watso and Martin Gill; and traditional wood carving by Denise Watso.

Rejean Obomsawin will share traditional Abenaki legends that have been passed down by the elders at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Rejean is a singer, drummer, and guide at the Musee des Abenaki at Odanak.

Jacques T. Watso will offer traditional Abenaki singing and drumming at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Cultural anthropologist Christopher Roy will present a program entitled “Abenaki History in the Adirondacks and in the Adirondack Museum” at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Drawing on the museum’s Abenaki collections, Roy will share the findings of his research on the history and contemporary lives of Abenaki people in the Adirondacks and throughout the Northeast.

Christopher Roy is completing a PhD program at Princeton. Of particular interest to his research are the histories of residence off-reserve, questions of law and belonging, as well as the work of family historians in understanding Abenaki pasts, presents, and futures.

The Watso family has strong ties to the Adirondack region. Their ancestors include Sabael Benedict and his son Elijah, Abenaki men familiar to early settlers and explorers of the region, and Louis Watso an Abenaki man well known in the southern Adirondacks in the latter half of the 19th century.

Descendants Sabael Benedict and Louis Watso lived throughout the region, some as full-time residents and others moving back and forth between villages like Lake George and Saratoga Springs and Odanak, an Abenaki village on the lower St. Francis River in Quebec.

This branch of the Watso family also descends from John and Mary Ann Tahamont, basket makers who spent many summers at Saranac Lake around the turn of the last century.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Canadian Guns on Mohawk Land, 400 Years Later

The border closing this week at the Cornwall bridge, prompted by Akwesasne Mohawks protesting the Canadian government’s new policy to arm border agents, offers a distant echo of the unwelcome introduction of firearms to Mohawk lands in northern New York from north of the border 400 years ago.

According to David Hackett Fischer’s book Champlain’s Dream, Samuel de Champlain’s incursion into the valley that now bears his name was in fact a military campaign to confront Mohawks, who had been disrupting trade routes along the St. Lawrence river. At the end of July 1609, Champlain and two French soldiers allied with a coalition of northern Indians — Montagnais, Algonquin and Huron — ventured deep into Mohawk territory, engaging a superior force of the legendary warriors at the southern end of the lake.

Champlain and his French soldiers brought to the seemingly lopsided battlefield the latest advances of European ammunition: the arquebus, a short shoulder-fired gun. Champlain packed his firearm with multiple balls. By Fischer’s account, Champlain’s first shot brought down two Mohawk chiefs and a third warrior. The two flanking soldiers fired into the Mohawk ranks, felling a third chief. The warriors left the field, pursued by the gun.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Sweeping New Book About Lake Champlain

To coincide with the Lake Champlain Quadricentennial, Adirondack Life has published Lake Champlain: An Illustrated History, a big beautiful book about a singular expanse of water and the lands that surround it.

Every page of the large-format hardcover tome is rich with maps, illustrations and/or color photographs. The book gives due attention to the glaciers and natural and human history that pre-date the July 1609 arrival of explorer Samuel de Champlain, who fired the starting gun for two centuries of European warfare and upheaval.

The volume is divided into chapters about New York, Vermont and Quebec towns along the shoreline; the lake’s geology and biology; native inhabitants and their displacement; the waterway’s importance in colonial power struggles; its era as a highway for commercial transport; and finally Lake Champlain as a place of recreation.

The 220-page book is $44.95, available at adirondacklife.com and in regional bookstores.


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Frozen River, the Oscars, North Country Realism

Frozen River is nominated in two categories of tonight’s Academy Awards: best actress (the very deserving Melissa Leo) and best screenplay (by the equally deserving Courtney Hunt, who is also the film’s director).

If there were awards for North Country realism, Frozen River would run away with the all-time top honor.

The independent movie, filmed in Plattsburgh in 2007 on a budget of less than $1 million, has won 21 prizes, including the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, where Quentin Tarantino called it “one of the most exciting thrillers I am going to see this year.”

