Montague group eyes creation of Native American heritage and cultural center

  • Members of the Montague Economic Development and Industrial Corporation discussed the prospect of developing a culture and heritage center primarily focused on recognizing the local Native American legacy during their meeting on Wednesday. The project has been proposed for buildings at 8 and 20 Canal St. in Turners Falls that were previously power plants. Staff Photo/Julian Mendoza

  • Members of the Montague Economic Development and Industrial Corporation discussed the prospect of developing a culture and heritage center primarily focused on recognizing the local Native American legacy during their meeting on Wednesday. The project has been proposed for buildings at 8 and 20 Canal St. in Turners Falls that were previously power plants. Staff Photo/Julian Mendoza

  • A diagram of proposed development plans for Canal Street in Turners Falls. Contributed Image

  • A diagram of proposed development plans for Canal Street in Turners Falls. Contributed Image

Staff Writer
Published: 7/1/2021 7:29:40 PM

MONTAGUE — Members of the Montague Economic Development and Industrial Corp. (EDIC) discussed the prospect of developing a culture and heritage center primarily focused on recognizing the local Native American history during their meeting on Wednesday.

The proposed project would preserve and restore the historic mill infrastructure that is a hallmark of the town, focusing on buildings at 8 and 20 Canal St. in Turners Falls that were previously power plants, but that have been owned by the town for about a decade. Corporation members emphasized that the motivation for carrying out this vision is twofold: to retain town history, as well as contribute to reparations for Indigenous peoples. The desire is to work closely with local tribes during the planning process and ultimately bestow some level of branding agency upon them.

With plans still in the very early stages, the EDIC is gauging the feasibility of such a center coming to fruition. Member James Mussoni said the groundwork for this idea had been laid before the Selectboard in the mid-2010s.

“Instead of starting from scratch, we can use this template,” Mussoni said.

This coincides with ongoing town discussion over how to best deal with the dilapidation of Turners Falls’ historic mill buildings. Should the integrity of the infrastructure be acceptable, the group sees its proposal as an innovative, inclusive way to preserve the soul of the town.

Those present at Wednesday’s meeting recognized that the town’s rich industrial past is shared by the deep-rooted, trauma-plagued history of Native Americans. As the site of genocidal acts that stretching back many generations (such as the 1676 Great Falls Massacre), with even the village’s namesake controversially rooted, the group made it clear that Turners Falls owes some acts of reparation to local tribes.

Should a formal draft proposal be written, Mussoni said EDIC should present local tribes with it to garner interest, support and input. There is a collective priority to ensure that local Native American tribes have the primary say in how the center is developed and presented. Ultimately, he said, he would like to see the tribes given the option to name the center what they see fit.

David Brule, who is of Narragansett and Nehantic descent and serves as president of the Nolumbeka Project, supports the idea in theory, but has concerns over the issue of Indigenous representation.

“What I would want to see is a center representative of tribes who would speak for those tribes,” Brule said.

Brule said that allocating agency toward proper tribal representatives to the extent necessary is ambitious. He has, however, been encouraged by what he’s seen from the evolution of Montague’s intercultural relations.

“Montague has made tremendous progress in bringing conversations between tribal people and non-tribal people,” Brule said.

Members discussed the timeliness of developing the project, considering the national interest surrounding the concept of reparations. Mussoni embraced the scope of the project, even endorsing national involvement with the mission.

“I’d love to make this a national park dedicated to the natives,” Mussoni said.

Concerns voiced over the feasibility of this project included the condition of the mill building, canal accessibility and potential tax increases. Town Planner Walter Ramsey said EDIC should seek out grant funding that would support conducting a feasibility study.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-772-0261, ext. 261 or jmendoza@recorder.com.




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