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Money and Politics Are Rebranding the Indigenous Past

Pyroepistemology– Misread Record at Kampoosa Bog and Rebranded Tropes


In the 2003 Bulletin of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society (Vol. 64 No. 2), Eric Johnson propagates false tropes about Indigenous Massachusetts and fire regimes. The report begins by presenting not Indigenous narrative from pre-colonial context, but by citing colonists and their interpretations of the landscape and Indigenous practices. Not a single Indigenous source is cited, nor is there even any mention of Indigenous narrative about land stewardship. From there, Johnson makes several conjectures that again start with colonist interpretations of Indigenous practices.

Johnson bases his conjectures explicitly on acceptance of Cronon’s (1) deeply flawed outsider rebranding of the “Noble Savage” trope, where our fictional savage becomes an exploiter. Since Columbus stumbled onto the Bahamas, fictions about “terra nullius” bend Indigenous narrative to suit political agenda. In colonial days, that agenda was eradication of indigeneity, where we were written as recently arrived, ghostlike wanderers as premise. Today, when resource exploitation meets stiff resistance under climate crisis and mass extinction, Indigenous legacy is being rebranded as proto-exploitation. From one extreme to another, Indigenous lifeways have been abused by presumptive ‘science’ in service of political agenda.

Political archaeology is the most contaminated sort, as noted by Indigenous anthropologist Sonia Atalay:

A noncritical archaeology that is not based on or informed by the experiences and epistemologies of indigenous people, even if carried out by Native people on Indigenous land, . . . is, to use Trigger’s terms (1984), a nationalist archaeology—one that seeks to examine a particular indigenous region or cultural group to contribute to nationalist concerns. (2)

1- Cronon, William (1983). Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England. New York: Hill & Wang.

2- J. Habu, C. Fawcett, and J. M. Matsunaga (eds.) (2008).

 Evaluating Multiple Narratives: Beyond Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist Archaeologies.

(*Not to be confused with Massachusetts Ethical Archaeology Society)

The report contains exceptionally few references to support the broad claims it makes, while both researchers reporting are hires of the company seeking to clear that location for demolition. The few sources cited include an outdated 1954 opinion piece by Gordon Day, who is described by his Dartmouth employer thus: “Day's research interest was the language and genealogy of the Saint Francis Abenaki Natives at Odanak in Quebec, Canada” ( Day’s experience in ecology is unevidenced to me. Overall, the report often fails to offer evidence or supporting research, giving only a brief overview of major artifacts, a sediment core inventory, and a very flawed interpretation thereof as evidence without any causal process to demonstrate humans behind any of his data.

The assumption that a cultural element can be transposed across time and place is invalid. Regional Indigenous lifeways adapted over changes in our environment, sometimes in minor ways, sometimes in major ways. Cronon does not attempt to source Indigenous knowledge of land stewardship, but imposes his outsider hypothesis in the worst ways: wholesale, generalized, poorly evidenced and without consideration for diversity of culture or environment.

Both Cronon and Johnson base their conclusions on the false trope that “Native Americans” can be assumed as a homogenous racial culture, a supremacist and condescending assumption. In “Pyroepistemology of Fire in New England: Burning Down Tropes,” (3) I demonstrate from testimony of living Elders and traditional narratives, along with parallel sources, that there are major differences in lifeways not only between Indigenous cultural families, such as Haudenosaunee and Algonquians, but also differences between communities that are a single nation and speak the same language or closely related dialects. Localism in culture and diversity are not discussed in these outsider tropes.

3- Cachat-Schilling, Nohham R. (2023) Pyroepistemology of Fire in New England: Burning Down Tropes” in editorial


Flaws in Sources, Lines of Evidence and Methodology

The critical flaw of messages penned about fire is that vignettes of colonial accounts and archaeological scraps cannot be interpreted as lifeways. A scrap is not a whole; the attempt by writers of all colors to cover the entirety of Turtle Island and time from their scraps of evidence is much like Penn’s colonial partners cutting the legendary cowhide into leather thongs end-to-end to cheat that agreement and steal land. Because academia elects historically and today to promote piecemeal accounts as history, I sometimes include refuting accounts in my assessments, but always with multiple other lines of evidence.

