Acknowledging the History of the Land

Shannon Mo (class of 2019) is currently a student in the Permaculture practicum course. They are an undergraduate student studying Sustainable Food and Farming, interested in how garden-based education can spark larger social change. 

This post is my attempt to better understand the history of the land that I have been able to learn and garden on. I would like to acknowledge the Nonotuck people whose land was stolen and acknowledge our privilege in cultivating it.  
The Nonotuck people are named for the Algonkian term “Noah-tuk” meaning “middle of the river.” They lived on the geographical center of the Connecticut River, planted corn on the banks, and managed the land through ritual burnings. This was in addition to the seasonal hunting, fishing, and gathering that made up a resilient, diverse diet.  
In the 1640s, a trader named William Pynchon, with support from the Court of Massachusetts, began to cultivate and settle on Nonotuck land. Documents like Indian deeds falsely indicated a legal sale of the land in order to justify the English colonization of these ancestral homelands. However, these treaties reserved the right for Nonotuck people to continue hunting, fishing, agriculture, etc. in order to preserve their cultural right to the land. Another form of land theft employed by the English was the practice of taking land as debt repayment. This primarily happened in the 1660s when Native fur-traders found themselves unable to pay back their debts after the beavers were hunted to near extinction.

During King Philip’s War, many Connecticut River natives joined in the attacks on English townships. This rebellion was brought to an end after the English massacred 400 Native refugees at Peskeompskut, now known as Turner’s Falls. After this, tribes were invited to live in the upstate New York village Schaghticoke and often traveled back and forth between there, the Pioneer Valley, and Canada. White people continued to colonize the banks of the Connecticut River forcing Native communities off their lands. Some Native people chose to stay in towns, such as Sally Maminash who died in January of 1853 and is buried at the Bridge Street Cemetery in Northampton. Her tombstone falsely names her the last of the Indians here, a popular English trend at the time and a precursor to historical and modern claims of Native American extinction.   
Ten years after Maminash’s death Governor John A. Andrew signed the charter for the beginnings of what is now the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Almost 150 years later and the Franklin Permaculture Garden is implemented on campus in 2010.  
I was hoping to go beyond acknowledging indigenous history, and give suggestions on actions we can take to support indigenous

people in America. Here are some resources that I have found useful:  

  • I got all of my historical information from Margaret Bruchac’s chapter in A Place Called Paradise. Read it, as well as her other writings, to get an in-depth detail on Native history of the Pioneer Valley 
  • Research more on whose land your hometown is on and how you can support actions happening close to you 
  • I follow lilnativeboy on Instagram and have found many helpful resources from them including:  
  • This article was written by Simon Moya-Smith, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, about ways to be better allies  
  • This Ally Toolkit created by the Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network 
  • For a more local action check out the Nolumbeka Project an organization based out of Greenfield dedicated to preserving Native New England cultural sites and traditions  
  • Visit United American Indians of New England’s website to learn more, volunteer, and donate! 

Remember the Native people of New England did not disappear! Native people are still here, respect their existence.  
It is also important to acknowledge that Permaculture itself is synthesized indigenous knowledge. The creators of Permaculture

simply wrote down what indigenous cultures around the world have been doing for thousands of years. For example, in our garden, we plant the Three Sisters polyculture, a technique where corn, beans, and squash are planted together. The corn stalk serves as a trellis for the beans, who provide Nitrogen for the corn, and they both provide shade for the squash. The squash provides ground cover and protection with its spiny leaves and stems. This practice is a traditional Cherokee agricultural method based on the story of the Three Sisters. Check out this link for a few variations on the legend!  
To uphold Permaculture’s principle of Fair Share it is important that we continue to use our privileges to make sure that all marginalized communities are uplifted and respected. “Many hands make light work,” let’s all work together to create equity!