Mashalisk

Pocumtuck leader honored.

Words and music by Sarah Pirtle © 2020, Discovery Center Music, BMI

Lyrics

Thanks to the work of Dr. Lisa Brooks and Dr. Margaret Bruchac.

 

MASHALISK

 

(1) We sit in the place where you once were.

You walked this mountain, that’s for sure.

You looked from this ledge, you followed the hawks.

You leaned on these Beaver Tail Mountain rocks,

you leaned back on these Beaver Tail Mountain rocks.

 

Refrain:

And the wind says your legacy must never cease.

We call to the wind your name – Mashalisk.

We call to the wind your name – Mashalisk.

 

(2) As colonist thievery exploded and climbed,

you were one of the saunkskwas in that turning time.

You lit the signal at the mountain top.

The ancient fire cannot stop.

 

Refrain

 

(3) John Pynchon claimed a deed must be done.

If you did not sign it, he’d enslave your son.

But no deed, no massacre, has the final word.

Your full power still is heard.

Your full power still is heard.

 

Refrain

 

Bridge:

And those of us descendants of colonizers, 

can we learn to be up-risers,

And take off the blankets of treachery and carry the real history?

May we learn and draw near you.

Is there a way to hear and see you?

 

(4) Pocumtuck saunkskwa, diplomat shown.

May your life always be known.

This Great Beaver Mountain greeted you in song.

You hold a thread. May we pass it on.

 

Refrain:

The wind says your legacy must never cease.

We call to the wind your name – Mashalisk.

We call to the wind your name – Mashalisk.

About This Song

May your life always be known. Mashalisk lived during a time in the 1600‘s when the encroachment of colonization was in full swing. She was one of the central leaders, described as a saunkskwa, a rock woman, by Abenaki professors Dr. Lisa Brooks and Dr. Margaret Bruchac. It’s said that Mashalisk was her honorific title and not her personal name. She helped lead the Pocumtuck nation, and that means more than a thousand people who lived along the Connecticut River Valley since time out of mind, before the river’s old name of Kwinitekw was replaced. This river valley is Native space.

There are two deeds in 1672 and 1674 that she was forced to sign by John Pynchon. We don’t know what that was like for her, how she felt, or what all the pressures on her were, but most likely Pynchon threatened to enslave her son for the debts he’d entrapped him in.&

When I walk certain places, like in North Deerfield along the spine of the mountain where it is certain the Pocumtuck lived, Mashalisk walked there. That area is now Woolman Hill, held as a land trust by Quakers, where Journey Camp is held, and we talk about her. I have reached toward Mashalisk since learning her name forty years ago when Traprock Center for Peace and Justice was on that site. I seek clues about her and all that she had to carry in her lifetime. She’s a force. She lifts me up when I imagine her. I hope you’ll look for her.

She would have gone each year, once or several times, to the area of the salmon run waterfall in Great Falls which was a common gathering place of peace and exchange for thousands of years. She probably ached when the beavers who created the health of the ponds were being wiped out by British greed for fur hats. Did she visit that smaller salmon run in Shelburne Falls? Did she walk about the cliff over the Pocumtuck River, now called Deerfield and mis-named the Mahican trail, and did she look down at the silver ribbon of water?

I have heard that during the long stretch of safe times before colonization signal fires would be lit on high places. When I walk a mountain, I add that into my guesses of what life might have been like for her, and her own mother and grandmother. She had longevity of leadership. She had the weight of carrying forward wisdom of generations after a slaughter. This song imagines her on the Beaver Tail Mountain (whose colonizer name is Mt. Sugarloaf) after the massacre at Great Falls.

This song was written after walking the spine of that mountain and talking about her with friends, also European American, also “descendants of colonizers.”

Mashalisk is someone to emulate. When I look for her, I sense that she knew how to hold onto a great caring. She was stretched to hold legacies in a sundering time. Did her grandmother teach her songs and stories and tell her never to forget? She teaches me what it would feel like not to be a stranger in this land.