This #flashbackfriday, we are focusing on something that many believe is in the past, but in reality encompasses our present and future as well: indigenous land management practices. While the overarching narrative presently taught to us is one that paints them as primitive hunter-gatherers, a misconception perpetuated by early colonizer accounts, the Abenaki people were not only the original inhabitants, but the first soil and water conservationists of what we call New Hampshire.
The environment that colonists encountered during their first contacts with the Abenaki was one that was engineered by those indigenous tribes to be healthy and bountiful (and, coincidentally, was in strict contrast to the forest-stripped soil of much of Europe). Land management practices in N’dakinna, the Abenaki name for the area that includes New Hampshire as well as other parts of New England and Canada, differed according to longitude. In southern N’dakinna, the landscape was heavily dependent upon intentional fire: fire to create beautiful, open forests that allowed for easy hunting and travel; and fire to enrich the soil, increase arable land, and to grow a greater diversity of crops than many of us could ever dream of today.
Today, examples of fire-managed (but not indigenous-managed) habitat can be found in Carroll County’s Awasibagok (Ossipee) Pine Barrens. To the North, agriculture was more limited to watershed areas, so hunting and fishing were the primary sources of subsistence for the Abenaki groups that lived there. Many tribes travelled seasonally to optimize their yields while maintaining the land and water sustainably, and, unlike colonist-based agricultural practices today, utilized wetlands as gardens. Swamps, marshes, fens, and bogs were utilized to cultivate medicine, fiber, and food.
Indigenous peoples do exist in New Hampshire today and are still doing the difficult and important work of recovering, maintaining, and celebrating a culture and a land that has been stolen from them without federal recognition. For more information, indigenousnh.com is an excellent resource made up of “Tribal leaders, Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, staff, and faculty at the University of New Hampshire, local community activists and volunteers, local artists and filmmakers, various researchers, and high school students.”
The office of the Carroll County Conservation District is located in N’dakinna, on unceded Pequawket tribal lands.