Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of blog posts written by students in Professor Martin’s NAIS 400: Introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of New Hampshire. To learn more about the Native American and Indigenous Studies minor, visit https://cola.unh.edu/interdisciplinary-studies/program/minor/native-american-indigenous-studies
by Caitlin Sheehan (Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies, ‘21)
2020 has been a year full of historical events that I don’t think anyone thought we would ever live to see. This year, many people have felt anxiety and uncertainty about the future. This year has also been influential in the struggle for civil rights and progressive change. Hence, we are both living through a global pandemic and witnessing first-hand a huge step in the fight for equality in the United States and all over the world for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). These efforts have included the dismantling of statues and monuments depicting elements of American history rooted in racism. In the summer of 2020, the news media reported several cases of confederate statues being “vandalized” or removed by protestors. For these protestors, statues which depict a history rooted in racism were not examples of education, but a sick form of honoring the actions of racists and murders. It is my belief that these statues and monuments create a false and often white-washed narrative of how our history as a country actually unfolded. We see this same narrative reproduced in American folklore and history textbooks.
The most notorious histories that have been diluted and taught to seemingly every child in the United States from my generation and older are the stories of Christopher Columbus and Thanksgiving. We were taught that colonizers led by Columbus discovered America in 1492. In the simplified version of history, the colonizers and Indigenous people made an alliance and later had a peaceful dinner that was a sort of coming together of cultures. Now, as a college student who has had the opportunity to further my education, I have learned that this story is just that—a story. The truth behind these encounters is that they marked the beginning of genocide and centuries of oppression and discrimination led by the colonizers. Introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) and most of the Women’s and Gender Studies classes I have taken at UNH have made me realize that education is a crucial part of understanding, learning from, and recognizing the gruesome history of the U.S. I believe that dismantling monuments that honor these atrocious historical figures is a part of changing the way we educate our youth.
In Concord, New Hampshire, and in Haverhill, Massachusetts stand statues of English colonist Hannah Dustin (also known as “Duston”). She holds a tomahawk in one hand and a bundle of scalps belonging to Indigenous people in the other hand. The statue in Concord was erected in 1874, making it one of the oldest monuments of a woman in the United States. This would be an amazing historical feat for women, except that the history behind Hannah Dustin’s story is horrific. It is my belief that this statue should be removed.
The story of Hannah Dustin is a story that has been passed down, retold, and changed for centuries, depicting Dustin as a hero. However, the story leaves a lot of room for false narratives rooted in racist ideas about Indigenous people. In our Introduction to NAIS class, we critically discussed the stereotypes and narratives about Indigenous people that have been created and passed down for years to portray them as savages without dignity, law, and social order. The story of Hannah Dustin and the massacre that has been memorialized follows this same detrimental narrative. A stereotypical story about the settler Hannah Dustin was that she was abducted by a group of Abenaki people who were allegedly in a fight with colonists in Haverhill, Massachusetts. After her abduction, the Abenaki people allegedly murdered her newborn child. Then, one day when Dustin’s “capturers” were asleep, she murdered and scalped them, and escaped back to Haverhill, later bringing the scalps of the Abenaki people she murdered to Boston to receive the bounty.
This story has been addressed by many Indigenous scholars and activists who have studied the history of the Abenaki people and the events in Haverhill during this time. From what I have gathered in my own research, the story of Hannah Dustin has been retold, interpreted, and changed to the point of becoming folklore. Not only is it a gruesome statue where a woman holds the scalps of possibly innocent Indigenous people, but it also has little to no description of the events that took place or surrounding context. The limited description that accompanies the statue is written from a colonial perspective, villainizing Indigenous people.
I believe that monuments such as the Hannah Dustin monument must be analyzed critically. We must think about who erected these monuments, what the intention was behind the monument, and what the social and political climate was at the time. Simply put, there is no justification to continue to monumentalize and memorialize murderers.
Cutter, B. (2018, April 9). Hannah Duston, Whose Slaying of Indians Made Her an American Folk “Hero”. Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gruesome-story-hannah-duston-american-colonist-whose-slaying-indians-made-her-folk-hero-180968721/
Indigenous New Hampshire Collaborative Collective (2018, July 18). Hannah Dustin. Indigenous New Hampshire. https://indigenousnh.com/2018/07/18/hannah-dustin/
Wickham, S. K. (2020, July 18). A new look at mascots after Black Lives Matter protests. New Hampshire Union Leader. https://www.unionleader.com/news/history/a-new-look-at-mascots-after-black-lives-matter-protests/article_34f11272-a5f1-58a1-aef6-6c282d58c7ff.html