‘Moving back toward balance’: Community remembers Great Falls Massacre 345 years later

  • Liz “Coldwind” Santana Kiser speaks at the Day of Remembrance recognizing the 345th anniversary of the Great Falls Massacre. The event was held at Peskeomskut Park in Turners Falls on Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

  • Elnu Abenaki Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan, a traditional artist and musician, performs at the Day of Remembrance at Peskeomskut Park in Turners Falls on Saturday, honoring the 345th anniversary of the Great Falls Massacre. STAFF PHOTO/ MARY BYRNE

  • Nulhegan Abenaki singer-songwriter Bryan Blanchette performs at Peskeomskut Park in Turners Falls for the Day of Remembrance on Saturday, honoring the 345th anniversary of the Great Falls Massacre. STAFF PHOTOS/MARY BYRNE

  • People gather at Peskeomskut Park in Turners Falls on Saturday afternoon for a Day of Remembrance, honoring the 345th anniversary of the Great Falls Massacre. STAFF PHOTO/MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/16/2021 4:15:52 PM

TURNERS FALLS — The community gathered at Peskeomskut Park Saturday afternoon to honor the 345th anniversary of the Great Falls Massacre with a Day of Remembrance.

The event — intended to recognize the often untold story of the conflict of May 19, 1676 at the falls, during which 300 women, children and elders were killed during a surprise attack by Captain William Turner and colonial militia — has been held yearly since the town’s reconciliation ceremony in May 2004. It was canceled last year, however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Nolumbeka Project and others have actively been working … to bring the Native peoples to this site ... through the (Pocumtuck) Homelands Festival and other events we’ve held here,” said Nolumbeka Project President David Brule.

He said the remembrance event on Saturday was not meant to be sad.

“The spirits of those people who were struck at the falls, who perished at their greatest moment of torment, have — through the work you all are doing — been released to continue their journey to the southwest,” he said.

After music performances by Elnu Abenaki Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan and Nulhegan Abenaki singer-songwriter Bryan Blanchette, Brule introduced Nipmuc Tribal Council member Liz “Coldwind” Santana Kiser.

“This is a time when we can remember what happened on May 19, 1676,” she said. “It’s a horrific day for the Nipmuc people, but it’s a day that we can remember and we can reflect.”

Santana Kiser emphasized the importance for the community to both remember the massacre, while also finding ways to move forward and work together with Native people.

“We live in divisive times, and we’re a split country,” she said. “Hate is more prevalent than love right now, and it doesn’t have to be that way if we could understand who we are as a people. … We are different, and yet we are the same.”

Santana Kiser thanked the community for taking the time to recognize what happened 345 years ago.

“We are now in 2021, so things have changed and we as people have changed,” she said. “We are thriving as Nipmuc people. We have a language; we have young people who will one day be doing presentations in our language. We are still here, so I want to say thank you for being here and sharing this moment with us.”

Rich Holschuh, director of the Atowi Project in Brattleboro, Vt., also spoke to the importance of remembering the Great Falls Massacre, while also moving forward from it.

“The same water going down the river now is a part of the same water that flowed here in 1676, mixed with blood,” Holschuh said. “It still flows.”

He said when bad decisions are made, there is an opportunity to right those wrongs and “move back toward balance.”

“That is our work today,” Holschuh said. “That is why we are here. … We’re moving back toward balance; let’s embrace that.”

Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne

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