Lack of proper context, emic sources and misinterpretation of the researcher’s own data steer what started as a search to prove a Colonialist narrative about Indigenous people into misinformation. Context here recognizes that none of the colonist or modern Euroamerican informants mentioned by folks like Johnson or Cronon speak any Indigenous language, nor do they have substantial knowledge of Indigenous cultures. As well, informants from Johnson and works like his are colonists living at distance from Indigenous people whom they despised, considered lesser, and from whom their own religious prohibitions enforce major distancing on most levels. Colonists lived separate from Indigenous communities, had little contact with us, and those few that did were among us for the purpose of destroying our culture and converting us to servants within their culture and hierarchy.  Moreover, nearly incessant conflict from the theft of winter food stores by Pilgrims at Nauset on first contact to the modern period has sustained a cultural gulf where Euroamerican narrative on all things indigenous has no roots in indigenous knowledge.  Writers on the subject are unfamiliar with both Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Traditional Native American Medicine, as well as our pre-colonial practices in hunting, gathering and horticulture.

It needs to be said no later than this that uniformity is not a feature of most cultural aspects throughout most periods of the very deep history of Indigenous culture on the Northeastern landscape. Johnson, like many authors, assumes that exogenous interpretations and outsider observations form a valid narrative, and that narrative can be applied across communities without any attempt to evidence that the claimed observation can properly be applied to that specific community.

Johnson further errs by basing his assumptions on the outsider observations of a couple of colonists and a single modern non-Indigenous author (Johnson cites no other sources in his contextual argument). There is a body of evidence – far more complete and multi-sourced - gathered by experienced researchers that contradicts Johnson and his single source. (3,4,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,14)

4- Oswald, WW, DR Foster, BN Shuman, ED Doughty, EK Faison, BR Hall, BCS Hansen, M Lindbladh, A Marroquin, and S Truebe (2018) Subregional variability in the response of New England vegetation to postglacial climate change. Journal of Biogeography 45: 2375-2388.

5- Entrup A, Calijouw C. 2022. Burning for wildlife. Mass Wildl. 71:10–21.

6- Oswald, W., Foster, David, Shuman, Bryan, Chilton, Elizabeth, and Duranleau, Deena. (2020). Conservation implications of limited Native American impacts in pre-contact New England. Nature Sustainability. 3. 1-6.

7- Oswald, W., Foster, David, Shuman, Bryan, Chilton, Elizabeth and Duranleau, Deena

8- Motzkin, Glenn, Wilson, Paul, Foster, David R. and Allen, Arthur (1999). Vegetation patterns in heterogeneous landscapes: The importance of history and environment. Journal of Vegetation Science 10: 903-920.

9- Bellemare, Jesse, Glenn Motzkin and David R. Foster (2002). Legacies of the agricultural past in the forested present: an assessment of historical land-use effects on rich mesic forests. Journal of Biogeography, 29, 1401–1420.

10- Cachat-Schilling, Nohham R. (2018). Eli Luweyok Kikayunkahke- So said the Departed Elders: Northeast Algonquian Land Use Traditions. Northeast Anthropology No. 85-86, 2018, pp. 21–45.

11 - Cachat-Schilling, Nohham R. (2024). Traditional Narrative as Document: Kepahwis Achimewakan. American Indian Culture and Research Journal (in editorial). Accessible at

12- Cachat-Schilling, Nohham R. (2023) Pyroepistemology of Fire in New England: Burning Down Tropes” in editorial.

14- Tulowiecki, Stephen J., Emma R. Ranney, Emily M. Keenan, Gabrielle M. Newbert, Marcie L. Hogan (2022). Localized Native American impacts on past forest composition across a regional extent in north-eastern United States. Journal of Biogeography. 00:1–11.

Colonial-era narratives on Indigenous land use (3) have been used to justify present-day land management that (a) focuses on disturbance, and (b) is applied uniformly across the region.(5)  Recent synthesis of paleoecological and archaeological data from coastal Massachusetts and immediate southern neighbors shows that Indigenous land use did not affect forest composition and fire activity at the regional scale (6,7) but more information is needed about local-scale impacts; Indigenous narratives have been missing but are critically important. Other research has correlated known archaeological site locations to forest species distribution as a method to elucidate Indigenous stewardship patterns.(6,8,9,13,14) This research helps but lacks detailed information on Indigenous land zoning traditions and stewardship practices. Historians claim that Indigenous nations throughout the region burned land freely and habitually, but their claims are based entirely on the accounts of foreigners unfamiliar with both the Indigenous people and their traditions.(7) Accounts are also often second or third hand, and many are merely repeated tropes from earlier common belief. Historians fail to apply verifiable narratives from Indigenous nations that retain traditions in their narrative.

