Alford: A Land Acknowledgment

A Land Acknowledgment

As Alford’s Town Moderator, I took the occasion of our 2019 Annual Town Meeting on May 14 to introduce a new tradition. The idea did not originate with me; such land acknowledgments are becoming more widely used. I felt it would be an appropriate tribute to the indigenous people who cared for our land long before our Town took on its current configuration.

Here are the words I used at the beginning of our Meeting:

I invite you to join with me in acknowledging our gratitude, and giving our thanks, to the people who tended this land, that is now our Town, for thousands of years before the Europeans arrived.

Today, we call these people the Mohicans, and they now live in Wisconsin. Their own name for themselves is Muh-he-con-neok, which means “The People of the Waters that are Never Still” – a reference to the river they called the Muheconnituck, which we know as the Hudson River. They occupied the land on both sides of that river, from the upper reaches of Manhattan up to the shores of Lake Champlain, including all of what is now Berkshire County.

The place we now call Alford, an English name, was originally known as Podunk. Place names in the Algonquin languages are descriptive, and there are many places in the Northeast that were called Podunk, which means something like “the place where you sink in” – in other words, a marshy area. If you’re familiar with the center of our valley, you can see why it was called that. The stream we now call the Alford Brook was once called the Seekonk River. Seekonk is an Algonquin word probably meaning “black goose” or perhaps “wild geese.” There is a town in eastern Massachusetts called Seekonk, and the town has a goose in flight on its seal.

The land that now comprises Alford was conveyed in 1756 from the Mohicans to the English colonists in two tracts; the southern and central parts of the town were transferred in the Shawenon Purchase, and the northern part in the Greenland Grant.

Our town now probably looks much like it did in those days, with the center of the valley being used for agriculture, and the wooded mountains used for hunting.

Please join with me in acknowledging and thanking the Muh-he-con-neok, who retain an active interest in and a fondness for their ancestral homeland. On our behalf, I say to them “anushiik” which is the Mohican* word for thank-you.

*CORRECTION: I have been informed that

“Anushiik” is a Munsee word for thank you. In Mohican it is “Oneewe” pronounced “On-EH-wah”

The Munsee and Mohican languages (and peoples) are very closely related. For more information, see the Mohican Nation website and several of my posts, such as this one.

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  1. […] Land Acknowledgement: the idea for this came from Simon Winchester, who did a similar thing in Sandisfield, where he is the Town Moderator. My specific application to Alford was informed by the research I had done for the OLLI course. […]

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