Tag Archives: culture

The Norwottuck People of the Connecticut River Watershed

This story is a part of a Native American Blog Series in observance of National Native American Heritage Month.

During the peak of fall in September, visitors to the Fort River Division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge time-traveled to the ancient Native American heritage site of the Norwottuck people (who belong to the Algonquin Native American culture). Travelers stepped back 8,000 years to discover that many Native tribes lived and thrived in the Connecticut River watershed for thousands of years. Guests excavated in a sand-box archaeological dig, viewed projectile point arrowheads used for subsistence hunting and fishing by Native Americans thousands of years ago, and learned about the 1630’s contact period of European settlers. Visitors finished their journey into current day, knowing that Native American Nations still embrace their culture and practice their sovereignty in Massachusetts and across the United States. Walking along the bridge, visitors realized that beneath them lay thousands of years of important history that lives on in the culture of Native American Tribes today.

As the Jr. Native American Liaison for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I was able to tell this story and share my Native culture in the process. In late May, I joined the Student Conservation Association internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service having never been to the Northeast before. Coming from the prairie and Black Hills of South Dakota, Massachusetts was a long way from home. However, I was passionate to serve Tribes in whatever capacity I could. I now work with Southeastern and Northeastern Native American Tribes through my position.

As an Oglala Lakota-Sioux Native American, I sought the opportunity to learn more about Tribes closer to the Atlantic. Researching technical reports of the Fort River Division creation (containing archaeological information), New England Tribes encyclopedia (Bruce, 1978), and “Historic and Archaeological Resources of the Connecticut River Valley” (Galvin, Massachusetts Historical Commission), I learned the rich past and present of Tribes along the Connecticut River. Using creativity, passion, and accredited resources, I designed a Native American Storybook of the Norwottuck, Algonquin people. The 28-page story was displayed on kiosks along the Fort River Division 1.2 mile loop trail throughout the month of September.

On Saturday, September 16th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, invited the public to join them in activities to go along with the Storybook. Through partnership with Tim Binzen, the Service’s Native American Liaison for the Northeast and Southeast, and Eric Johnson, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Archaeologist, projectile point artifacts were on display for visitors. Children, parents, students, and trail-walkers alike, got to hold an arrowhead dating back 8,000 years.

EA at Fort River Trail

Later in the month, the External Affairs office of the Northeast Regional office of the Fish and Wildlife Service also visited the Storybook Trail at Fort River and each individual had the opportunity had to read a page from the story of Keme and Sokanon.

I hope that reading that storybook on that sunny day in September changed Fort River visitors, including my own colleagues at the agency. Student Conservation Association intern, Ben Whittlebee, remarked, “When I hold this arrowhead, I feel a little bit closer to the people who lived here before me. It’s like having a piece of them with me.”

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Tim Binzen, Native American Liaison for the Northeast and Southeast and former Refuge Archaeologist led the walk and discussed the importance of projectile points in Native American culture. Photo Credit: Leah Hawthorn

Tim Binzen mentioned that all projectile points tell a story of the people. These points were shaped differently and specifically for different uses and those methods were passed down from generation to generation. Christine Eustis, also a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee and visitor to the Storybook, mentioned that she had learned so much. She looks at wigwams and tepees with a different perspective and she understands more of the Native Americans of this area. Several visitors can now identify jewelweed and pokeberry, plants that were and are important to New England Tribes.

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Keme (thunder in Algonquian language) and Sokanon (rain in Algonquian language) are fictional brother and sister from the Norwuttuck Tribe in the Storybook, who explain their story of seasons, cultural activities, and timeline events of their home.

The Storybook concept is designed for children, but we can all learn from it.  At the end of the story, Sokanon and Keme discuss the sovereign nations recognized in the United States today. In fact, there are 567 federally recognized Tribes in the United States.  including nine Tribes in Massachusetts, seven of which are state-recognized.

The story says, “Communities are led by a Sachem (similar to a Chief, President, or Chairman). In 1885, English colonists mentioned that it was common for a woman to lead a village by virtue or hereditary descent as sachem. This holds true today for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, as Cheryl Andrews-Maltais is the Chairwoman, leader of the tribe”. The sister, Sokanon, goes on to say, “I’d like to be Sachem when I grow up”. The brother, Keme, responds, “I think you’d make a great leader, numis (sister in Algonquian)!”  

I enjoyed learning about the Native Tribes of the Connecticut River watershed. My experience sharing the story with children and adults in Hadley was so incredible. If you missed the Storybook walk, you can still read Keme and Sokanon’s story through this download: Norwottuck Storybook

The Fort River Division of Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge is open throughout the year. You may plan your to Hadley, Massachusetts anytime! https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Silvio_O_Conte/about/ma.html#fort

Celebrate Latino Conservation Week!

