Guest Columnists Andrea Donlon and Kathy Urffer: Indigenous peoples’ relationship to the river should not be overlooked


For hundreds of years, the indigenous history of the Northeast has been systematically erased. It is time to speak up to ensure that the federal government and the power companies do not carry on this bitter legacy.

Five hydroelectric facilities on the Connecticut River are renewing their operating licenses under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Later this summer, the public will have the opportunity to comment on the terms of these licenses that will impact more than 175 miles of the Connecticut River over the next 40 to 50 years. The five hydroelectric facilities are the Wilder, Bellows Falls and Vernon Dams in Vermont and New Hampshire, and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project and Turners Falls Dam in Massachusetts.

The FERC license renewal process involves understanding and then rectifying the impacts on various resources such as fish passage, water quality and recreation. One permanent element that is constantly downplayed is the impact on the traditional cultural practices of the indigenous peoples who have lived here in their countries of origin for thousands of years.

The two hydroelectric companies, Great River Hydro in Vermont and New Hampshire and FirstLight Power in Massachusetts, were required to conduct a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) study, in addition to studies of archeology and historic buildings, in order to identify and address the impacts of hydroelectric installations on indigenous populations. cultural considerations.

Unfortunately, neither company adequately engaged the Abenaki and other Indigenous communities in this work.

A TCP study must look at the present, the links with the past and the future. This includes how cultures value the exchange of vital forces between fish, water, humans and other animals. It’s not about who owns what and how much money is being made, unlike some of the other studies done during license renewals.

The presence of these dams over the past 200 years has damaged the river, fishing, and many living things associated with this waterway. As a defender of the river – all of his communities, his creatures and himself as a being – the Connecticut River Conservancy wishes the best possible outcome for the river and the people. While the Connecticut River Conservancy is unable to speak on behalf of the indigenous peoples of this place, we are able to point out when people are not being fairly considered in this process.

In Massachusetts, FERC told FirstLight that in order to comply with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, the company must consult with tribal officials before selecting an ethnographer to conduct the study. FirstLight did not do this.

In its final request, FirstLight said it was unable to identify TCP because the tribal representatives “have not yet agreed to meet with the FirstLight ethnographer.” It appears that FirstLight went ahead and chose an ethnographer without first obtaining the approval of tribal representatives.

Great River Hydro (GRH) indicated in its application for the Wilder, Bellows Falls and Vernon facilities that “no effects of the project on traditional cultural properties have been identified at this time. … ”A full TCP study requires consultation with the tribes. Great River Hydro created a TCP report which consisted of a collection of texts and a study of the literature, but Great River Hydro did not follow up on additional outreach to the Abenaki to complement the recommendations which were outlined in their own. study – which includes actual consultation with the natives. Great River Hydro argues in its application that no traditional cultural property has been identified, so there is no need to consider protection, mitigation or enhancement measures for cultural concerns.

The two companies are to complete outreach work with local indigenous tribal representatives to address the traditional cultural values ​​of the Connecticut River in and around hydroelectric projects. The current, past and future relationship of the Abenaki people with the river and the lands and creatures that inhabit it should not be overlooked or minimized in this unique federal process.

Feedback to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by local communities, states and individuals is needed to ensure that these new licenses address the very real concerns of the original inhabitants of this land. You can learn to express yourself at or CRC will summarize other elements of the license application over the coming months.

This commentary is written by Andrea Donlon and Kathy Urffer, who are the river stewards for the Connecticut River Conservancy in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.


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