October 13 – When Joyce Heywood’s mother-in-law read a published copy of the writings of Heywood’s mother, Claudia Chicklas, she took away more than just learning about the perspective of an Abenaki woman in the 20th century.
“My mother-in-law said what [she] took from that book was love — it’s love of family,” said Heywood, of Upton, Mass., “It’s something that’s on every level. Everyone can relate to that, and that was my mom’s real goal.”
With the help of his sister Margaret Perillo, Heywood compiled Chicklas’ essays into a book called “Woven Through the Sweetgrass: Memories of a New England Abenaki Family”, which the two siblings self-published in 2021. title of the book alludes to their great-grandparents’ tradition of basket weaving with sweetgrass, a custom passed down from generation to generation among the Abenakis.
About 70 people tuned in virtually and in Heberton Hall at the Keene Public Library to see Heywood recount how his family, the Sadoques, moved from their Abenaki ancestral homeland of Odanak to Quebec, Canada, Connecticut and later to Keene during a conference on Wednesday evening. The conference followed Indigenous Peoples Day which was celebrated on Monday this year.
Suzie O’Bomsawin, Deputy Director General and Human Resources Officer at the Abenakis of Odanak Council, preceded Heywood to provide background on the boundaries of the Abenaki Nation that form what is known as the Ndakina. O’Bomsawin is a member of the community of Odanak from where the Sadoques moved, near Pierreville, Quebec.
“People were referring to [Odanak] like ‘the village’, it was therefore simply translated into the Abenaki language,” O’Bomsawin told participants. “Ndakina means “our territory” in the Abenaki language. It is really important to understand the territory in terms of river basins… [because] that’s how everything is connected to each other [in Ndakina].”
And for the Sadoques, rivers meant everything. Heywood said his family moved to Norwich, Connecticut in the 1870s via the Connecticut River by canoe.
“They had begun a journey that would take them back to the lands their ancestors had left two centuries before when they were driven north by the invading British colonialists,” Heywood said in his lecture.
The Sadoques quickly moved north up the river to settle in the Keene and Marlborough area around 1880 with aspirations of trading with the residents through their knowledge of basket weaving and the tanning of fur hides, according to Heywood. Elm City was recommended to them by a soap salesman they met in Connecticut, Heywood said.
She said her great-grandfather Israel Sadoques found his fortune making splints for sale at Keene’s Cheshire Chair Co. Meanwhile, his wife, Mary, ran her own business in Keene in the early 1900s.
“[Mary] opened her own shop in Keene at a time when most women were not encouraged to take an active part in the male-dominated world of commerce,” Heywood told the audience. “It took courage and a cool head to go out on his own.”
The Sadoques faced discrimination because of their Native American identity, said Heywood, who shared after the conference a story Chicklas told him about how the family befriended a Jewish family in Keene. who also faced prejudice and struggled to find accommodation.
“They said, we were told, that no one in town would rent them a room even if they had money,” Heywood said. “And my family let them stay with them.”
Chicklas began writing knowledge, recollections and histories of the Sadoques and Watso families, his paternal and maternal line, in the 1990s until his death in 2008. Heywood and Perillo felt compelled to publish the collected writings of their mother as they found stories they had never seen before on Chicklas’ old computer they inherited, Heywood said after the conference.
Although much of the book was compiled during the pandemic, it was a years-long project before the sisters began with the help of family gatherings.
“I started sending stories, printing them out and sending them to [my sister]”Heywood said. “Then we talked on the phone about them and what she remembered and what I remembered, and then other family members… [at] family reunions every five years at Surry Mountain.”
Heywood said their biggest hurdle was figuring out how to logically organize so much writing about Abenaki culture, before she finally thought it best to stick to a chronological framing of events.
For Heywood, it was important to finally get his mother’s words out into the world, not only for those loved ones who wanted to see them, but also to ensure that stories like that of the Sadochians housing the Jewish family would be preserved. And there was a time-sensitive factor: Perillo was nearing the end of his life and longed to help finish the project before he died.
“My family here is often viewed, or not, as an inferior part of society,” Heywood said after the event ended. “They weren’t inferior; they were all educated and adopted the same lifestyle as white people. I hope people appreciated it better [from the lecture] for people in the “lower” part of society. »
“Woven Through the Sweetgrass: Memories of a New England Abenaki Family” is available for purchase online at Amazon. Keene Public Library livestreamed Wednesday’s event via Facebook Live, which can be viewed on its Facebook page and which the library also hopes to upload to YouTube.
Trisha Nail can be reached at 352-1234 ext. 1436 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @byTrishaNail.