CLAREMONT – Members of the traditional Ko’asek (Co’wasuck) band of the sovereign Abenaki nation held their first winter solstice celebration in Claremont on Tuesday evening, with a traditional fire ceremony to welcome the heat and light of the sun as a community.
The 430-member Ko’asek received the land last year as a gift from the Kennedy-Bascom family, who previously owned the 10 acres of forested wetland on Elm Street.
This was the first use of the land in a winter solstice ceremony, although the tribal band held a tree awakening ceremony in April this year and a celebration of the fall equinox. in September.
The community event, called “Unity Fire,” was held virtually with members and friends connecting through Zoom or by phone from locations across the country, as well as a participant located in Peru. Some participants had ceremonial fires at their own locations, while others had lit candles.
In Claremont, Chief David Nepveu of the Vermont Tribal Region opened the celebration with a tobacco blessing ceremony to honor the seven sacred directions north, south, east and west; the sun; the creator; Mother Earth; the water; plants and animals; and fire.
Nepveu said it was the first time he had organized and performed this fire ceremony himself.
“I am relearning the fire ceremony,” said Nepveu. “I’m relearning how to stack fire and how to do it again. “
Chief Paul Bunnell of the New Hampshire Tribal Region, who also managed the land with Nepveu, attended the celebration from his home in Alstead.
The fire, explained Nepveu, is structured specifically for the ceremony rather than the warmth.
“The fire tonight is to give thanks to the sun for providing the energy to create all that we see here,” said Nepveu.
The wood, which represents “the fuel of the sun”, comes from an ash tree, a sacred tree among the Abernaki.
“The Abernaki consider us to come from ash,” said Nepveu.
The lumber and kindling is constructed in a tipi style around a center of birch bark, cedar, tobacco, sage and sweetgrass.
Each layer of the construction has a symbolic value, according to Nepveu.
The innermost material, where the fire is first lit, represents the “birth” of the child, said Nepveu. Around the center are smaller pieces of kindling, which represent children. As the fire grows, Nepveu adds larger pieces of ash around the construction, also in a teepee style arrangement. These coins represent the ancients.
“It’s a whole structure that protects and keeps the heat inside,” said Nepveu. “It’s considered family.”
As the fire dies, the gray ash that remains is considered the grandparents, or “grandfather” to be exact, Nepveu explained, saying that the Abernaki regard fire as a male energy, while that water, its counterpart, is a feminine energy.
After the tobacco ceremony, Bunnell delivered an opening prayer to bless the gathering and ask for peace, harmony, unity, and healing for the earth and the environment.
Dan Duhaime, a Ko’asek artist, presented two songs: “Unity Chant” and “Drums in the Valley”.
Nepveu showed the underside of a drum he made two weeks ago, using white cedar for the edge and moose skin for the drum skin.
“When you do the drum, that string [tying the skin underneath] where it ends is considered the umbilical of the drum, ”said Nepveu. “So I took the navel out of the drum and cast it into the fire as an offering.”
Inside the navel was a packet of “kinnikinnick”, a Native American smoking mixture. The mixture prepared by Nepveu contained tobacco, cedar, sage, and coffee, representing each of the four directions: coffee in the east, sage in the west, cedar in the north, and tobacco in the east.
The celebration brought together around 25 participants from at least 11 different states.
The Ko’asek eventually hope to build a cultural center with a meeting room, a museum and a small residence on the property. The tribal band is also planning to build a wigwam and longhouse for educational purposes and walking trails to learn about trees and plants native to New Hampshire.