Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Pages 39-46 + Bibliography "Within the Bounds of a Subsistence Oriented Culture..." (Scott E. Hastings Jr. 1982) Native Vermonters in the Miller Pond Watershed: Heritage and Change...
In general, American society has moved to greater specialization and urbanization--and in the process created even more economic dependence and alienation from the sources of subsistence--that is the human raw materials of food, shelter, water, air, sun, moon and star light, the sounds of wind and animals, etc. As society becomes increasingly complex, one easily removes one's self from one's surrounding. Ecologically and spiritually, one no longer feels the changes the weather from moment to moment; the birds and animals no longer sing and talk amongst themselves. Grass outside one's house becomes an ornamental lawn, rather than a source of protein, the home of a cow or the favorite deer yard. A nearby pond might be nice to look at, if it is noticed at all, never warms one's body, never offers healing medicine, never provides shelter.
In the back country of Vermont, and the less one depends upon high technologies and large super structures to provide these, one can still experience one's self in relationship to these. When people depend upon the natural resources, they are more responsible and better connected, out of necessity. I noted the way people related to the land, the animals, the weather, constantly as frames of reference. People do not talk about the stock market, the opera, the latest fashions, or even international affairs. People talk about raccoons, berries, deer, trees, gardening, pigs, snow storms etc., as well as their relatives and neighbors and local politics.
Likewise, socially, our interdependence can be easily obscured where we specialize into chosen relationships based upon alienated functions, i.e. work, family, play, consumption, etc. Whereas in a simple society, what happens to one person happens in some way to the entire social group; in a complex, populated, or even just a constantly changing community, it becomes possible for truly distinct classes and subcultures to develope in semi-isolation from each other. In the city, one may step over the bodies of the homeless while gawking in department store windows. In Vermont, middle class teachers and social workers, etc., work with one group of people while spending their non work time in a completely different millieu (Keizer, 1988: 8). Likewise, the more newcomers who live in a town, the easier it is to make friends without being close to any natives.
By contrast, when Vermonters cut their own wood with their families on a Sunday afternoon, these functions remain integrated. When people work together, build each other's houses, shop at the same store as their neighbor, and learn the family trade, or volunteer for the fire department or Church benefit, rather than sitting isolated behind a TV screen or commuting to recreation-oriented resorts, a sense of community continuity can be experiences. When these activities also serve to provide basic services, such as raising money for a day care, or distributing food, or simply committing one's self to one's town and community, one's sense of commitment, kindred and sense of purpose is all the more deepened. In a small scale, rural society, it is possible for individuals to know each other and relate to each other i na trusting, non-stereotyped manner.
Furthermore, when people have direct access to the basics of subsistence, it is difficult to impose authoritarian rule upon them (Alverson, 1988). As people lose control of their economic base, they tend also to lose political control. In an urban environment, the common person is entirely dependent upon the system of exchange for his/ her survival, and while he may appear to be "liberated" from farm life, in another sense he has lost ultimate self-sufficiency. In Vermont, locals have retained until recently a very high degree of autonomy, economically and politically, But as
people lose control of the right to dispose of their property, they also risk losing their political freedom. As the land -based economy falters, so does the integrity of the people. Finally, as people relinquish their land titles for the short term economic relief, they lose the resource which once gave their ancestors their distinct reputation and character.
NATIVE DILEMMA/ CONCLUSIONS
Today, economic dependence born of the desire for industrial made goods, has eroded people's autonomy and self-determination. As the land comes into the speculative market and money from out of the community pours in, people are pressured to produce more, or get off of the land. One sees desperation n the intensity of people's feelings, and in the increase in housing problems. Perhaps the most desperate are those who have gone the furthest from land and family, living in semi-urban towns such as Hartford, or Lebanon. In Straffordand Thetford, people are maintaining their connections by lving without the 'necessities of the modern generation. Or they are moving north, seeing this as a conscious way to avoid what they see happening in the south. One backwoods person told me how he would build a tar paper shack, up in Maine or northern Vermont, and keep his taxes down. Another explicitly said he didn't want to own anyone anything--he'd rather have someone owe him than the other way. Besides taxes, he counted electric lights and the telephone as his only bills, and puts food by as well.
Many of the backwoods people I spoke with the education, physical capacity, or skills to hold better jobs. Yet on another level, these people have resources of survival which come from their backwoods experience, and they feel uncomfortable with the middle class ethos which would be required of them to 'compete' in these jobs. For instance, when invited to volunteer at the local school, one backwoods man declined, saying he didn't have the training, and he'd "probably kill the bastards" anyway. The backwoods person wants to be secure in his home, secure in his property, and free to go about his business undisturbed, but not to give up his values and lifestyle.
