Tag Archives: history

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.”


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.


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

Blast to the Past with a Mastodon Tooth

Natural history is fascinating. Today we are going to hear from Elizabeth Rush, a cultural resources intern through the American Conservation Experience. One of the many neat tasks she has, is working alongside Region Five’s Historic Preservation Officer, Amy Wood,  looking at multiple artifacts from National Wildlife Refuges, some dating all the way back to the ‘old stone age’ period of mastodons and primitive human tools. Many of them are even featured on displays for guests, like you, to view! Rush has traveled all across the northeast region going from refuge to refuge, and today she shares what makes her so passionate about her line of work in such a unique internship.

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Amy Wood and Elizabeth Rush accessing the Petit Manan lighthouse at Maine Coastal Islands. Credit: James Fortier

Conducting a region wide inventory of Museum Property at refuges has brought me to many beautiful places, and allowed me to (re)discover many fascinating objects in the care of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Some artifacts I have inventoried are more remarkable than others, but all serve to tell the story of how humans have used wildlife refuges for thousands of years.

During one of my first refuge visits last summer I was amazed to discover, carefully boxed in an environmentally controlled archival room, a very large mastodon tooth. The mastodon, now extinct, existed from the Miocene to the Pleistocene time period, between 23 to 13,000 years ago.  They were very large and similar to elephants, but covered in fur.

I had never had the opportunity to be so close to, let alone handle, such a beautiful and complete specimen of mega-fauna before that moment.  I was instantly transported back in time imagining the immense and noble beasts roaming the north east and I was absolutely delighted.  I remember thinking nothing I inventory will come close to being as cool as this! And I was proven wrong the following spring.  My second encounter with the remains of mega-fauna at a wildlife refuge was just as exciting and just as surprising.  A refuge in our region accidentally discovered the remains of multiple eastern elk, a large mega-faunal ancestor to the majestic elk that call the far west home today.  When I first laid eyes on the enormous antlers, so similar to the antlers of the elk I have encountered in the years I spent living in Montana, I was a little confused.


I thought, ‘wait a minute; there aren’t any elk in northern New York, especially no monsters that could have shed these antlers’. Then the realization dawned on me, there was once elk in northern New York, approximately 10,000 years ago.  Sure enough, these remains were dated to about 9,500 years before present day.  The eastern elk antlers are among my all-time favorite artifacts in the north east region.  My museum property visit to this refuge was a great experience.  I learned so much about the history of the area through the artifacts stored at the refuge.  It is always a great feeling to meet with refuge managers and staff who are excited to teach me about their local history, especially when they have worked so hard to preserve the material culture of their community’s past.

As much of a privilege it was to encounter such astounding artifacts as the mega-fauna remains, there is nothing quite like feeling connected to the Paleoindian people who camped, hunted, and fished on the land and waterways that make up our wildlife refuges. During my refuge visits I have come across some beautiful artifacts made by Paleoindians.  One such artifact I found fascinating was a bone or antler pendant.  It was hollowed and carved into a perfect circle.


Antler pendant

Another amazing paleo artifact I inventoried was an ancient fluted projectile point.  The fluting technique or removal of a large central flake (piece of the stone used for tool manufacture) is a diagnostic feature of a projectile point indicating this point may be 12,000 years old.  Encountering an artifact such as this is a humbling experience. It is a reminder of mankind’s relationship to the natural world, that these landscapes were utilized and appreciated for as long as humans walked the earth.

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Projectile point next to quarter for size, Credit: Elizabeth Rush

This is the same reason why the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works to protect these integral and endangered habitats is likely why our refuges have such impressive artifact collections.  These landscapes have always been places of life and abundance, and worthy of our efforts to preserve our natural and cultural resources.

Bat to the Future

A 100-year-old bat specimen housed at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. may help scientists unravel the mystery behind white-nose syndrome, a disease that has devastated North American bat populations.

Myotis bechsteinii. Photo by Sam Dyer Ecology.

Researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, University of New Hampshire, Bucknell University, and the University of Adelaide in Australia used DNA analysis to detect Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome (WNS), on a Bechstein’s bat (Myotis bechsteinii) collected on May 9, 1918 in Forêt de Russy, Centre-Val de Loire, France. The discovery supports the presence of WNS in Europe and Asia more than 100 years ago and shows how ancient specimens can inform modern day research.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History’s biological collections (25 million specimens) preserved in fluids, such as alcohol and formalin, and informally known as the “wet collections.” The facility has the latest technology for the safe use of flammable liquids.

Dr. Michael Campana, a computational genomics scientist at the Smithsonian Institution Conservation Biology Institute’s Center for Conservation Genomics, said archived museum collections are critical for studying emerging diseases like white-nose syndrome. As a computational genomics scientist, Campana uses computational and statistical analysis to decipher biology from genome sequences and related data. Campana’s colleague, Carly Muletz-Wolz, also used museum specimens to investigate the historical prevalence of the fungal pathogens Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and B. salamandrivorans in amphibians, information that has conservation plan implications.

“Without archived specimens from the past, the evolutionary history of an animal or pathogen is inferred, but not confirmed,” Campana said. “Without archived specimens, the genomic history is inferred from limited modern data, limitations that may cause incorrect inferences. By seeing a pathogen’s genetics from the past, you can more accurately infer its evolutionary history.”

Named for the white fungus that is visible primarily on the muzzle of the bat, WNS was first documented in North America during the winter of 2006 in New York state. To date, the disease has killed more than 6 million bats in 31 states and 5 provinces. In the winter months, bats carefully and precisely measure their energy expenditure to survive until spring. Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and U.S. Geological Survey have hypothesized that P. destructans kills bats by increasing the amount of energy they use during hibernation, thereby inhibiting normal physiological functions.

White-nose syndrome occurrence map as of August 2017. Map provided by white-nosesyndrome.org, A Coordinated Response to the Devastating Bat Disease.

Campana said genetic studies of present day bat specimens and historic samples both inform effective conservation by comparing genetic differences leading to adaptations. Currently, WNS is occurring in multiple bat populations in Europe and Asia, yet the bat populations are not declining as seen in WNS-infected populations in North America. This indicates the presence of disease tolerance mechanisms, whereby the bat host limits the harmful effects of WNS, but does not eliminate the presence of the fungus. The ability of Eurasian bats to survive in the presence of WNS is evidence of a natural, evolutionary adaptation, that can most likely be found in immunity genes.

Little Brown Bat infected with white-nose syndrome in Greeley Mine, VT. Photo by Marvin Moriarty, USFWS.

Dr. Jonathan Reichard, WNS National Assistant Coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says the discovery has implications for WNS research in North America.

“The ability of Eurasian bat populations to coexist with WNS suggests adaptive evolution with a possible genetic underpinning for survival,” Reichard says. “We hope that North American bats have the capacity to reach similar equilibrium to survive with the disease.”

Currently, some bats in North America are surviving with WNS while others seem to not contract the disease, but the specific factors leading to their survival are still being investigated.

“If the ability to survive with WNS is from a genetic adaptation that is heritable, North American bats could experience an evolutionary bottleneck and return to a stable or recovering population,” Reichard says. “Work by Dr. Campana and colleagues will help us investigate patterns of resistance and persistence that we are observing both between species and within species in North America. This understanding is critical for focusing our management and research efforts.”  

Click here to read the “White-Nose Syndrome Fungus in a 1918 Bat Specimen from France” research letter.