The plot centers on two single mothers — one Mohawk, from the Akwesasne Reservation, and one white, living in Massena — on the financial brink. They team up to smuggle illegal immigrants across the St. Lawrence River in the trunk of a car. There is suspense inherent in driving across ice, as a North Country audience knows all too well.

Director Hunt’s husband is from Malone, and her familiarity with local detail is abundant, down to the dirty snowbanks, rez radio, Quebec strip bars, Price Chopper, Yankee One Dollar, purple ties on State Troopers, and WPTZ weatherman Tom Messner giving a perky forecast of 30-below on a Rent-to-Own TV that’s always on inside the trailer of Ray Eddy, the character portrayed by Leo.

The movie also examines the jurisdictional ambiguities of the smuggling economy at Akwesasne, a nation unto itself straddling the U.S.-Canada border.

Other efforts in the bleak-North-Country genre (including an adaptation of Russell Banks’s The Sweet Hereafter, and Vermonter Jay Craven’s Northeast Kingdom movies) seem to sacrifice verisimilitude for art or convenience. Perhaps the truest antecedent for Frozen River is the ice-crossing scene in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, filmed in Port Henry in 1927 (excerpts can be seen here).

Frozen River was released on DVD earlier this month. Trivia/spoiler note: Michael O’Keefe, the actor portraying the State Trooper, played Danny Noonan in Caddyshack 29 years ago.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Adirondack Museum Celebrates Indian Lake

The Adirondack Museum set aside tomorrow (Saturday, October 18, 2008) for a day dedicated to the Town of Indian Lake, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The Adirondack Museum offers free admission to year-round residents of the Adirondack Park in the month of October, and is open from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.

The special day will begin with a presentation by Curator Hallie Bond at 11:00 a.m. entitled “The Armchair Canoeist’s Guide to Blue Mountain Lake.” Enjoy the warmth and comfort of dry land as Bond leads a “virtual” canoe trip to some of the historic sites on the shores of the lake.

Known as the “Koh-i-noor of the smaller wilderness gems” in the 1880s, Blue Mountain Lake was the most fashionable highland resort in the northeast. The presentation will include “then” and “now” photographs of landmarks such as the Prospect House, Holland’s Blue Mountain House, the town library, the Episcopal Church, and the mighty steamboat Tuscarora.

Bond will ask the audience to reflect on the meaning of “progress” and the ups and downs of a tourist economy. She will also ask Blue Mountain Lake old-timers to help in the identification of mystery photos in the museum collection, and reminisce about days gone by.

At 1:00 p.m., Dr. Marge Bruchac will offer a program called “The Indians of Indian Lake.” The presentation will include historic anecdotes, photographs, and family histories of some of the Indians who have made their homes in the village.

Native peoples such as Sabael Benedict, Emma Meade, and the Tahamont family were involved in growing the Adirondack tourism industry, promoting and preserving herbal medicine, and even in developing the image of the Hollywood Indian. According to Bruchac, these highly visible families were not the “last of the Indians” in Indian Lake.

Dr. Marge Bruchac is a preeminent Abenaki historian. She is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Coordinator of Native American Studies at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point. A scholar, performer, and historical consultant on the Abenaki and other Northeastern Native peoples, Bruchac lectures and performs widely for schools, museums, and historical societies. Her 2006 book for children about the French and Indian War, Malian’s Song, was selected as an Editor’s Choice by The New York Times and was the winner of the American Folklore Society’s Aesop Award.

At 2:30 p.m. a reception will be held for all in the museum’s Visitor Center. Caroline M. Welsh, Director of the Adirondack Museum, and Barry Hutchins, Supervisor of the Town of Indian Lake, N.Y., will offer remarks. Cake, tea, and coffee will be served.

Artwork created by students at Indian Lake Central School will be displayed in the Visitor Center throughout the day.

The Adirondack Museum tells the story of the Adirondacks through exhibits, special events, classes for schools, and hands-on activities for visitors of all ages. The museum closes for the season on Sunday (October 19).