In general, solutions to the property crunch such as land trusts and clustered affordable housing units, which are being promoted as solutions to Vermont's social, economic and ecological problems, seem unlikely to preserve the needs and culture of these backwoods people. True, these do provide low income families with a roof, and they allow land to stay open for the enjoyment of the geberal public. Yet, like reservations, they rob Native Vermont people of personal autonomy and the right to free access and use of natural resources which they have enjoyed for generations; only because they no longer control the politics and economics of the state. These people, if put into clustered units, would find themselves stifled by the lack of privacy, the rules and regulations placed upon them, and most likely the likely the shortage of natural resources, such as wood/ agricultural space/ car lots, etc. Finally, these people would become subject to the laws and requirements of developers, elitist boards, and state agencies; whereas once they were in charge of their land, destiny, and community. Shunted into "...rabbit hutches...", what guarantee would people have that at some later date, these organizations couldn't decide to remove still more land, or to place further restrictions on its use? Generally, flatlanders tend to make more rules, and to accept more governmental controls, particularly when they control others to their own advantage. Flatlanders may see themselves as
helping the people and the land, yet natives resent them. As Homer St. Francis, the chief of the Missisquoi Abenaki put it, the state's solution is to throw money at the problems, to hire more cops and build more jails. He wants to do away with bureaucrats to "...be free...(1989)".
Certainly, at least one interviewee was convinced that the present state policy served to remove people from their land, and perhaps form the state as a whole. He claims that while Kunin laments the increase in homelessness, "...She's the bitch that put them there...", due to her system of taxes and regulations. Kunin similarly refers to high school drp outs as "failures", to justify her educational goals. However, the desire to 'educate' the native seems calculated to assimulate people and to prepare them for either a suburban lifestyle or jobs in the service industries which the state promotes via tourism and the making of the Vermont image. Again, the programs are likely to meet the needs of classic Vermonters who aspire to middle class jobs and lifestyles. But clearly, many of the people I spoke with have different values and aspirations, yet feel forced either either to conform or leave.
Boke's article (1988) suggests that many of their children will find themselves adrift, or afraid of the forms and demands placed upon them. In Dogs of March a novel depicting a backwoods person, the father and son struggle to understand each other as the college-going son attempts to become middle class. Locally, elders express dismay and incomprehensive at the new values of their children. In the future, Vermonters will have to decide whether 'social progress' is worth the cost. Many will probably take advantage of social programs and/ or more secure employment. However some who do so will do so out of necessity, rather than a choice.
In the beginning of this paper I implied the cultural closeness of the Abenaki to their white neighbors. Many of the values associated with native Vermonters can be seen as compatible if not derived from, Abenaki values. Notably: independence and local control, reliance on family, using natural resources wisely but sparingly, frugality and toughness, orneryness, distrust of state officials, resistance to acculturation, defense of a sense of place, knowledge of the woods and how to survive harsh physical conditions, distrust of newcomers, and also of southern flatlanders' attempts to improve or take over control of the land and social institutions, to name only a few.
As I have argued, in the Thetford Center and Miller Pond area, some of the Native Vermonters I spoke with not only descend from early settlers, as is generally supposed, but also descend from even earlier Vermonters--the Abenaki. Their committment to the land, their sense of identification with family, heritage, and place, then, simply reinforces the feeling/ reality of generations having lived there, of having a special connection to their land, and of wishing to preserve a heritage. When these people grumble about flatlanders and seek to resist newcomers' demands for social change, they are not simpy being parochial, ignorant, or onery, as the newcomer often assumes. Rather they are acting wisely to protect a birthright.
Their dilemma is that of the native everywhere, but made particularly acute by conflicting loyalties. On the other hand, they are American: they vote, pay taxes, go to church, and attend school with their neighbors. As Americans, they are required to give equal opprotunity to all people, regardless of ethnic origin. No public institution may exclude a flatlander; new comers have the right to vote, buy property, and fight for their interests as fully as any native. Because of this, there is no institutional recogntion for these people's interests, and no means to redress a precieved wrong. In
effect, the original land tenure system designed by the white settlers was at bast intended to allow people to appropriate and alienate the land from its inhabitants, and to allow land to become a commodity for the aggrandizement of the larger state and its elites. However, the American Revolution afforded Vermonters the opprotunity to escape the latter oppression to a fair extent, in that Vermonters still have until recently kept taxes and regulations at a minimum, and retained a high degree of local and personal autonomy.