Fig. 1 – Old-growth forest is often open by nature.  This area of Kunn’kwaciw has no stumps or trails due to terrain and no record indicating it has ever been logged, Yet the forest is open and diverse in species with trees of varied ages.

Many studies have sought to understand the region’s vegetation, including the distribution of rare species and plant communities, and colonial-era land use has emerged as a key driver of those patterns.(9) Missing from those studies, though, is the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge of pre-colonial land-use activities and their role in present-day patterns.(10) There is a lack of accurate knowledge on Indigenous stewardship across time that robs these efforts of a reliable basis:

A.   Case studies of actual sites show patterns of land use that contradict the model Cronon and Johnson promote.(11) Narratives on lifeways by Indigenous Elders and from traditional tribal narratives do not attribute fire on the landscape to people, but rather, nature.(12)

B.   Archaeology has located a large number of Indigenous sites of various types.  However, the Massachusetts Historical Commission estimates that only 1 in 300 sites has been examined. There has been no clear statement in archaeology on patterns of land zoning in terms of usage other than general statements about seasonal shifts and types of habitation loci. Some researchers are compiling data on archaeological sites and correlating those to vegetation patterns.(11,13,14)

C.   Useful methodologies have been applied across disciplines to clarify the legacy of land stewardship in our region for the purpose of guiding our actions.(3,4,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,14) Efforts are partly derailed by the paucity of Indigenous knowledge of traditions. Major cultural concepts that drive Indigenous behavior are entirely missing.(8,9,10,11,12) Indigenous narratives hold demystifying details on historic stewardship practices.(10, 11,12) Also missing is understanding of our tenets of reciprocity, sacredness, non-possession, and our resilience in place through changes. The cultural tenet that we are borrowers on the inheritance of seven coming generations (nesasuk tashe pometuonk) places a low ceiling on resource-extraction and is as a base piece of knowledge on land use ignored by most researchers and policymakers.


Colonization still impacts Indigenous authors by continuing to measure notions of being civilized and land tenure claims based on exploitation, the notion of “mastering the land” as measure of cultural validity. The implication for Indigenous people is to fight against the myth of us as “ghosts” on the landscape, the trope as “nomadic groups moving across the land.”  The reason for the defensive response in the Indigenous community is 400 years of invalidation by every means, causing some to respond by defending our land sovereignty using Eurocentric measures.  In other words, the “Noble Savage” of the untouched forest was rebranded as “Proto-Dominator” at the prompt of colonist dogmas to rescue us from embarrassment as accused “primitives.” This rebranded trope runs in direct contradiction to the continually touted Indigenous cultural tenet of “treading the land lightly” and “living in harmony with Our Mother.” To patch this gap, living in harmony with Our Mother is being bent painfully toward exploitation as somehow a form of harmony. This neo-trope of ubiquitous fire also runs into conflict with the principle of “take no more than is needed.”

The body of narratives still held by related Algonquian nations does not support any claim of mass hunting, large-scale burning, or land exploitation as characterized by authors such as Johnson.(12) Naskapi-Innu-Iyiyu and related Anishnaabe of Quebec are the closest cultural and linguistic relatives of Northeastern Algonquians, and many of the northern relatives continued to live on the land under conditions similar to pre-agricultural Northeast Algonquioia, and whose narratives do not support a claim of humans firing the landscape.  Pikangikum Anishnaabe specifically assign fire to Peneeyesee Eshkotay (Guardian-Priests of Fire), who send down fire with their eyes. (15)

Misreading the Data

Johnson claims, “Recent excavations at two sites near Kampoosa Bog, an upland bog in Stockbridge, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and sediment cores extracted from it, have yielded evidence that suggests that forest management through understory burning may have been practiced as early as the fourth millennium B.P. The remainder of this article illustrates and discusses this evidence and some of its implications.”

