The history of an Abenaki site in Vermont will be rewritten by Native Americans

BELLOWS FALLS, Vermont (WCAX) – Research into the history of a petroglyph site along the Connecticut River in Bellows Falls will be initiated with a grant from the National Park Service.

The hope is to share a story of Indigenous peoples that has yet to be told.

Bellows Falls Island is sacred Abenaki land. It was a fishing ground for Native Americans thousands of years ago and soon this story will be told from a new angle.

“There hasn’t been an indigenous voice informing this and that’s the source, that’s why it’s here,” said Abenaki Cultural Relations Officer Rich Holschuh.

Beneath the Vilas Bridge in Bellows Falls, carved into the rocks along the banks of the Connecticut River, are messages frozen in time.

“And that’s what these messages in the stone are about – balance. And so they are a lesson for us,” Holschuh said.

The site is known as Kchi Pôntegok.

“There has been an aboriginal presence and an Abenaki presence going back 11,000, 12,000 years,” said Walter Wallace of the Rockingham Historic Preservation Commission.

A partnership between the town of Rockingham and the Elnu Abenaki Tribe will take a closer look at history there, thanks to a research grant from the National Park Service.

“Dwelling site, burial site, fishing site,” Wallace said.

But there is also a spiritual aspect to the landscape that can only be told from an Abenaki perspective.

“There is a tradition that the underwater panther spins its tail and causes these whirlpools,” said Elnu Abenaki chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan.

The grants will facilitate archival research and oral history of the area, as well as land surveying and underwater exploration in search of more messages from the past.

“It’s a story that has been ignored and sometimes hidden,” Sheehan said.

Kchi Pontegok is already on the National Register of Historic Places. Research will update this list, adding the voice and perspective of Native Americans.

“I can’t change the past, but I can try to make people think better about the past,” Sheehan said.

Annette Spaulding, who is not Native American, is a certified diver who will search below the surface.

“We should all live as they did with a connection to nature as they did,” Spaulding said.

“It’s about creating a future together, but bringing people and their history — and when I say people, I mean Indigenous people — back into the conversation,” Holschuh said.

Work on the grant is expected to begin in late summer or early fall, but its impact will be felt for generations to come.

Copyright 2022 WCAX. All rights reserved.

Nohemi M. Moore