Saturday, October 17, 2020

What did the Indians know?

Since first learning about ceremonial stone structures I have wondered, as have others, how much of the specific ceremonies is remembered by today's Native Americans? Mavor concluded that there was a bit of residual knowledge, kept by some families; but nothing that would inform our understanding of what we find in the woods. Personally, I concluded, based on how many fresh rock piles appear (almost none) and their adherence to familiar patterns (incomplete, at best) that Mavor was essentially correct. I listened carefully, during an "expert panel on rock piles" at a NEARA meeting, when the president of USET, over the speaker phone, thanked Doug for teaching the member tribes about rock piles. He said: "We did not know about these things and you showed us the way". That seemed definitive.

In fact, the Native Americans - notably Doug Harris -  like to imply they always knew about rock piles. "The cat is out of the bag", Doug used to say when asked why these ideas were being discussed for the first time now, rather than at any time in the past. This always leaves me concerned that I am stepping on the toes of people who really know about rock piles because they are the originators of them. It is a huge opportunity to make a fool of myself.

Yet, I am given pause seeing a picture of the Narragansett medicine man standing on a stone mound and walking across it casually. An act of disrespect.

In any case, I just noticed a bit of logic that escaped me earlier.  If Doug Harris already knew about rock piles, then why would he take multiple walks with me? If he already knew about rock piles then why did the USET resolution appear (Resolution 2003:022) , identifying eight towns, only after I gave Doug the names of those towns? Had the main purpose of the USET resolution been the political aspect of working with New England towns, then Doug, who is an extremely busy person, would have gone to the towns first and not bothered taking walks with me.


Norman said...

I believe that you, Tim, I and a few others showed Doug Harris and other Native Americans stonework that their ancestors had constructed, but which they were completely unaware of. At the same time they were embarrassed to admit they didn't know anything about it. Just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, I have been working for several years with Rolf Cachat-Schilling, who was brought up in Westchester County by a Lenape aunt who did school him in the lore of the local stone structures. So I am inclined to believe that at least some traditional knowledge has been preserved about these sites.

pwax said...

I heard Rolf talk and he is finding things in the woods that match what I am finding in the woods. He does have some cultural knowledge but not a lot. As it stands, based on other communications I have had with Lenape-related people, the Lenape seem to retain some knowledge. Possibly more than the New England tribes.

pwax said...

Who is "Anonymous"?

Anonymous said...

I am reminded of my tour of Bob Miner's property with Doug Harris and Paul Robinson. As we concluded our tour of the old rock piles and ancient quartz quarries on that farm, Doug Harris turned to Bob Miner and said, "Do you still have the rabbit?" "Oh, yes!" Bob replied and immediately led us to the most remarkable boulder in the incredible shape of a rabbit. (I have a photo somewhere.) We know from Roger Williams that the rabbit was a venerated creature in Narragansett contact-period cosmology. I later asked Bob how Doug might have known about the rabbit. "I don't know," he replied. He thought maybe John Brown had seen it as a kid but couldn't say for sure.

Paul Robinson and I also had a short chat that day. I asked him about preserving the site at the Miner Farm. He didn't think it would ever be possible. I asked him why not. He said, because it was private property, the tribe would never get involved. He told me they have many concerns about outsiders profiting or benefiting in any way from such sites. So short of donating it to the tribe for their private use, they likely wouldn't admit any connection to it.

-Jim Porter


I don't know why my post came across as "anonymous" - the first such post, not the second. Rolf knows a good deal more than you give him credit for - for example, he supplied me with Algonkian terms for many of the stone structure types we are familiar with.

BTW, I am giving a talk tomorrow night (10/21) for Acton's Friends of Pine Hawk on stone structures. Here is the Zoom contact info:

Passcode: 716028

paramjeet kishore said...

i think you missed one point that is the daily or common habits resulting in piles