Johnson fails to deliver on the above promises, providing no evidence for any paradigm that can be termed “forest management.” That the politically-charged term “forest management” is applied here on the thinnest of premises reveals the motivation behind Johnson’s skewed interpretation. The data presented do not amount to evidence at all, and do not correlate to the report’s claims, much less do the data evidence or substantiate any claim.

In the end, Johnson provides two periods of elevated char as the basis for claims while offering no consideration of climactic factors and detailing no logical argument to support a causal link from char to humans. It is telling that the report contains no assessment of climatic or other animal causes for the char. Claimed correlations are not in evidence and even the link between wiyus’hetink (skinning place, game preparation place) and elaikhatink (hunting settlement) is at best weak in terms of timing and in terms of associating evidence. In fact, the wiyus’hetink (also sometimes called a “kill site” in archaeology) shows no occupancy during the second char period and during much of the first char period.


Fig. 2 - Kampoosa Bog today, context of the discussion.

Closer analysis of Johnson’s data as presented in the named report will show that:

1.    Data collected in sediment cores does not suggest that understory burning took place at this site;

2.    That understory burning is not evidenced in Western Massachusetts.

3.    That the pollen evidence collected is misattributed in terms of taxonomic mapping of habitat;

4.    That artifacts of fire in the site do not demonstrate a causal relationship with humans, and that the same data can be attributed to natural forces and activities of non-human animals;

5.    That the correlation of fire to abundance of different taxa assumed from the pollen record is poorer than described and that no actual correlation between fire and said taxa is established;

6.    That nothing can be concluded about use of fire by humans from the data in this case.

The two sites discussed in the Kampoosa Bog report lie on either side of Massachusetts Turnpike as it passes through Stockbridge, where site 19-BK-141 lies alongside a stream and is described as a habitation site (elaikhatink) and site 19-BK-143 is described as a game processing site (wiyus’hetink). That elaikhatink (19-BK-141) is reported as showing occupation from 5KYA, 4KYA and 2,000 years ago, described as periods when the site “appeared to have been used most” (Johnson, p.3). We should be reminded at the outset that bits of evidence found through archaeology represent chance occurrences of preservation over time and never shows the whole story. The wiyus’hetink (19-BK-143) lies at the edge of the bog and yielded numerous points and debitage from making points, including many “piercing, scraping, and cutting tools” from about 4KYA to 3KYA (Johnson, p.3). Piercing hides is normally part of dressing them, a laborious process that normally includes the non-hunters of the family and is usually performed close to elaikhatink (see Guanish, Scipio, Webb and Duff as cited in Cachat-Schilling, 2023, footnote 3).

At the two sites, debitage and tools more specifically included a cache of Snook Kill type bifaces, Lamoka/Sylvian stemmed points, Susquehanna broad points, Greene and Levanna points. Together, these points potentially represent presence from about 7KYA through to the Late Woodland period (Johnson, p.3-5). Pottery sherds of various types point to Middle Woodland and Late Woodland occupation (Johnson, p. 3-5).  The conclusion given is that the sites were used most during the fourth and second millennia before the present.

Despite identifying a range of tools that associate with diversification of economic culture – that is they express differing approaches to obtaining food – Johnson demonstrates no consideration that diverse tools may also express diversity in hunting and gathering strategies. When tools are radically different, as in large, broad points versus small, narrow points, they signal potential differences in prey and hunting method. Yet the report contains no hint that there may have been more than one hunting method applied over these several thousand years of change.

Johnson freely links wiyus’hetink with elaikhatink in separate spaces with both periods of elevated microscopic char. However, his own chart reveals that wiyus’hetink shows use only partly correlating with the early char period and not at all with the later char period. Granted that there may be a second elaikhatink location outside the investigation area and that artifacts represent only a fraction of activity that has by chance survived passage of time, yet one cannot assert evidence that is not there. In fact, processing of game at wiyus’hetink can only be linked to elaikhatink in this case during the later part of the earlier period where char is present at elevated levels – and with no evidence that humans caused this elevated signal.

