Women, Native land focus of Sunday talk

  • Singer, activist and educator Sarah Pirtle is one of the speakers at Sunday’s talk titled “Mashalisque and Frances Crowe — Women and Native Land History.” Contributed photo

  • Ceremonial stone landscapes preservationist Doug Harris is one of the speakers at Sunday’s talk titled “Mashalisque and Frances Crowe — Women and Native Land History.”

For the Recorder
Published: 11/27/2020 3:18:51 PM

GREENFIELD — The Nolumbeka Project is presenting another installment of its River Stories series on Sunday, with a virtual presentation titled “Mashalisque and Frances Crowe — Women and Native Land History.”

The Zoom presentation, from 2 to 4 p.m., will be led by ceremonial stone landscapes preservationist Doug Harris and singer, activist and educator Sarah Pirtle. The event will include stories and songs that explore women and Native land in the Pioneer Valley with a focus on Pocumtuck sachem Mashalisque and peace activist Frances Crowe, followed by a question and answer session.

“Being a strong woman in charge of the Pocumtuck tribe, one of the last leaders of that tribal group” makes Mashalisque “something of a heroine in the valley,” said David Brule, chair of the Nolumbeka Project and co-organizer of the River Stories series. Mashalisque, who had hereditary stewardship of the land on both sides of the Connecticut River from Sunderland and South Deerfield to Greenfield and Montague, was “one of the last most powerful women in the valley in the 1670s,” Brule said.

When John Pynchon, land agent for the Massachusetts Bay Colony was given the task of acquiring the land that is now Deerfield in the 1660s, Mashalisque refused to sell.

“Mashalisque held out and didn’t want to turn over any land,” Brule said.

When Pynchon got Mashalisque’s son into legal trouble using alcohol and debts, he eventually forced Mashalique’s hand, pushing her to turn over the land to free her son from prison. Shortly after, the Pocumtuck were “scattered to the four winds” when atrocities and massacre caused them to leave the valley and join other tribes, Brule explained.

“I think it’s important for valley people to know how the land we occupy was taken, often through trickery and defeat, and Mashalisque was the last holdup,” he said.

Harris, who will use personal stories and research to discuss the lives of both women and explore the institution of debt, learned about Frances Crowe through his work identifying ceremonial sites at the proposed pipeline in Sandisfield, and proposed this event out of interest and admiration for Crowe’s conviction and activism.

“Crowe had spent her life protesting foolish government projects. She was a Quaker and a pacifist and an activist,” Brule added.

Pirtle, who will share an original composition about Mashalique, has spent years researching the life and work of the sachem and has met and protested with Crowe, who died in August 2019 at 100 years old.

“When we reach and picture these two women, we gain more depth and grit to take part in change. Women were the guardians who held communities together. When we see Mashalisque, we can feel her power. We need to see her,” Pirtle wrote in a newsletter about Sunday’s talk.

The River Stories series was originally scheduled as in-person events along the Connecticut River to celebrate and honor the tribes in the Connecticut River Valley, including the Abenaki, Nipmuc and Nehantic tribes. Some of the talks were moved online.

To register for the webinar, visit bit.ly/3mhfK0I. The presentation will also be recorded and streamed live at facebook.com/nolumbekaproject.




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