**This article was put together after a long conversation with Paul Pouliot, Council Chief and Speaker of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook/Abenaki People, and accessing resources through the New Hampshire Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The MWVCC, acknowledges that it is not an expert on this matter, and understands and appreciates that this is sensitive information, and not its own story to tell. This article was written from a place of respect and curiosity, and to educate those who enjoy the White Mountain National Forest. Every effort was made to maintain accuracy. If there is additional information you would like shared or corrections to what has been written, please know the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce is committed to sharing accurate information and open to learning.**
Much of what has been shared in this article is information that has been discovered, researched, preserved and shared through the work of the Indigenous New Hampshire Collaborative Collective. Paul Pouliot, along with his wife, Denise spearhead this collective, along with a team of upwards of eighteen people. Each team member brings a a range of experience and perspective ranging from archeology to outdoor science to energy work to herbalism to public policy and more.
The Indigenous New Hampshire Collective focuses on three pillars that the collective works tirelessly to put into action.
(1) Public Education
(2) Social Activism; and
(3) Local Focus.
They work toward these verticals by creating of digital, printed, audio and video educational resources; applying critical review of local histories; decolonizing trail maps and trail names; working with institutions and people on creating Land Acknowledgement statements, championing ecological and environmental issues, and providing support on race equality and food insecurity, climate change, and sustainability issues facing BIPOC communities across the state and region.
It has partnered with many state organizations including University of New Hampshire and The Nature Conservancy. The Indigenous New Hampshire Collective has been awarded one of the “Sixty Most Important People or Organizations in the Last Sixty Years” by The Nature Conservancy, and the University of New Hampshire recognized them with sustainability and community building award, based on their work with fisheries and dam removal to encourage fish populations throughout New Hampshire.
The best way you can support the efforts of this collaborative is to take the snippets of what you’ve learned in this article and share it far and wide. Help perpetuate the work of this group. As you make your way out into the White Mountain National Forest, begin to think about your own relationship to the land. Take ownership of your use of it, and create your own Land Acknowledgement statement surrounding how you intend to honor and take care of this precious forest and all it holds for all of us to enjoy. (Financial support doesn’t hurt either! You can learn more about supporting this group’s efforts, here.)
The mountains and the forest of the White Mountain National Forest have been evolving, shifting, and transforming for eons. Major tectonic shifts have occurred over thousands upon thousands of years to merge the mountainous topography we enjoy today.
And over those multiple centuries of time, the history that this forest has witnessed and provided a home for, is rich with cultural heritage.
Part of the cultural heritage of the White Mountain National Forest is that of the Indigenous tribes that inhabited this land.
Sadly, much of the history of the indigenous tribes that once walked this land has been lost and misunderstood over the years, but what we do know is this; the first people who inhabited New Hampshire did so roughly 11,000 years ago.
The US Forest Service has designated twenty-one known sites within the White Mountain National Forest that hold spiritual, agricultural, and historical meaning for the Indigenous people of New Hampshire. These sites are federally protected, and regularly studied and archived with the NH Archaeological Society and the state of New Hampshire.
From that first group of people, their descendants became what is now known as the Abenaki. While the formation of this tribe is much more nuanced, and includes much smaller bands of people that divided themselves into groups with the names of Penacook, Winnipesaukee, Pigwacket, Sokoki, Cowasuck, and Ossipee; they all spoke related dialects of the Abenaki language. (The Abenaki language is also part of a greater whole, and a dialect of the Algonquin language spoken by all Native Americans who inhabited the North East.)
While there is speculation that the people of the Abenaki tribes built villages along rivers and lakes, including the Saco and Androscoggin rivers, as well as Lake Winnipesaukee; upon further exploration it looks as though the Abenaki people were more nomadic; following the movement of Caribou. They would hunt and track them starting in Jefferson, NH, and would follow them east to Berlin, before eventually following them as far south as the Carolinas. The White Mountains offered a space for hunting that was migratory and opportunistic, but certainly not permanent. With this information, it’s tough to assume that the Abenaki people built villages for extended living situations in the White Mountains.
Ongoing research shows that the Abenaki people left behind many Lithic Sites, that show the stages of tool making. Mount Jasper and the Ossipee area are two areas where discoveries like this are making themselves known.
While the Abenaki people may have been more migratory than previously thought, which means a lack of mountain names influenced by their culture, there are still some threads of history and language that present themselves through common names of places locals and visitors alike love to frequent throughout the state. For example, the Saco River, Mount Kearsarge, and Amonoosuc River are names given to these treasured natural resources by the greater Abenaki people.
This Thanksgiving include the White Mountain National Forest onto your list of things you’re grateful for. Reflect on the memories you’ve made while hiking, biking, skiing, running, or swimming amongst its trees. Take that gratitude and bring it with you every time you enter the White Mountain National Forest. And be sure to sign the MWV Pledge, a ten point responsibility code to help protect and preserve the WMNF for generations to come.