Furthermore, the assumption that large quantities of debitage proves a mass hunt is a fallacy.  It is equally likely that small hunting parties used the same place frequently over a long period, which is indicated by the extended record of use in that spot. Ehelaichik, hunters, skin and partition large game, but hides and meat are normally processed the family at home, sometimes with help from elders, at elaikhatink (see Guanish, Scipio, Duff, and Webb, Anishnaabe and Iyiyu-Naskapi Elders as cited in Cachat-Schilling, 2023, footnote 3). If there is a major-scale hunt, the entire family is present as they are needed to complete the hard work of dressing skins and preparing pxashikana (strips of dried meat, a standard process).  Either way, the report is self-contradictory.

Table 1 – Pollen chart from Kampoosa Bog sediment core as per the flawed report.

Discussion of sediment core

The dominant characteristic of the chart shown is lack of consistent correlation in most elements. There are also glaring correlations that contradict Johnson’s conclusion – for example hemlock (Tsuga candensis) peaks during the later of the two periods where microscopic char is found in quantity.  Hemlocks enjoy cool, moist conditions and should not peak during an extended fire regime on the land.  In the earlier period, T. canadensis valleys, inconsistent with the second period, and remains low across the period with low char values, peaking again during high char values. The pattern is terribly inconsistent. Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia) fails to show in the record strongly throughout both claimed burning periods, though ragweed is a common colonizer of disturbed terrains. “Aster” as an identifier is utterly meaningless in a family that contains a huge spectrum of species growing in all habitats on all soils, none of which are known to be fire dependent in Massachusetts. Aster as a genus has long been split into three genera: Symphyotrichum, Oclemena, and Eurybia, among which only one species in Massachusetts is known to tolerate fire, Oclemena acutiloba, which distinctly prefers to grow along trails and in small clearings. Thus, the label “Aster” is outdated, taxonomically vague, overly broad and meaningless in terms of defining any habitat or reading a landscape from pollen evidence.

In fact, the chart contains mostly useless data “dressed to impress.”  At family level, few plant groups can be used to indicate anything, since most families adapt to a range of conditions and contain extremely divergent members. Families normally contain relatives that manifest as forbs, shrubs, trees, and vines, and so it is inconceivable that such a vague label would be posed as some sort of specifying evidence. Genera such as “basswood” are also useless as identifiers of conditions since, for example, Tilia (basswoods) in the Northeast contains both a species that refers rich riparian soils and an upland species that likes mesic ridge areas. Oaks, again with both pin, post white oak, lovers of swamps, and red, black oaks that prefer rocky ridges, show a slow decline across the entire timeline of the chart, while they are fairly abundant during the early char period with non-correlation in the second period and no overall correlation with char signal level.  Most of the families, genera and taxa in the chart show no consistent or even casual correlation to the higher char periods.

The one correlation that is fairly strong, but still inconsistent, is monolete ferns.  However, we shall see that this correlation is also meaningless.

The statement on page 7 that, “monolete ferns colonize burned-over areas” is false and is also given there with no citations in support of any kind.  Johnson makes a declaration out of thin air that contains only air once examined: monolete ferns comprise most ferns that are not trilete, bridging fern families and numbering many species that require widely divergent conditions. There are not many inclusive statements that can be made about monolete ferns other than that their spores have a single dividing axis, or lisura (trilete of course have triradiate lisurae). There is no other quality that groups ferns as monolete other than their spore morphology. There are some studies concerning their evolution as different from that of trilete ferns, but as explained following, this does not extend to a species level.

Even within the order Polypodiales, and within the family Polypodiaceae, there are both monolete and trilete species ( Sporangia%20are%20mixed% 2C%20sporangial%20stalks%20in%201%E2%80%933%20rows%2C,Polypodiaceae%20is%20pantropical%20to%20temperate).  Most species within Polypodiaceae are monolete, but aside from having similar spore morphology, the many genera and species in this family do not share habitat preferences. Fern species in Polypodiaceae do not share limits in terms of light, moisture or response to fire. Rock polypody (P. virginianum, P. appalachicum), for example, flourishes anywhere exposed rocks and ancient tree trunks (also sometimes limbs) are available in combination with sufficient moisture.  For that reason, large swaths of rock polypody often appear on fully forested ridgelines because of available rocks and frequent mists and fogs that the ridges capture. The same species occurs on boles and limbs of hemlocks within ancient and deep forests, on ledges, and in the end, is one of the most common ferns in Massachusetts. Rock polypody does not need forest clearing and there is no evidence that it benefits from fire.