The Abenaki people have been able to establish themselves within this political and economic framework. If anything, the chief in Thetford (Howard F. Knight Jr.) seems ultra-American in his values. And of course, he is, as American and particularly Vermont culture has been shaped and influenced by its aboriginal peoples. For generations now, the backwoods natives have intermarried and taught each other their values and survival tatics. Many people from Abenaki families have served in government and public service, as constable, game warden, town clerk, selectman, Governor (Howard Knight, 1988-1989), possibly even president of the United States (Moody, 1989b). However, the Abenaki have paid for the right to be integrated into white culture by denying their heritage, particularly to outsiders (Fifield, 1988). Most Vermonters do not see their neighbors as Abenaki, and families often deny any non-white affiliation. (Knight, 1988-1989)(Fifield, 1988).
As long as this remains the case, the fate of Native Vermonters generally promises to be the fate of the Abenaki community. However, some Abenaki in Vermont are vocally asserting their different heritage, claiming the right to control and protect their homeland, and to use natural resources to meet their susbsistence needs. In Missisquoi, or Swanton, Vermont, the chief (Homer Walter St. Francis, Sr.) has
declared his nation to be free and sovereign, no longer subordinate to the United States or the state of Vermont. In so doing, he asserts aboriginal rights over the moneyed interests of flatlanders, and eliminates their political power. he would end their ability to exact taxes, build exclusionary developments for elites, or to levy fines on his people for 'disruptive' behavior. Furthermore, he promises to let people build as they please on their own land, "...as long as they don't abuse it...(Homer St. Francis Sr., 1989)". He thus proposes to remove the onerous regulatory burdens of zoning, Act 250, Act 200, etc., which, Native Vermonters believe, inhibit their ability to construct affordable housing on rural-sized lots. Homer St. Francis Sr. also promises a more human-oriented government, where people will be free, basic needs met will be available to all, and everyone will be treated equally. Doctors and bureaucrats would not exploit people, under his system.
Perhaps, in some way the Miller Pond/ Thetford Center Abenaki community will take inspiration from the Missisquoi. The chief locally has talking about the ne need for unity and the possibility of a tax-free land trust of some sort. He and others have also talked about leaving the area for the north. At present, however, the group here has a fairly informal organization, does not seek to be harassed by outsiders, and does not identify itself publicly. Because of this, this group's interests constitute a a muted voice, and its future direction will probably depend upon the degree to which ethnic diversity becomes an acceptable forum for social interaction and political debate, the degree to which people are willing to perservere, despite enormous pressure to alienate themselves from connection to land and family, and the degree to which young people can incorporate opportunity and social mobility with traditional values.
FOOTNOTES PAGE 44
1. "...The first settlers...(of Thetford/ Strafford), in 1764, found abundant evidence that this section of country had been inhabited by a numerous tribe of Indians, previous to the war between Great Britain and France, in 1756. In the southern part of the town, near the river, was their old camping-ground, and a small clearing where they had raised corn...(Hemenway, 1871: 1093)".
2. Situated on a backroad between Miller Pond and Old City Falls, in Strafford, Vermont, and marked on the enclosed map.
3. Encircled in green on enclosed map.
4. This map is on display at the Latham Memorial Library, at Thetford Hill, Vermont. It shows the settlement patterns in 1858, compared with 1960.
5. According to Wells' History of Newbury: "...As the towns were being settled, occassionally an Indian would lay claim to a farm or small piece of land...(Blaidsell, 1980: 109)".
6. Michael Caduto is an environmental awareness teacher, who emphasizes Abenaki heritage and traditions in his work in Vermont schools. He related to me in conversation that when schoolchildren are asked to raise their hands if they have Native American ancestry, one out of every ten, roughly, does so, particularly in northern areas, such as Lyndonville, Vermont.
7. For instance, the moose and beaver which had been the mainstays of their diet, (Day, 1978: 154) have only recently become more re-established (Johnson: 92-93, 68-69).
8. I found a number of references to both tramps and gypsies in this area. Margaret Grow, for instance, describes walking past an encampment of gypsies, who, like the Abenaki portrayed by Day (1978) and Moody (1982), sell trinkets and baskets (Grow, 1960: 100). Hester Gardner of the Fairlee Historical Society orally confirmed that there were so-called gypsies who travelled the Connecticut River in this area. Thetford, likewise, early on established a tramp house (Thetford Town Reports, 1911, 1926, etc.). Furthermore, Cate's description of the tinker (1982) sounds precisely like Joseph Bruchac's description of the lifestyle of the Abenaki (Bruchac, 1988).
9. It was common practice i nthe past to exclude people of color from white society, even to the point of seperate or unmarked burials. Howard Knight, the current chief of the local Abenaki, cites Gove Hill as having a pit dug for a child and her Indian mother. Another practice, according to him, was to bury a woman behind the barn--perhaps in an unmarked grave. Given this attitude, families would tend to conceal their Indian ancestry. Likewise, both women and native peoples were denied political power. One has to wonder what sort of choices were involved for such wives, and to what extent they lived their lives in isolation, unnoticed by white male culture.
