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People Power Saves 10,000-Year-Old Native Legacy - Despite Attacks from Legislators and Others

Updated: May 28, 2021

After a year of entrenched resistance from local Native Americans, area residents, business owners, and enlightened citizen allies from across the state, MassDOT has agreed to scrap plans to pave over Nayyag's unique, 10,00-year-old Native legacy place. The unique Nayyag Early Archaic site was recommended by the investigating archaeologist for the National Registry of Historic Places.

Yes, you heard that right: MassDOT has agreed to halt the destruction of Nayyag's oldest site. In a rare decision, the Commonwealth has listened to public objection. Thank You Land Protectors and Equal Preservationists; Your strong opposition is cited as a basis for this change. Those who were slandered and maligned for standing up are now honored by the legacy of our Ancestors. This is a great first step in equal historic preservation for Massachusetts. Let's begin to really plan for equal historic preservation in Massachusetts.

"The state has cancelled its plans to build a traffic roundabout at North King and Hatfield streets on what’s also the site of a 10,000-year-old 'undisturbed ancient village. MassDOT has determined that the best next step is to terminate the current construction contract and undertake a re-evaluation of the project design. The re-evaluation option is responsive to the nature of the public comments received, which asked MassDOT to consider alternatives that avoided the location of the archaeological site,” the notice said. “This re-evaluation will take public opposition into account as a key evaluation criterion for all design alternatives considered.”

Old Nolwottog, now within the colonial-named City of Northampton, lies next to Nayyag, that area where two peninsulas pinch the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River). Nayyag and Nolwottog are archaeologically rich, with more than 12 known Native American legacy sites within a radius of just one mile and more than 20 known places of legacy within a two-mile radius. Massachusetts Historical Society estimates that just 1 out of every 300 Native American sites have been surveyed, meaning there are many more sites on this map that are unknown.

The Native American legacy of Northampton has been erased one site after another for hundreds of years. Erasure has escalated in the 20th and 21st centuries to the point where an 8,500-year-old site was destroyed just a couple of years ago, and a 10,000 year-old, NRHP-recommended site was slated for erasure last year.

At risk was the only known place in the Northeast where crescent micro-blades from the Early Archaic period have been found at a single-component site. This finding reveals unexpected diversity in the stone technology used by very ancient residents of the valley, a finding which is another case that rewrites the myth of the primitive and marginal ancient human in America. More and more, we are finding that our very ancient ancestors possessed sophistication and diversity of culture much greater than we have been led to believe. We are also finding just more and more very ancient places of habitation, telling us that very ancient Indigenous people were far more present on the land, probably far more numerous, and more diverse than we have been led to believe. Year after year, new sites of very ancient provenance are found entirely by accident. Without even the effort of seeking ancient sites, they appear in ever growing numbers.

This case shows how government can function to respond to ethical archaeology/ This case also demonstrates why ethical archaeology and historic preservation must be protected from politics and politicians. Politicians in this case publicly attacked citizens who stood up for Native American legacy and equal preservation. while spreading misinformation.

Sadly, these discoveries and understandings are marred by oppressive efforts of state and local politicians who want to control the narrative and suppress the movement for equal historic preservation. The response of area politicians and officials was unthinkable: The Mayor of Northampton and the City Council washed their hands of this affair and denied they had any interest in the matter or any leverage - but it was later revealed that the City had participated to the tune of over $100,000 and had cooperated with MassDOT to push the erasure. Senator Comerford and Representative Sabadosa, despite posing themselves as progressives, went out of their way publicly attack and defame the landowners, Native American supporters of preservation, and even singled out private individuals in vicious attacks that they published widely, employing attacks on identity, misinformation, and reigniting the traumas of colonial genocide, tribal dissolution, and intertribal disputes to silence protest. Rhonda Anderson, a state appointee whose role is intended to support Indigenous people, threatened Native Americans online who called for protest - and then attacked those who didn't obey her 'command.' Anderson misinformed the public that the site of concern was actually another site that had already been destroyed two years ago, and then went on to mischaracterize the findings at that site. None of the named persons had read the archaeological report and misinformed the public while attacking those who exercised their right to petition the government.

Anderson went on to misidentify "the local tribe," when there is no recognized "local" tribe, but there are at least 5 historical peoples of the area, and there are 4 regional tribes with federal recognition, and many more without recognition. Comerford, Sabadosa, and Anderson not only did not support equal historic preservation, they vigorously attacked those who did support equality in a prolonged campaign of misinformation and cyberbullying.

This case also demonstrates the great need for education on Indigenous Massachusetts. For a quick lesson on who are the indigenous peoples of Massachusetts, see the map and caption at bottom.

Despite all these political intrusions, Land Protectors continued to push the issue of Ethical Archaeology. In a tense meeting with DOT representatives, more than 80 individuals spoke with spirit on behalf of equal preservation. It was also demonstrated in that meeting that the proposed roundabout was both unnecessary and ineffective. Citizens counter-proposed that a pedestrian overpass be built in such a way as not to interfere with the Native legacy place, and a traffic light installed.

It is instructive to note that MassDOT was able to handle this interaction professionally and with decorum, and to responsibly negotiate with citizens whom they serve to achieve a reasonable result. On the other hand, state officials, elected and appointed, misbehaved, inflamed tensions, and committed acts both unethical and probably illegal against their own constituents rather than entertain the protests of those who compose the Commonwealth - the People.

This case demonstrates that America is still only partly ready for ethical archaeology, and that racial inequality in archaeology and historical preservation still prevails. Genocide and subsequent erasure are still in progress, but ever slowed by growing enlightenment and equality.

Nayyag demonstrates that we have a long way to go as a nation that aspires to equality and justice, but that we are also making progress. What we need now is an inclusive plan to achieve preservation of an essential reservoir of sites that tell the story of Indigenous Massachusetts. Let's leave a legacy to our generations that is meaningful and a point of pride.

Map of Historically-Documented Self-Represented Peoples of Massachusetts:

All these peoples negotiated their own land agreements with Colonists and those documents were approved and registered by the Massachusetts General Court (sources: Indian Land Deeds for Hampden County, Later Including Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire Counties, Judd's Early History of Hadley, Annals of the General Court of Massachusetts)

Figure 1. Self-represented Indigenous peoples of Massachusetts as documented circa 1620 -1660 CE, with dialects grouped in brackets: {Mahikan - 1. Horikan 2. Pachami 3. Wnahktituk 4. Nochpeem 28. Schaghticoke} {5. Nawaas} {6. Agawam} {“Quiripi,” "River Tribes" - 7. Woronok 23. Podunk 27. Tunxis or Masakok} {8. Nolwottog} {9. Pacomtuck} {10. Momecouse} {Nipmuk - 11. Lashawe 12. Quaboag 13. Nipnet 24. Quinnebessit 25. Wabaquassit} {14. Massachusett 15. Agawam 18. Wampanoag 19. Nauset 20. Pokanoket 21. Narragansett} {Abenaki - 16. Pennacook 17. Piscataqua 26. Sokoki 22. Wingaersheek}. Language isolates and those with undefined relationship are bracketed alone.

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Update to map and key: #22 is documented as "Agawomes" and "Pawcatuck" on early documents. Pennacook Sogmo and pauwau Papisseconewa (Passaconaway) represented the people of the Cape Ann area in early land negotiations.

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