Monday, November 13, 2006

People at the NEARA conference

I have nothing systematic to say about the conference. I went to a few talks but enjoyed schmoozing out in the hallway more. The titles of a lot of the talks left me un-inspired, so I just took it easy and only planned to go to a few things, particularly things by friends. On the whole, though, it was a very exciting conference to be at because, for the first time, archeologists, antiquarians, and Native Americans all participated. That was the plan anyway but the conference proceeded in two separate rooms and, just as I had little interest in what was going on in the "Eastern States Archeology" (ESAF) room, so apparently did most of the ESAF members have little interest in what was going on in the NEARA room. Maybe in a separate post I'll go through the part of the schedule I experienced. But how about some mention of the people? These are the ones I wanted to capture on camera (I missed on getting a decent photo of Linda McElroy).

Here is Cheryl Maltais:
Cheryl is the head of the Gay Head Wampanoag (the "Aquinna") and will be the next president of the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET). As a member of the Wampanoags Cheryl comes from one of the families charged with preserving "culture" and, so, she is in charge of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office. I got to eat lunch with her and although I wanted to ask how she ended up at this meeting, I held my peace and waited for the topic to come up. As it happens, she mentioned how some families were "fishing families" and how some were "cultural families" and, at that point, I asked if she was (yes) a member of a cultural family. But she also mentioned that many of the facts related to ceremony (...ya know...rock piles and such) were known to some limited number of families and were not shared with the others. [This is connected to a discussion of the density of rock pile sites. If the pattern she describes held true also for the people making rock piles in my neighborhood, it suggests this was an activity limited to a few individuals in the tribe. ] Cheryl also talked about the recent goal of her tribe to re-vitalize their language and their culture. She mentioned that the last of the grandfathers took most of their knowledge with them when they passed away. I asked if that was around in the 1960's and she agreed and it seemed for a moment that we were on the same wavelength. I must also add that I asked her if there were any rock piles on Martha's Vineyard and she said "lots" and proceded to talk about how there were som many places she played in when she was a child without understanding their significance. [To me this is an important clue about things.]

Here is a picture of Doug Harris on the right, and Jic Davis on the left. Jic was filming much of the proceedings. Doug is married to the daughter of the Narragansett Tribal Historian, he works for the Medicine Man, and is an Officer of the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NITHPO). Doug is the man. He first visited the sites in Carlisle and was instrumental in the first acknowledgedment that ceremonial sites exist in Acton, etc... and were, indeed, important ceremonial places to the Indians. He is the author of the USET 2003:022 resolution [Click here].
During the meeting Doug was extremely clear that the question of "What are rock piles for" was answered by the resolution. (Read it again.) In the early years (i.e. prior to the USET resolution) I showed Doug around the sites locally and, I am proud to say, I had something to do with defining the list of towns included in that resolution. Doug has been and will be the ambassodor between the Narragansetts and the local towns. He is a charismatic speaker and a fine guy.

Here is a picture of Curtis Hoffman. Curtis is the only "official" archeologist who is actively studying rock pile sites and other related "above ground" stone features. Curtis is, I believe, past president of the Mass. Archeological Society (MAS), he is Chairman of the Anthropology Department at Bridgewater State, he is the author of "People of the Freshwater Lake" [?]. He organized this conference and Curtis is also "the man" in a number of ways. He has the respect of a number of different communities.
I also claim some role in bringing Curtis into contact with Doug H. and the people in Carlisle. [Curt first came to Carlisle to see my arrowhead collection and also a couple of pieces Tim Fohl had.] Curt's acceptance by Doug is a matter we can leave for later biographers to try to piece together. But at any rate, today, everybody gets along. Curt had a number of interesting things to say at the conference and the ones I took note of were these: his background was not in American Archeology which [he stated] has gotten off onto a bad path in its pre-occupation with what people eat - as opposed to what they believe or do. By contrast, Curt was trained as a Biblical archeologist to study the Jews [he is Jewish] in the Mid-East and so he was trained to think about how beliefs impact physical culture and, perhaps because of this, he is more ready than most to see that the above ground stones as worth studying. Curt is a joker, among friends, and was talking about "NEARA my heart to thee"...just to give you an idea of his character. I could tell you more about Curt and about my own interactions with him but let me mention that he and Doug came up with the idea of training Indians to protect ceremonial structures in towns - training in recognizing the ceremonial features, training in local laws and political interaction, training in certain traditions. Apparently USET made another resolution recently to support a program Curt proposed for Bridgewater State, that would conduct this training program as a variant of their program in Cultural Resource Management ("CRM").

Here is Bruce McAleer.
Bruce is my frequent companion on explorations. We went on a road trip last year, which he proposed, and which was very succcessful. Typically enough we go out exploring and find very little but Bruce has found some vast rock pile sites and he is the only person besides me who seems to have a passion for finding new places. Bruce has been working for some time with Suzanne Wall, a geologist, to identify and map locations where soapstone was quarried. Here is Suzanne Wall: She is quite a character - giving a scholarly, almost school-marmy, presentation at the meeting but, outside the meeting, seeming to have na in-the-field kind of character. She impressed me the first time we met, as the Jeep we were in barely escaped getting bogged down in the mud and exclaiming: "Holy saturated silt!" She is a trained geologist, actively out looking for interesting rocks. Those are my personal contacts and some of the "movers and shakers" at this meeting. Here are some people who make the NEARA organization function. This is Sue Carlson, an architect and expert on things Scandinavian. She has been involved with analyzing some of the Norse rune stones found here. And here is Ros Strong: Sue and Ros live together in Maine and between the two of them produce the NEARA Transit and the NEARA Journal. I think they do a fabulous job and I sympathize with their quarterly editor's puzzle: how to fill an entire issue with articles [I have the same problem here so if you have material then send it in!]. These are very nice ladies who have dedicated their lives to keeping the NEARA organization going. How they pay for things I cannot imagine but Ros is about the only person in NEARA who I am comfortable leaning my head on and going to sleep against, at the back of a darkened conference room.

Finally, here is Jim Egan from Rhode Island.
I am not sure how to introduce Jim. He has been presenting at NEARA meetings since I started going to them 8 or so years ago. He is usually talking about colonial era architecture, or about the Newport Tower, and always brings an attitude of precision and imagination to his observations. He spoke about the Benedict Arnold trading post in colonial Rhode Island [not the Benedict Arnold of later treasonous fame], and showed some rock piles which (to my shame) were pretty good examples of non-ceremonial piles that could have been mistaken for ceremonial piles. A good guy to know.

1 comment :

JimP said...

Excellent work Peter. Thanks for bringing this conference to the blog and giving all of us a chance to experience it through your eyes and ears.

I've had the pleasure of meeting five of the nine people you talked about above. I have to say that I was impressed with each and every one of them. They are all terrific people and brilliant minds -- and I'm not just saying that. This field of study seems to have the ability to attract the very best people.

Thanks again!