Third annual Shelburne event boosts awareness of Indigenous history, culture

This mural by Bob Eaton was on display at the Shelburne Historical Society’s third annual Indigenous Peoples Celebration on Sunday at the former Arms Academy building.

This mural by Bob Eaton was on display at the Shelburne Historical Society’s third annual Indigenous Peoples Celebration on Sunday at the former Arms Academy building. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Art by Bob Eaton on display at the Shelburne Historical Society’s third annual Indigenous Peoples Celebration on Sunday at the former Arms Academy building.

Art by Bob Eaton on display at the Shelburne Historical Society’s third annual Indigenous Peoples Celebration on Sunday at the former Arms Academy building. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

Reba-Jean Shaw-Pichette serves Piper Pichette wild rose petal tea at the Shelburne Historical Society’s third annual Indigenous Peoples Celebration on Sunday at the former Arms Academy building.

Reba-Jean Shaw-Pichette serves Piper Pichette wild rose petal tea at the Shelburne Historical Society’s third annual Indigenous Peoples Celebration on Sunday at the former Arms Academy building. STAFF PHOTO/JULIAN MENDOZA

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 10-16-2023 2:39 PM

SHELBURNE FALLS — Despite some unforeseen circumstances casting a shadow on the event, art, music and food highlighted the beauty of Indigenous culture during the Shelburne Historical Society’s third annual Indigenous Peoples Celebration on Sunday.

Dozens congregated at the former Arms Academy building and its grounds for the day of celebration between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Because of lighting issues, the absence of some special guests due to personal emergencies and strong winds that hindered some outdoor events, the day did not go quite as planned. The event still featured community drumming with the Visioning BEAR Circle Intertribal Coalition, history and culture presented by the Nolumbeka Project, paintings loaned from Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association (PVMA) Museum Curator Ray Radigan and more.

Event Coordinator Piper Pichette framed the celebration as “a continuing battle to remedy” the relative scarcity of Indigenous history and culture in the public consciousness today.

“When I first started volunteering, [the Shelburne Historical Society] didn’t have anything to do with natives,” said Pichette, who identifies as having Indigenous heritage, but does not claim a specific tribe. “They may have had a basket here or there, but it was always hiding in the corner, and so I opened my heart as a volunteer and started the Indigenous exhibit.”

Reba-Jean Shaw-Pichette, museum curator for the Shelburne Historical Society, provided attendees with a literal taste of Indigenous culture with samples of food and drinks inspired by traditional culinary practices. On the menu were three varieties of tea enjoyed for generations in North America — dried sumac berry, dandelion and wild rose petal — as well as bread made with just two ingredients: plantains and a blend of cornmeal and buckwheat. The simplicity of the bread’s recipe, which she compared in texture to mochi, was “very typical of New England woodlands traditions,” Shaw-Pichette explained, adding that a variety of fruits could be used to switch up the taste.

“When you connect a flavor with learning … it impresses on you more,” she said. “That’s why sometimes, we’ll smell something or we’ll taste something, and we’ll get a flash of memory.”

The lower level of the building provided a different sensory experience, immersing attendees in traditional native life via artwork curated by PVMA. The exhibit, which included commentary addressing better understandings achieved through intertribal communications over the last 50 years, was highlighted by a large-scale mural painted by artist Bob Eaton. While the mural, originally painted for the Mohawk Trail Trading Post in the 1970s, was initially considered “a progressive step in the right direction for the awareness of northeastern woodland nations,” the Shelburne Historical Society and PVMA hope “Indigenous artisans’ reimaginings of the mural based on present-day understandings and appropriate research” can inspire more accurate depictions of Native American life going forward.

Pichette said “boosting this awareness of the native peoples in our valley and our world today” is no trivial task, but one well worth the effort.

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“It’s been a labor of love,” she said, “and I hope it will continue to be a labor of love.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.