 Fig. 3 – Rock polypody thriving under a full canopy, unlogged, unburned, on a misty ridge (Maguonket, photo courtesy of JD Schilling-Cachat 2023).

Some other monolete polypodies frequent similar habitats, like Woodsias, which again thrive in places with no forest clearance and no burning. Excellent examples are the south-facing pumice cobble slopes and fog-frequented marls on Kunn’kwaciw (Mt. Toby), where Woodsias abound, often in combination with ebony spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron), which is only mildly tolerant of dryness and intolerant of fire (direct observation by author post-forest fires).  It’s close monolete relative, walking fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum) is known in the same area only from the northeast and northwest faces of the same massif, where they inhabit stones near waterfalls and some ledges that are exposed to frequent fog and which are both within fully forested areas that are neither logged nor burned. Notably, both species are also absent in places that have been logged or have burned throughout Kunn’kwaciw and other places I observed across Northeast Algonquoia over the past 50 years. The two species are both monolete, within the same Genus, but prefer opposing habitats on the same massif. Neither species tolerate fire, nor do they colonize burned-over areas.

The family Polypodiaceae, again largely monolete ferns, contains genera and species that range from deep shade and constant moisture to swamps, to rocks, to deep mesic forests.  Relatives of rock polypody that are also monolete include Dryopteris as well as other monolete genera and species, many of which only grow in moist mature forests and swamps (D. intermedia, D. marginalis, Thelypteris simulata, D. filix-mas). Monolete Polypodiaceae include Asplenium, which includes the fussy maidenhair fern (A. peltatum), one species that grows only in caves, and other that are limited to rocks in moist, rich, wooded areas (A. trichomanes, A. platuneuron, A. rhizophyllum). Again, none of these species is known to colonize burned over areas, though all are monolete.

Evergreen wood fern (D. intermedia) prefers “Moist rocky woods, especially hemlock hardwoods, ravines, and edges of swamps.”(16) Marginal wood fern (D. marginalis) “Rocky, wooded slopes and ravines, edges of woods, stream banks and roadbanks, and rock walls.”(17) Thelypteris simulata (Massachusetts fern) needs “shaded swamps and bogs, frequently associated with sphagnum.”(18) Male fern (D. filix-mas) likes “Dense woods and talus slopes on limestone (ne North America).”(19) As this shows, Johnson’s statement about monolete ferns is completely false.


 Fig. 4 – Osmunda cinnamomea, Claytosmunda claytonia (syn. Osmunda claytonia), and Thelypteris simulata growing together near an open wetland at Maguonket under unburned, unlogged forest. Neither monolete nor trilete ferns need fire or human disturbance to thrive. (Maguonket, Photo courtesy of J D Schilling-Cachat, 2020).

All of these are monolete ferns, but each has different habitat needs and none are tolerant of fire. To put it in a nutshell, nothing can be interpreted about an environment in any detail from the fluctuations in spores from an entire class of ferns that generalizes many divergent species with divergent habitats and needs. The high presence of fire-intolerant monolete spores in fact indicates that fire was not dominant on the landscape, the opposite of Johnson’s conclusion. The fact that Tsuga spores peak during the second period of elevated char further undermines any idea of humans burning the land, since Tsuga species do not tolerate fire.

Osmunda cinnamomea is given its own column in Johnson’s chart, while the spore profile shows rather steady levels across the millennia that does not correlate to elevated char periods. In fact, the species peaks often when char levels are low, and valleys sometimes when char periods are high – there is no correlation.

Worse yet, according to the table given by Johnson, trilete fern abundance peaks often in parallel with monolete ferns, though not entirely. There is no consistent relationship between abundance of monolete and trilete ferns, nor is there a consistent correlation with trilete ferns and high char values, though there is more correlation than divergence between monolete and trilete values. In the end, the data says nothing about land stewardship at this location because the data does not supply information about species and their habitat limits.

