Northfield oral history program to explore region’s Indigenous history

Folklorists Michael and Carrie Kline, pictured in their Sunderland home, are presenting  “New Lights in the Dawnland,” which features regional Indigenous voices and encompasses nearly 13,000 years of native history in a two-hour audio documentary.

Folklorists Michael and Carrie Kline, pictured in their Sunderland home, are presenting “New Lights in the Dawnland,” which features regional Indigenous voices and encompasses nearly 13,000 years of native history in a two-hour audio documentary. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 12-03-2023 2:17 PM

NORTHFIELD — As the last month of Northfield’s 350th anniversary celebration kicks off, the public is invited to Dickinson Memorial Library for the premiere of a long-running oral history project.

After taking on smaller, individual- and family-focused projects for the town during the anniversary celebration, Sunderland-based folklorists Michael and Carrie Kline are presenting their crown jewel of oral history with “New Lights in the Dawnland,” which features regional Indigenous voices and encompasses nearly 13,000 years of native history in a two-hour audio documentary.

“New Lights in the Dawnland” — with the name coming from the Abenaki name for present-day Northfield and the land around it — features Montague Battlefield Grant Advisory Committee members and Indigenous speakers David Brule, who is president of the Nolumbeka Project; Northfield resident Joe Graveline; Vermont resident Rich Holschuh and Doug Harris.

The four men’s oral histories captured by the Klines are inspired by a prompt: “Tell me about your people and where you were raised.”

“It’s as though you’re sitting on the porch with the four of them taking turns talking,” Michael Kline said. “There’s no reintroducing anybody. The ‘who’ is not important, it’s the content of what they’re saying that is important.”

Each of the four men’s interviews were recorded independently and with no notes or prior discussions to ensure they were speaking from their memory and heart, which Kline then weaved together to paint a picture of thousands of years of Indigenous history.

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Additional narration is provided by Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, who also provides traditional drumming, singing and flute music to supplement the other four subjects.

In exploring the longstanding history of this land’s native people, the arrival of English colonists and the reverberations that are still felt today, Kline said a project like this is one step toward dispelling generations of “misunderstanding” and “centuries of discommunication.”

“This battlefield board is made up of some of the governing people of Montague as well as tribal people, and they’re collaborating on tracking down these dangling memories or incidents that occurred way back and trying to get a larger sense of what really happened and looking at it from many sides,” Kline said.

“You soon realize the victor writes the histories and that has implications centuries later,” he continued, adding that listening and bridging these divides is essential “if we’re ever going to change and become a truly integrated society eager to learn more about each other and not more suspicious about one another.”

Reflecting on the past 11 months of Northfield’s anniversary celebrations, Kline said townspeople and their neighbors around the county have really bought into the region’s history.

“There’s been great turnouts to these 350th events that feature speakers like David Brule and [Deerfield historian] Peter Thomas that are drawing record crowds,” he said. “There’s a ravenous interest in all this stuff.”

The free event will be held at Dickinson Memorial Library, 115 Main St., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 5:30 p.m. The Klines will premiere the documentary and have a discussion with attendees.

For more information about Northfield’s 350th celebration, including a schedule of the final events, visit northfield350.org.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.