BRATTLEBORO — The entrance at Retreat Meadows on Route 30 now has a sign bearing the original name of the area, Wantastegok, which Sokoki Abenaki called home for 12,000 years.
"That is the original name of this place — it refers to the confluence of the West and the Connecticut rivers, a place where things come together, a place where things are lost, a place where things are found," said Rich Holschuh of Brattleboro, a proponent of initiatives aimed at recognizing Abenaki history. "This is the occasion of launching a journey."
The sign will be part of a trail system around the water, Holschuh said. Other markers are anticipated to tell native stories and share local history.
The ceremony began with Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe singing a traditional Abenaki greeting song. He lives in Jamaica.
"Hello and welcome to the land of the Abenaki," he said.
Holschuh told attendees that the main roads they traveled to get to Thursday's event are all native trails, and where they were standing or sitting had been a village site.
In accordance with state guidance regarding gatherings in the coronavirus pandemic, only 150 people could come to the farmstead at Retreat Farm where the ceremony started. Some had to be turned away.
Buzz Schmidt, president and executive director of Retreat Farm, called it an honor and privilege for his group to be involved in the process. He described looking at his group as stewards rather than owners of the property.
The lands and water of what is now known as Retreat Farm is made up of about "650 remarkable acres of Abenaki homeland," Schmidt said.
"And across Route 30 from the farmstead are the lands we reclaim today, the 140 acres of uplands, wetlands, water and islands at the confluence of the West and Connecticut rivers in the foreground of a magnificent view of Wantastiquet Mountain," he said. "This is just the beginning of the process of reclamation, understanding and communications. We hope that in the near future, many other interpretative and cultural resources will be shared along a dedicated land and water pathway throughout this landscape and that at long last these resources will help to return the provenance of these lands to the first peoples, to give voice to longstanding Abenaki and native values promoting the essential oneness of time, place, all of life and the earth, and to establish at the central, well-traveled location an expansive native lens through which we might more accurately and vividly understand the landscape, history and life of Wantastegok as well as the other lands of Retreat Farm and lands throughout the region."
After unveiling the sign, Sheehan told the Reformer, "It's a long time coming but it's good."
Holschuh said a lot more projects are underway.
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at email@example.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.
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