Ostrich fern (Matteucia struthiopteris var. pensylvanica), the traditional source of fiddleheads, prefers forested banks and wetland edges,(19) thriving on unburned and unlogged lands along the Connecticut greenbelt in Massachusetts, where they continue to be collected for the market (direct observations 2001-2023). The common sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) can be found on most moist soils, regardless of shade or sun. Flora of North America describes their habitat as “swamps, thickets, marshes, or low woods, in sunny or shaded locations, often forming thick stands.” (20) Regular fall burning would harm both these species, since their spores do not germinate until spring.(21) As well, ostrich and sensitive ferns may be the source of the sustained fern spore signals in the record regardless of char levels, while fluctuations in their spore signal seem to correlate more closely to climate.

One fern that does respond well to fire and is known to frequent recently cleared areas is hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula) – a trilete species. (22) Even Flora of North America, the premier text on this continent’s taxonomy produced by a consortium of colleges and universities, states: “Dennstaedtia punctilobula spreads aggressively in open woods and clearings.”(22) Thus, it is the trilete ferns that should show large in the spore record were the land truly burned, not monolete. However, the signal for trilete ferns does not change dramatically across the entire timeline provided, suggesting little connection to clearing or burning of the land.

21 – “As in Matteuccia struthiopteris (Linnaeus) Todaro, sporophylls of Onoclea sensibilis persist through the winter and release the green spores in spring before the sterile leaves expand” (R. W. Hill and W. H. Wagner Jr. 1974; L. G. Labouriau 1958; R. M. Lloyd and E. J. Klekowski Jr. 1970), as cited in Flora of North America, Vol. 2 (2020).

22 – Flora of North America, Vol. 2 (2020) at

Fig. 5 – Dennstaedtia punctilobula (hay-scented fern) - a trilete fern - taking over a logging road at Kinadena (Stockbridge, Vermont), even crowding out black raspberry (Rubus occidentalis). (Photo courtesy JD Schilling-Cachat 2023)

The further claim made on the same page that low-intensity fire would not destroy ferns ignores the collateral fact that low intensity fire has little impact on shrubs, perennials, brambles and most other plants that are not ferns; it’s not clear species are supposedly being cleared by claimed burning or what would be accomplished by “low-intensity fire” except the loss of the less fire-tolerant species. There is again no reference made to any supporting evidence or publications to support Johnson’s claim. No explanation is made as to why a low-intensity fire would help ferns compete with other flora, and not even a hint of data is offered to support that claim. Fires that are strong enough to burn back shrubs would also remove most of the required fodder for staple prey species, browsers like deer and moose.

Fig. 6 – Typical deer browse on red osier (Cornus sericea), with sensitive ferns crowding right under foliage of osiers. (Maguonket, courtesy JD Schilling-Cachat 2019).

An imperative not considered by Johnson is the need for food plants, medicinal plants and ceremonial plants. Many plants of highest value for food, medicine and ceremony do not tolerate fire and thrive in mature forests or in natural wetlands: wild onion, hopenis (ground nut), hazelnut, cattail, black ash, walnut, hobble bush, striped maple, blue cohosh, black cohosh, hepatica, bloodroot, and scores of other culturally important species. In turn, some favorite prey species that require stable forest habitats would be harmed by burning off their understory food plants, such as deer, bear, porcupine, moose, turkey and grouse. These species may or may not use other habitats as well, but each has core habitat found in the forest understory.

Fig. 7 – Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) and berries in deep hemlock forest. Many prized plant species for Northeast Algonquians in terms of medicine and ceremony need extensive mature, moist forests to thrive.

Also unexplained is how any fire on the land in those times can be assigned to human beings as opposed to lightning under a drying and warming climate. No consideration is discussed as to the impact that humans hunting beaver have on wetlands kept wet by maintenance of those beaver dams, or how breakdown and drying of a pond where beaver have been hunted might expose that area to wildfire. Since beaver are a prime hunted species, we should expect that many beaver ponds would experience drying periods between resident beaver families, which dry ponds provide habitat for the increased ferns populations in the spore record.  Grasses, which are competitive on drying wetlands, are prone to wildfire and also provide an explanation for the elevated char in the record.  The only two substantially correlating elements in Johnson’s chart – fern spores and char – are readily explained by beaver hunting and re-occupancy cycles and their impact on wetlands during two periods of substantial climactic warming and drying. Here, the human factor is hunting, which is solidly evidenced at wiyus’hatink.  Again, there is no evidence provided that humans are responsible for elevated char signals.

