Student Essay: Pocumtuck Identity
My name is "Nuthatch". I am Pocumtuck and I live in New France with a few of my people and many other Native people. Perhaps you wonder why I no longer live here, in this beautiful homeland where my people lived for so long. There have been problems. Our people and the Mohawk people to the west do not always get along. Long before I was born, the Mohawks came here and waged a war with our people and many of us were killed. Then Europeans began arriving from far away to trade with us and to live here. They didn't realize that their bodies and that of their animals carried diseases to which our bodies had never been exposed. Although measles and the pox did not kill them, they did kill my people and many, many other Native people as well. In fact, these diseases killed most of the Native people living here in the Northeast, including many of my ancestors. Once there were thousands of Pocumtucks here, but no longer.
The English were the Europeans who came to our homeland. They wanted to trade with us and we were eager to trade with them. We had corn, venison and animal skins, especially beaver skins to give. In exchange they gave us wonderful new things we had never seen before such as wool cloth, metal pots, metal jewelry, glass beads, and metal tools such as axes and guns. At first trading was good and we had plenty of beaver pelts but after a while, the beavers became scarce because too many were hunted. This caused fighting between many Native groups. Even though there were more wars and fewer beavers, these English would not go away. They wanted this land to be theirs and many of us were in debt to them. We don't believe that one can own the land but we had nothing else as successful to trade. Some of our women tried making baskets and birch brooms to sell to the English and some of our men offered to work in their fields even though we consider this to be women's work and our men were not happy to do this. Nothing proved as successful as trading furs to the English. We were in a great dilemma. The Great Creator made the land for all to use and share but the English came to us with a thin piece of bark covered with strange marks (I think you call this kind of bark "paper"). We were made to put our marks upon this piece of bark, even though I know now we did not understand the importance of what were doing and how terribly it would change our lives. Then the English said that because of this piece of bark with our marks upon it, this land was no longer ours to use as fully as we needed to. Yes, we could hunt, fish and gather upon certain areas, but they began pushing us to the edges with their many buildings, roads and fences. They said these fences were to keep their animals out of certain areas. I think they were really to keep us out.
These English began forcing their laws upon us as well. Several of our people were recently made to pay the English 40 shillings for traveling upon the Sabbath and someone else was fined for firing a gun upon this Sabbath. What is the Sabbath? What did they do wrong? Umpachala and Wattawolunskin were made to pay money to the English for getting drunk. We never had liquor before the English came. They say that drunkenness is bad, but why? We do not understand these laws and why they force them upon us. Their ways are so different from ours, and they are everywhere with their new ways, ever expanding. We are not made to feel welcome or wanted on land we have known for hundreds of years. We no longer feel we can raise our families here and we are no longer happy here, although it breaks my heart to say this. Perhaps you have heard the story of Wequamps, the huge, greedy beaver that once terrorized all the beings here as he destroyed the landscape and hungrily ate whatever and whoever was in sight. I think of the English as being like Wequamps- bent on exerting too much power over all around them and always hungry for more. The Great Creator destroyed Wequamps because of his evil ways. He was turned into a mountain of stone so that whenever we see it we would always be reminded of the effects of evilness and greed. I do not believe the Great Creator or anything or anyone will destroy the English. That is why most of my people have left.
We have divided up and gone off in different directions, desiring to be far away from the English. Friends have gone away and I may never see them again. My family is now living in New France with other Native people. Although some of their ways are different from ours, they don't mind sharing their lives with us. There are Europeans there too and they are not trying to push us away. They are French and they too, are eager to trade with us. A few have even adopted some of our clothing and some of our ways. Some live with us and have married our women. Many would like us to accept their beliefs and give up our own. Perhaps I will do this....
- What do you do on Sundays (the Sabbath)? In the early 18th C., why might it be considered wrong to travel, work or shoot a gun on Sunday? Why should or shouldn't the Pocumtucks be made to follow the English rules?
- Was it fair to fine the Indians for getting drunk? In the minds of the English in the story, what was wrong with getting drunk?
- Do you know what beliefs Nuthatch was talking about taking on? Should she do it? Why or why not?
- Rather than leave the area, what else might the Pocumtucks have done?
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