New Commons Project Sheds Light on Norridgewock Massacre

Zion Hodgkin Contributing Writer

    English professor Sabine Klein sits in the small chair in the corner of her office, going over the information she’ll be discussing in her upcoming talk at UMF. “It’s about Norridgewock, well, specifically the horrific massacre of Native Americans that happened there. My talk is about the way that we sort of keep the memory of Norridgewock alive and why we do it.” 

    Klein will be giving her talk at the Emery Arts Center, on Oct. 23 at 11:45 a.m. It will be hosted by the New Commons Project, a group dedicated to looking at culture, both of the past and the present. Professor of English Kristen Case, the head of the New Commons Project, will be introducing Klein and discussing some of her accolades. 

    “She is a scholar of early American literature, her area of expertise is pre-colonial literature of the Americas,” Case says, “she really is an expert in this time period and in this region. Even though she’s an English professor here, her work is very historically informed. A lot of uncovering, and re-reading historical texts of all kinds, in order to be aware of more than one narrative about a specific moment in time.” 

    In learning about historical events, locally or on a global scale, it is generally difficult to escape a one-sided view of the events that transpired. It harkens to the age old saying, “History is always written by the winners.” Klein wants to simultaneously explore that concept when thinking about the local tragedy, and expand upon the awareness that students have of the event. 

    “What I realized is that we have this place of a massacre. . .but what’s even more interesting is the way that different communities have used the massacre to talk about the past,” she said.

    “I’m going to talk about some of the monuments and literature that were affiliated with or written about that particular place in the 19th century. But, what’s interesting,” She grins a little to herself before adding “again, is that what happens in the 1820’s and 1830’s is that there’s an attempt to solidify American identity.” 

    “But the way that it’s being done is by basically writing about Indians, but writing about Indians as sort of the people, well” she pauses for a second, collecting her thoughts, “it’s the vanishing Indian trope. So this is the idea where people at the time were like ‘oh my god it’s so sad,’ and so you have this nostalgia of all the bad stuff that happened, but that nostalgia is a way of celebrating the new nation.”

    Klein wants to explore how the memorialization of the massacre “serves Americans of English descent, versus Americans of French descent, versus Native Americans.” Each of the groups’ ancestral lines were directly involved in the massacre, and Klein will analyze how each of these groups of people are subsequently benefitting from the way the event is remembered, or not remembered. 

    Cali Turner, a student and an active member of the New Commons Project, is interested to see what the event has to offer, and wants to learn more about how people are affected by the different ways in which a story is told and remembered. 

    “I’m excited just to be able to further my education on the area I’m in,” Turner says, “I’m from Maine, but I’m not from Farmington, and it seems like especially with the other things we’ve been doing in New Commons, I think it’s important to be learning about the history, like the land and the people, and to be aware of some of the darker parts about it, because I didn’t even know that the Norridgewock Massacre was a thing.” 

    Turner also speculated about how historical events are remembered, and the way details are made available about those events. “I think our generation has gotten a bit better at being able to see all sides of an event,” she says, “I think for a long time people were only really able to learn by what they read from one history book, and now, because of how we were raised and because of our access to the internet, more recent generations have developed their own opinions.” 

    She continued, “We’ve gotten to the point now that most of us understand what’s okay and what isn’t. Or at least to where we can see multiple sides of an event, and know that what one source is saying, isn’t always the entire story.” 

    This semester, the New Commons Project is focusing specifically on Native history and issues in the state of Maine, and Klein’s talk will target an incredibly important and defining moment in Native history, very close to home. 

    Case thinks this event will be a “great opportunity for people who are interested in the history of this region, particularly the Native history of this region, to learn about one of the pivotal moments in that colonial time period. Learning about that history is vitally important in efforts to recognize the presence of the Abenaki in this region, not only then but also today.”