The changes to our regional climate during these periods are dramatic and neglected in the Kampoosa report. Shuman, Newby, Huang and Webb contradict Johnson and Cronon, saying that climate is the driver of changes to Northeast Algonquioia’s (22), forests across the last 15 millennia;(8,23,24) they are joined in this assessment by others employing superior methodology. (3,4,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,14)

22 – This region is neither new, nor is it England, so I eschew the colonial pseudonym and artifact of erasure ‘New England’ in favor of the original and enduring inhabitants.

23 - Shuman, Bryan, Paige Newby, Youngson Huang, and Thompson Webb (2004) Evidence for the Close Climactic Control of New England Vegetation. Vol. 85 No. 5.

24 – Wyatt, Oswald, Edward Faison, David Foster, Elaine Doughty, Brian Hall, Barbar Hansen (2007) Post-Glaical changes in spatial patterns of vegetation in southern New England, Journal of Biogeography, Vol. 34

Dangerous Rebranding and Misleading Interpretation

This motivation for Johnson’s angle and the participation of the Department of Forestry Management at a state-owned university is to provide a basis for the state’s policy of logging for profit and burning on our public lands, and for giving tax exemptions to those who log their land as “management” and even “conservation.”  Under criticism for exacerbating climate change and exploiting public lands, the state wishes to counter those criticisms by saying that they are simply copying Native Americans - signage about logging and burning at Montague Plains DCR property (Montague, Massaschusetts) say exactly, for example. However, char studies at Montague Plains show that Indigenous people did not burn that landscape; the char appears post-colonization. Both researchers in this case are employed by a pipeline company that benefits from promoting the trope of Indigenous exploitation to quell objections over present-day exploitation.

Again, political archaeology is the most contaminated sort, as noted by Indigenous anthropologist Sonia Atalay:

A noncritical archaeology that is not based on or informed by the experiences and epistemologies of indigenous people, even if carried out by Native people on Indigenous land, . . . is, to use Trigger’s terms (1984), a nationalist archaeology—one that seeks to examine a particular indigenous region or cultural group to contribute to nationalist concerns.(25)

25 - J. Habu, C. Fawcett, and J. M. Matsunaga (eds.) (2008).

 Evaluating Multiple Narratives: Beyond Nationalist, Colonialist, Imperialist Archaeologies.


Even though Johnson’s report fails to prove anything that it sets out to prove, his effort is pre-emptively flawed by bias because the motivation is to transpose a widow in time and impose that on today as policy. The one aspect of Indigenous legacy of more than 20,000 years on Turtle Island that has been constant has been change. Whatever lifeways may have been in place at any one time were and are subject to change as needed by Our Mother, and Indigenous people as dutiful children have always responded intelligently to those changing needs in the understanding that we care for ourselves by being careful with our world.

Service archaeology in support of a political and commercial extractionist agenda is thoroughly biased, contaminated and unethical.  That people make a living rewriting to custom order the legacy of Indigenous nations is deeply unethical and abuses this legacy belonging to others who are marginalized in archaeology and whose self-narrative is ignored. Archaeology is plagued by politics and ulterior motive, a persistent failure that remains rampant, despite attempts by the industry to virtue signal on ethical issues because the payroll issues from the hands of disinterested parties. Instead, archaeology is abused as a vehicle to gaslight the public and place Indigenous legacy in service of outsiders and their commercial interests.

The true narrative about Northeast Algonquian land stewardship is a local one, tailored by the community to their unique landscape, informed by the experience of ancestors who were present as the glaciers retreated. Indigenous nations share much heritage and experience but are also fiercely individual. Readers should distrust blanket statements and statements living in extremes, especially when speaking about peoples whose culture centers on balance and harmony, and whose visible legacy is the abundance and diversity encountered by desperate colonists who had spoiled by exploitation and disease. Archaeology needs to be freed from the speech of politics. This complaint has not changed since the 1600s, to cite Onaquepin, a leader from Pakomtuk (in1659, now Deerfield, Massachusetts), in the spelling of those days:

It is usuall for the English to speake much to us that come though they understand little . . . wee desire that if any Messengers bee sent to us from the English they may bee such as are not lyares and tale carryers, but sober men, and such as we can understand.”(26)

26- Pulsifer, David, editor (1859) Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, No. 2. In Acts of the Commissioners of the United Colonies of New England. Pp. 236-237


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