Grant will support study of Indigenous petroglyphs site in Bellows Falls

  • The Rockingham Historic Preservation Commission, in collaboration with the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, was awarded a National Park Service Underrepresented Communities Grant to further study Native American petroglyphs along the Connecticut River. The carvings in Bellows Falls appear to depict a series of faces and could date back hundreds or thousands of years. Prof. Michael Fuller / St. Louis Community College

  • The Rockingham Historic Preservation Commission, in collaboration with the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, was awarded a National Park Service Underrepresented Communities Grant to further study Native American petroglyphs along the Connecticut River. The carvings in Bellows Falls appear to depict a series of faces and could date back hundreds or thousands of years. Prof. Michael Fuller—St. Louis Community College

  • The Rockingham Historic Preservation Commission, in collaboration with the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, was awarded a National Park Service Underrepresented Communities Grant to further study Native American petroglyphs along the Connecticut River. The carvings in Bellows Falls appear to depict a series of faces and could date back hundreds or thousands of years. Prof. Michael Fuller—St. Louis Community College

The Keene Sentinel
Published: 4/27/2022 4:09:29 PM
Modified: 4/27/2022 4:08:01 PM

Along the banks of the Connecticut River, stone carvings of what appear to be human-like faces peek out from the rocks. With a national grant, two groups are working together to learn more about the site and encourage more incorporation of Native American history into local towns’ narratives.

The Rockingham (Vt.) Historic Preservation Commission, in collaboration with the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, recently announced it was awarded a $36,832 National Park Service Underrepresented Community Grant to further study the petroglyphs and amend their listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The petroglyph site consists of two rock panels at the Great Falls’ base near Vilas Bridge in Bellows Falls. It is a sacred space for Abenaki across the region, according to a news release from the historic commission.

The Native American carvings are at least hundreds of years old, according to Gail Golec, a Walpole-based archaeologist and co-director of the project. They could even be thousands of years old, she said, but it’s difficult to get a more precise understanding due to the alterations that have been made to them.

The petroglyphs have been eroded by natural forces. And in the early 20th century, the Daughters of the American Revolution were concerned the carvings were getting too worn down, so they hired a stonemason to use a metal chisel and deepen the etchings, Golec said.

Elnu Abenaki Historic Preservation Officer Rich Holschuh is the project’s other co-director. The petroglyphs have spiritual significance to the Abenaki, Holschuh told The Sentinel in 2017. Members of the tribe visit the Bellows Falls petroglyphs to communicate with the ancestors they believe created them, he said.

The project — called Kchi Pontegok (pronounced kit-SEE-POHN-tuh guk), which means “at the Great Falls” in Western Abenaki language — is likely to get underway in the fall and last at least two years, according to those involved with the work.

The carvings are on the state of Vermont’s archaeological site inventory and were added to the National Register of Historic Places more than 30 years ago, according to Walter Wallace, coordinator for the Rockingham historic commission.

But they’re currently grouped on the national register with the Bellows Falls Island historic district. The new project will aim to collect enough research to secure an independent listing for the petroglyphs, Golec said, since the Bellows Falls Island historic district is largely noted for its industrial history.

Ultimately, the groups hope to cultivate awareness and spark discussion around Native American history, according to Golec.

“The Native American history just sort of gets a footnote a lot of the times and we’d like to see that change,” she said. “We’d like to see more people think of it in terms of how much time [Native Americans] actually did live in this area for 13,000 years. I think they deserve a little bit more explanation and information in our town histories … than just a brief mention.”

Diana Jones, a lifelong Bellows Falls resident and member of the Abenaki-Sokoki band, agreed with the sentiment, adding that the project allows for more acknowledgment of Abenaki history and continuing presence in the area.

In addition to archival research and archaeological surveys, the project will also use oral histories to piece together the story of the Northeast. Jones is a member of the project’s team and will be gathering those stories to help create a fuller picture of the Indigenous narrative.

“We are looking for people to come to us with their oral traditions if they are comfortable,” she said. “It’s a sensitive subject for a lot of people, and a lot of the times the oral traditions is where we have to go because so much of the history has been lost.”

Bolstering the Underrepresented Communities Grant, the project secured another $12,600 local match, bringing total funding to $49,432, Wallace said.

The grant, funded by revenue from oil and gas leases along the Outer Continental Shelf, can be used for surveys and inventories of historic spaces affiliated with underrepresented communities, according to the National Park Service.

The Bellows Falls petroglyphs aren’t the only the Connecticut River has to boast.

Twenty miles downstream, where the Connecticut splits off into its tributary, the West River, is another series of carvings. In 2017, master diver Annette Spaulding found them several decades after they had been submerged under elevated water levels. Spaulding will be helping with the Kchi Pontegok project, Wallace said.

Referencing the Abenaki’s long history and the sacred nature of Kchi Pontegok and its surroundings, Abenaki Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan said in the release, “We hope other folks will start to understand why this history is important.”

And while the project isn’t scheduled to begin for another few months, Golec said she’s looking forward to the opportunity for more community discussions about Indigenous history, and hopes it will encourage others to learn more about Native American legacies across the region.

“We’re hoping this maybe kicks off a new idea for some people, like, ‘Yeah, maybe we can do this too in our towns,’ ” she said.

Molly Bolan can be reached at 352-1234, ext. 1436 or mbolan@keenesentinel.com. These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org




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