I took this photo along the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, in the northeastern United States, near my home. The English speaking people who live on its shores, myself among them, use this name to honor Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer who encountered the lake in 1609. The Abenaki people who walk these lands refer to it as Pitawbagok, which translates as ‘the middle lake’ or ‘the lake in between’. This name acknowledges the lake’s role as a border between the Abenaki people, part of the Wabenaki Confederacy, and the Mohawks, members of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Mohawks have their own names for the lake: Kaniatarakwà:ronte and Kaniá:tare tsi kahnhokà:ronte.
This lake’s many names belie the complex history of this place, one defined by decades of environmental abuse, centuries of settler colonialism, and likely millennia of intertribal violence before that. This is a complex and challenging history to contend with, though these times demand that we show up for this contending with all the attention, presence, and compassion we can muster. I spend much of my time wondering what this must look like.
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