10. Between Miller Pond/ Skunk Hollow and the West Branch lie the largely unsettled areas of
FOOTNOTES PAGE 45
Whitcomb Hill and Podunk Wildlife Refuge.
11. Although the Orange County Gazeteer lists a Nathan Pero as living in Thetford in 1888 (Child, 1888, ).
12. "...Hunting territories, contrary to popular belief, were not just vaguely defined tracts of wilderness...they were defined in terms of their core features, which in this case consisted of a system of trails related to watercourses. In the center of each...was a tributary stream of a larger river, such as the Connecticut or Missisquoi...Usually there was was a main trail associated with the principal tributary stream. A second main trail ran at right angles to the first, bisecting it and dividing each hunting territory into quarters. Boundaries corresponded more or less to the divides between watersheds...Each hunting territory was controlled by a particular family...(Haviland, 1981: 155-6).
13. This was related to me by a number of newcomer residents I am friends with, who have lived in the back areas of Bradford, South Strafford, Thetford Center and Norwich for ten or more years. For instance, Ken Korey, of Dartmouth College, related how his other backwoods neighbors warned him about the neighbors when he first arrived in Town.
14. I judge this based on conversations I had with a native to the area who belongs to our co-op and whose father is a Dartmouth professor.
15. Such as Manning, Pero, Eastman, Silloway, Jamieson, Stevens, Barker, Thurston, Hawkins, Cole, Stone, Paige. (Howard Franklin Knight, Jr. continues to mention these surnames as being in or associated with his family throughout the years since 1988-1989 as well.)
16. In the patriarchal mind these are often equivalent.
17. See Rexford Guy Tugwell, "The Hired Man" written in 1925, quoted in Wilson, 1936 page 352: "...Provided a man had the minimum physical and psychic qualities neceassary to farming sucess, it was not difficult for him to become a farmer on his own..."
18. See Meeks, 1986: 252-318 and Wilson, 1936.
19. Illegally shining headlights and hunting at night.
20. This was also confirmed in the Fairlee area for fishermen, by William Chapman, Jr. in a personal conversation at the Chapman's Pharmacy and Sportsmen's store in Fairlee.
21. I am not sure now whether this was in one season or over a period of time.
22. Day, 1978: 158.
23. Backwoods natives often do not have working telephones, and many newcomers have native surnames, so these are only rough estimates.
24. Billin, Dan 1988 Valley News November 21 pp. 1, 12. " '...Wages have not kept pace with housing costs', said Pam Green of the Office of Economic Opportunity. "That's beginning to sound like a horribly worn out cliche...(Billin, 1988)' ". See also Boke, 1988 page 44.
FOOTNOTES PAGE 46
25. A survey done by the Town of Strafford in 1988, for instance, revealed that, of those who participated, there was no clear cut difference in values between native Vermonters and newcomers. However, this in itself represents a self-selected sample, and since the identities of the respondants are unknown, there is no way to determine how the responses correlate with other factors, such as cultural heritage, employment history, class and educational background, lacation, of present residence, or even what part of Vermont the natives were born in.
26. Ironically, the primary proponent of this campaign was himself a land-wealthy newcomer.
27. My knowledge of low income, working people in this area comes from working on hotlines such as at Headcrest and the Women's Information Service, as well as participation in groups such as parenting classes at The Family Place, Parents Anonymous, and simply from shopping at the local P and C, Kmart, Listen Center, etc.
28. South Eastern Vermont Community Action. I spoke personally last spring with Mr. Chaffee, a native of Lyme, NH, about the possiblity of researching the dynamics of this phenomenon. He also works in Hartford with the Haven, the Food Station, and as a minister.
29. See also Thomas, 1976: 5-9.
30. "...Not long ago he might have made it picking up odd jobs in the country, being a jack of all trades. But that way of living is almost gone...(Boke: 48-49)".
31. I am not advocating hunger, disease, homelessness or other forms of distress; I am suggesting that Americans live in a cultural system which sets a particular economic standard for people to live by, while denying the circumstances, arbitrariness, and social/ ecological. consequences of those standards.
32. Although modern argricultural appears to pull more out from the earth than less mechanized systems, if one looks and the total energy bill of American farming, and calculates the environmental effect of mining, oil drilling, toxic waste, roads, parking lots and shopping malls, etc etc., it becomes clear that the total use of the land and natural resources vastly exceeds the requirments of societies uninvested in high technology, and I would argue, reflects culturally created rather than real needs.
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