The Power of the Feather: Powers Shares Lessons from Native Americans
By Pam Johnson / Zip06.com • 09/29/2021 8:30 AM EST
Jim Powers spent nearly 40 years teaching history at Guilford High School (GHS) before retiring in 2017 to focus on his work as James T. Powers, a prolific author of local history. Now he uses the power of the pen to share important lessons to be learned from the indigenous peoples of this region.
Their fascinating story and teachings are reflected in his back-to-back publications of Shadows Over Dawnland (Beacon Publishing Group, August 2021) and Earth Spirit: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Hope — Relearning Environmental Connectiveness (Moon Books, October 2021). These are respectively the fourth and fifth books published by Jim.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t miss working with kids and teaching history, but I’m grateful because retirement opened up a whole new avenue of things I wanted to do and that I never had the time, ”says Jim. “One of them writes and the other works as a historical researcher and advisor for different organizations.”
Jim is a member of the board of trustees of the Dudley Farm Museum in North Guilford, where inspiration for Shadows Over Dawnland can still be seen in the museum’s Dawnland exhibit in the Munger Barn. The exhibit, which features dozens of local Native American artifacts, was created in the mid-2000s by the late Gordon Fox-Running Brainerd, who shared his extensive personal collection. The Quinnipiacs of southern New England called their homeland the Land of Dawn. A chief of medicine of the bear clan of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council of the Algonquian Confederacy, Brainerd died on April 26.
“The collection is a lifetime’s work,” said Jim, who worked with Brainerd on archaeological digs with some of his GHS classes in the 1990s. “One of the things that motivated me on the board is of Dudley Farm is to continue its legacy. He absolutely wanted the Quinnipiac story to come to life, something that people could understand. And I kind of picked that up with him.
Shadows Over Dawnland is historical fiction based on local historical events. The book is available now from Breakwater Books in Guilford and from its publisher through Jim’s website authorjtpowers.com.
“It took me a few years to write the book because I was wondering if I should write a story or do something more where I could bring the culture of the Quinnipiac people to life and, more importantly, the impact. that the arrival of the English had on them, ”says Jim.
Jim chose the latter. He tells the story with the voice of a shaman, who would have been the person most responsible for helping the Quinnipiacs survive all the challenges they faced with the arrival of the English, he says.
On Wednesday October 6, Jim will be giving a talk on “The Quinnipiacs, The First Shore Dwellers” as part of a new series of historical classes offered by Shoreline Adult Education (SAE) in partnership with the Dudley Farm Museum (register now at catalog.shorelineadulted.org). In November, he will be discussing Shadows Over Dawnland at the Guilford Keeping Society (GKS) annual meeting.
“I want to talk a bit about the book in the context of the Quinnipiacs experience, and more specifically what happened to the Menunkatuck, which plays a big role,” Jim said of his upcoming GKS talk.
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The Menunkatuck were a band of Quinnipiac who occupied a smaller territory, or sachemdom, which later became Guilford.
When researching and writing the book, “… I used the names Henry Whitfield wrote down when they came to buy the land for Guilford,” Jim shares. “The name of the main character is Ponaim. He was recorded by Henry Whitfield as a young man.
In the story, a shaman named Ponaim, orphaned in his childhood after the death of his parents and sister from smallpox in 1633, recounts the historical experience of the Quinnipiacs during the first 50 years of English colonization. Through Ponaim, Jim also shares the cultural and spiritual beliefs and practices of the Quinnipiac people, even as their way of life is on the way out.
While researching the book, Jim says he also met “one of my all-time heroes, the Sachem Woman of Menunkatuck.” Her name was Shaumpishuh, and she was just wonderful, as far as I’m concerned, in the way she fought to help her people.
Jim says he would have loved to meet Shaumpishuh, who should be remembered as an important local historical figure.
“She was supposed to be very tall and very tall, and she had one eye. She must have magnetized people when she spoke and confronted them about a problem, ”he says. “She was a powerful and wonderful person, and I would love to see a statue of her on Guilford Green, to be honest with you.”
In his latest book, Earth Spirit: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Hope, Jim hopes to help the modern world learn from the successful survival of Native Americans despite the impacts of devastating climatic events over the millennia, based on a philosophy and a practice of living in spiritual harmony. with all things, animate and inanimate.
“If we embrace the insightful and consciously interconnected view of all of creation that has sustained Indigenous peoples for thousands of years, we can begin a transformation that will heal our relationship with the living earth for ourselves and future generations,” Jim notes.
Jim was inspired to write the book about a year ago and took to research and writing, completing it in a matter of months.
“It was a quick book. I was possessed. I really focused on it. What happened was last August that we had [Tropical Storm] Isaias came by, and a week later we had a horrible series of thunderstorms and mini-tornadoes, and there was a lot of damage in Connecticut, ”says Jim, a resident of Durham who regularly walks the trails. woodlands of Durham, Madison and North Guilford.
“Gigantic oaks and healthy trees had been felled, and many treetops were twisted, as if a gardener had passed and was cutting flowers,” says Jim. “The amount of damage in the woods overwhelmed me. I was like, ‘Things are getting extreme here, the weather is really out of control.’ “
This prompted Jim to ask “how did we get to this place as a culture, where we have so devastated the climate that we are going to face a disaster?” Where was the basic idea where man is separated from nature and allows us to exploit it? So I did a lot of research in this area, and all of a sudden I understood: Native people have always had a different perception. They have always considered themselves, even today, as part of nature, where they regard all of nature, both animate and inanimate, as their parent.
Jim is also an archaeologist. He used his expertise to help him go back to the Ice Age and research how the indigenous peoples of Connecticut survived for thousands of years, despite enormous changes in ecology, environment and the climate.
He found that they had survived “because they saw themselves as part of nature, not separate from it,” Jim says. “So I started writing about it in Part One of the book, and Part Two started to address the teachings of Native American people, in terms of the relationship people should have with the planet. And he’s also looking at a growing movement called the Spiritual Ecology movement. “
Write down what you know
In addition to his last two books, Jim is the author of three other books. His first was Saving the Farm; A Journey through Time, Place, and Redemption about the Dudley Farm (Homebound Publications, 2013); followed by See the past; Stories on the Trail of a Yankee Millwright (Homebound Publications, 2016.)
His third book, published by the Old Saybrook Historical Society in 2020, is On the Edge of Uncertainty; The siege and battles of Fort Saybrook during the Pequot War, 1636-1637. He will be giving a talk on this book topic on Wednesday October 20 in North Guilford at Munger Barn at Dudley Farm (register at catalog.shorelineadulted.org).
During his many years of teaching history at GHS, Jim was also able to bring archeology to his classroom and GHS students to the field.
“In the 90s when we had the opportunity to create all kinds of wonderful lessons for kids, I took a course called ‘Local History Through Archeology’ which was very popular and a lot of fun,” he said. “We always started with the local Native American populations and doing excavations at one point, usually in one of the museums in town.”
While he might not be commuting to teach at GHS these days, Jim still feels very connected to Guilford, he adds.
“Having spent so much time there and being so involved with historic organizations over the years, Guilford is near and dear to my heart. And my wife’s family consultancy is also in Guilford, ”he says.
Jim is married to Adriana Restrepo-Powers, who has a practice in Boston Street.
He says he is also grateful to have a second career which he enjoys and which gives him the chance to share the important history of the indigenous peoples of the region.
“The point is to share the history of the people who lived here in the past for 14,000 years and how we owe them so much in so many ways and we don’t realize it,” he says.
For more information or to purchase books by James T. Powers, visit authorjtpowers.com. Find an expanded version of this story at Zip06.com.