On Earl Hatley’s first visit to Quechee in August 2017, he drove by the Polo Field and saw a sign for the Scottish Festival games taking place that weekend. Having a Scottish great-grandmother on his father’s side (his father was Cherokee/Shawnee) he pulled in and walked around.

“I immediately got goosebumps all over as I felt I was standing on ancient sacred ground,” Earl recalled. “I saw a vision of Indigenous Peoples dancing on that ground and thought, how appropriate. This ground could someday host a celebration of the Abenaki Nation and the Scots and in doing so, the original peoples and the settlers will be honored on the same ancient ground.” 

Later, Earl read a request from an Abenaki leader that they had no land upon which to grow their ancient seeds and needed food. The leader appealed to gardeners and farmers to grow their seeds and supply them with food for their people. 

Earl’s vision for the Abenaki Gardens project and the desire to bring the Abenaki back to this ancient place of their former village by the gorge has now become a reality.

Earl Hatley planting a tree in the Abenaki Garden

On September 24, members of the QLLA community (club members, their children and grandchildren, staff, and trustees) gathered with individuals from the greater Hartford community, joining cultural horticulture experts Cat Buxton, a master gardener and permaculturalist, and Kye Cochran, a local farmer, expert seed saver and member of the Resilient Hartford Council. Together the large group of volunteers broke ground on an important new project, the Abenaki Gardens at Quechee (located at the Polo Field).

Earl, a QLLA member who is also a member of the Missisquoi Band Abenaki Nation and the Quechee Club’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) Council has also collaborated with his mentor Abenaki anthropologist and Abenaki Elder John Moody, who has provided insights on the project.

The Garden, supported by QLLA leadership and the DE&I Council, measures approximately 345 x 90 feet and will sit adjacent to the parking area at the field and abut the marsh.

The Abenaki Groundbreaking event, under blue skies on a picture-perfect autumn day, started with Earl leading the group of more than 40 volunteers in prayer and celebration of the land. He shared his personal spiritual connection to the land and adjacent swamp, and then the group dug in… literally. 

Participants rolled up the enormous tarp previously placed on the meadow to help prepare the soil, and volunteers dug and hoed 3-foot-wide rows for the “Three Sisters” garden (corn, beans, and squash) and other crops to be planted in the spring. The seeds for these plants will come from plant varieties traditionally grown by the Abenaki Bands who have lived in Vermont for thousands of years.

[Ed Note: The “Three Sisters” are traditionally grown together in companion planting by many Native American tribes; the three plants thrive symbiotically and enrich soil in which they grow.]

One of the goals of the project is to collect seeds annually that can continue to propagate historical Abenaki crops. Volunteers also dug holes for and planted three white oak trees, whose acorns are prized for their sweetness and can be roasted and eaten like chestnuts or ground into flour. The group also planted a butternut tree, a beautiful tree that produces small, delicious nuts that have been eaten by Native Americans for centuries. As a final step, volunteers placed hay on the tilled rows and around the trees.

Soon a fire pit will be added to the garden for ceremonial occasions and educational gatherings with local schools. The nearby swamp will be explored as a source for additional plants to be used for nutrition and potential medicinal qualities.

The day ended with a healing ritual, where everyone stood in a circle to give thanks and passed around a large seashell containing “smudge” a gently smoking sage, which was both fragrant and offered the added benefit of keeping the mosquitoes away!

Many thanks to all the volunteers. We will be announcing more opportunities to help with the garden in the coming months, and we welcome all who wish to learn and contribute.

The Author: Heidi Schultz is a member of the Quechee Club and its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council. She is a co-chair of the committee’s Policy & Culture committee.