Abenaki Totem -- a guide

There are so many striking features to our working landscape, that you can be forgiven for having overlooked this one. But no more. The Abenaki totem and fire pit were gifted to the Farm in August 2015, when the Farm hosted the Wabanaki Confederacy Conference of the Western Abenaki people. It was carved by Missisquoi artist Richard Menard.

Below, Abenaki Chief Don Stevens shares the significance of the totem. You can visit and see it for yourself up the hill behind the Farm Barn. 


The Eagle symbol sits atop all of creation. Eagles are sacred spiritual beings that give Native people a direct connection to the creator. The Eagle guards our Eastern Gate and carries our prayers to the heavens. The Abenaki name for Eagle is Megeso.

 

The Bear symbolizes medicine, power, protection, and the Abenaki Bear Clan (interior woodland tribes). The Bear stands at the Western Gate and provides our people with medicines. The majority of the People of the Pines are represented by the Bear. The Abenaki name for Bear is Awasos.

 

The Otter symbol reminds us to be playful and not be tricked into situations that would destroy the unity of the people. We should always be mindful of the otter in working with other governments. The Abenaki name for Otter is Wnekikw.

 

The Turtle symbolizes Mother Earth, Turtle Island, and the Abenaki Turtle Clan, which includes those Abenaki Tribes living predominately along the Lake Champlain Basin. The Abenaki name for the Turtle is Tolba.

 

The Pine Tree symbolizes the tree of life and the “People of the Pines”. There are many spellings in the Abenaki language for this, including Kowa, Coosuk, Cowasuck, and Koasek.

The Wabanaki Confederacy sign is a symbol of unity between the “People of the First Light”. These nations are the Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Wolastoqiyik, and Western Abenaki people.

 

May this totem always be a symbol of the historic conference event, our partnership with Shelburne Farms, and be used as an opportunity for people to learn about the Western Abenaki culture. In addition to the totem, the Western Abenaki  people built a fire pit during the conference.  The white limestone rocks that encircle the sacred fire pit are a sign of purity and holiness. They provided a place for our people to make offerings of tobacco and carry our prayers to the creator. These particular stones were the central spiritual center during the Wabanaki Confederacy Conference and contain the spiritual medicines of that event. The sacred fire was protected by our fire keepers 24 hours a day throughout the Conference.  Afterwards, I saved the ashes in containers, which I brought to the Wabanaki Confederacy meeting the following year. I gave a container to each of the tribes, so the ashes could be included in their own fires in their homelands. Some of the ashes were also included in “the bundle” (box) of sacred objects, which goes to the tribal nation hosting the Wabanaki Confederacy gathering each year to care for. 

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Thank you for this inspiring and enlightening look into our local Native American peoples. The Abenaki culture and history serve as a beautiful example of what an entire Civilization should aspire to. There is nothing antiquated about their philosophy, religion and symbols. For me they should be very much alive in the values we need to preserve and practice today among each other. So beautiful. So soulful. So essential for all of us to follow today. With gratitude, Jacques-Paul Marton

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