A passion for conservation is a universal concept shared by people of all countries, cultures, and ethnicities. For many, caring for the environment is motivated by personal experiences and an appreciation for the natural world. This week, July 15-23, is Latino Conservation Week, highlighting the Latino passion for the outdoors, role in conservation, and improving the lives for this generation and the next.

Latino Conservation Week is about providing opportunities for Latinos to come together and express their passion for the outdoors, with various activities across the country being offered to help foster the connection we feel with the environment.

Goals of Latino Conservation Week include providing families and youth with outdoor recreation opportunities near their homes, demonstrating the Latino community’s commitment to conservation, and working with community leaders and organizations to support conservation issues important to the community.

The Service supports Latino Conservation Week through a partnership with the Hispanic Access Foundation to connect diverse college students to careers in natural resource conservation. Meet three of the fellows below!

Meet Ivette Lopez

Ivette is originally from San Jose, California and graduated from Yale University last year with a Bachelor’s degree in geology, geophysics and Spanish. She is working at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, working to connect people to the outdoors in New Haven, Connecticut.

Meet Michael Bonilla

Michael is originally from the Dominican Republic, where he encountered a passion for agriculture and the outdoors. Michael graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a Bachelor’s degree in environmental and natural resource economics and minor concentrations in Spanish and leadership. He’s doing outstanding work in Providence, supporting national wildlife refuges in Rhode Island.

Meet Ariel Martinez

Ariel is a sophomore at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. She’s majoring in environmental science and policy with the goal of addressing matters of environmental justice. She is working at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge in upstate New York.

To find a Latino Conservation Week event near you, click here.

Want to hear from more of our Hispanic Access Foundation fellows and follow their journey all summer? Click here.

Bienvenidos a McKinney NWR

Ivette first joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a Yale graduate and a summer intern through our Hispanic Access Foundation partnership. She’s now joined the team full time at Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge, and is making great strides in connecting with the local Hispanic community in New Haven, CT.

The transition from my summer internship to working full-time at McKinney has been great. I am thankful for the supportive staff who constantly check-in with me and provide me with the necessary resources and guidance to succeed. As the New Haven Urban Wildlife Refuge Coordinator, my responsibilities include collaborating with partners such as Yale Peabody Museum and New Haven Parks, providing environmental education at local New Haven schools, establishing new connections with community organizations, and engaging underrepresented audiences. I love working primarily on the urban wildlife refuge partnership because every day I get to do something new. One day I’m helping cleanup an island, the next I’m attending a conference, and then I get to lead activities in Spanish at the Peabody. I am also very excited because McKinney has recently gone bilingual on Facebook. Check us out!

Earlier this fall, Ivette represented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at ¡Fiesta Latina!, an annual event at the Yale Peabody Museum that celebrates Hispanic culture. The Museum has been an integral participant of the New Haven Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership, established to connect urban communities with the National Wildlife Refuge System and nature. The event, held on October 8th, featured family activities, crafts and live music, and was attended by more than 2,250 visitors!

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Ivette manned an interactive and informative station featuring pelts and bilingual information about Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mission.

The visitors loved learning about the animal pelts, tracks, and scat. It was a rare opportunity for many of them to feel the pelts of local CT wildlife. They also enjoyed learning the Spanish name of each animal (beaver-castor, fox-zorro, coyote-coyote, skunk-zorrillo, and raccoon-mapache). My favorite part was when a visitor refused to touch any of the pelts because she had a slight fear of the animals, but after chatting about the importance of protecting wildlife she felt comfortable enough to touch the pelts.

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The majority of visitors at the event were unaware of the USFWS and the National Wildlife Refuge System, but once they heard about all the opportunities refuges have to offer they were very excited to learn about their local refuge. A lot of them brought home maps of the refuge and couldn’t believe they didn’t know about this hidden gem in their backyard. A lot of visitors mentioned that they were looking forward to bringing their families to view the salt marsh at Stewart B. McKinney.

¡Fiesta Latina! served as a great opportunity for Ivette and other Service employees to share our mission and invite Latino families to visit their local refuge. Since the event, Ivette and other members of McKinney NWR staff have participated in a number of community service events and received a number of inquiries about how the Service can tie in to events at local community and school organizations. Most recently, McKinney NWR hosted a Fall Foliage walk, and Ivetta assisted Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity with a cleanup event at Norwalk Shea Island.

Check back soon for an update from Michael Bonilla, another Hispanic Access Foundation superstar whose work has expanded at at Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership.