Indigenous knowledge at Spring Hill Farm

Sunrise is sacred to NH’s Abenaki People who call themselves People of the Dawn. Similarly, in Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, describes her father’s early morning sunrise ritual. “I can picture my father, in his red-checked wool shirt, standing atop the rocks above the lake. …He pours coffee out on the ground in a thick brown stream. With his face to the morning sun, he pours and speaks into the stillness ‘here’s to the gods of Tahawus.’ …So begins each morning in the north woods: the words that come before all else. By those words we said ‘Here we are,’ and I imagined that the land heard us—murmured to itself, ‘here are the ones who know how to say thank you’” (Kimmerer 2013:33-34). Kimmerer’s mother had her own more pragmatic ritual of respect. “Before we paddled away from any camping place she made us kids scour the place to be sure that it was spotless. ‘Leave this place better than you found it,’ she admonished” (Kimmerer 2013:35).

Spring Hill Farm’s mission statement covers the 400 acre conservation easement bequeathed to Chester “to preserve and promote the legacy of Muriel Church through the continuance of agricultural operations and the stewardship of both open land and forests, while providing educational and recreational opportunities to the public.” Its volunteers in partnership with the Conservation Commission continue its purpose as a working farm including hayfields, wetlands, pollinator species, maple sugaring, a CSA, goats, horse trails and likely a bountiful habitat for migratory birds. Recently, Chester voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, the town’s good intentions made manifest at the farm in its inventory study to identify all flora and fauna for best practices in land management.

As we learn how Indigenous people have maintained the aki (land), nibi (water), lolawikak (flora) and awaasak (fauna) for over 12,000 years we show appreciation in a formal land acknowledgement: we are located on the unceded, ancestral homelands (N’Dakinna) and waterways of the Abenaki, Penacook and Wabanaki Peoples past and present. We acknowledge and honor with gratitude the flora, fauna and the land itself and the people (alnobak) who have stewarded it throughout the generations.

Today, we adapt to climate change, an important concern for Eric Orff, wildlife biologist and self described “watcher of nature” in the Merrimack River Valley for the last half century. He says that this is the first winter in 60 years that the Great Bay hasn’t frozen over. Stephen Baron, National Weather Service meteorologist, forecasts January as the third warmest winter on record; Lake Winnipesaukee is nowhere near frozen and has an unusually late ice-in.

Given current conditions, Robin Kimmerer encourages land, water and resource management not just across budget years but across generations. In Indigenous sciences it’s not possible to separate knowledge from the ethics of responsibility for that knowledge. Indigenous managed lands, even those under conservation, have far more biodiversity intact than others. For example, the practice of planting a diversity of crops and building healthy soil for water retention—today known as “regenerative agriculture”—has existed in Indigenous communities throughout history. A core flaw in Western land management approaches, she adds, is the belief that human interaction is necessarily harmful to ecosystems. Native people were removed from what are today’s national parks because of the idea that people and nature can’t exist in a good way. But Indigenous knowledge says we can cultivate practices for how that is possible, as in following traditional protocols for harvesting sweetgrass, the very intervention that helps it thrive.

Whenever you visit Spring Hill Farm to hike, trail ride, snowshoe, cross country ski, dogsled, hay or sleigh ride remember our connection to Indigenous wisdom and in any and all ways possible “leave this place better than you found it.”

Ann Podlipny

Source: Kimmerer, R.W. 2013. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. Milkweed Editions.