Michal Demeter Tvrdoň
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Honoring Ancestral Wisdom: Navigating Dartmouth's First-Year Hike on Abenaki Lands
"We are on the ancestral and unceded homelands of the Abenaki people, the People of the Dawn Land. This land, known to the Abenaki as N'dakinna (Our Land), includes what is known today as Vermont, New Hampshire, northern Massachusetts, western Maine, and southern Quebec." These words marked the start of my very first hiking trip, led by Ryan and Abby, our trip leaders.
This moment had a profound impact on me. Despite our eager anticipation of the hike, we didn't rush up the mountain. Instead, we took a moment to sit and reflect on our surroundings. It wasn't that any of us preferred sitting in the dirt; it was the realization that what was about to happen—the modified land acknowledgment—held greater importance than our personal desires.
I'll be honest; my knowledge of U.S. history, past and present, is quite limited. Nevertheless, I felt it was crucial not to remain ignorant about how the world and the region I now call home came to be as it is. What truly warms my heart is that Dartmouth and its people uphold these values. Being at Dartmouth, I met students committed to acknowledging the wrongs of the past and working hard to rectify them.
On a more intimate level, I view Dartmouth as a place where individuals undergo growth in dimensions beyond academics. Certainly, I had other educational options, but I doubt I would have found myself in a forest surrounded by such genuinely compassionate individuals. We hailed from diverse backgrounds and held differing worldviews, yet our common thread was an eagerness to learn and engage in passionate discourse about the issues close to our hearts. I believe this spirit lies at the heart of the Dartmouth community.
The spirit of community at Dartmouth is most evident when witnessing hundreds of upperclassmen volunteer to organize trips for incoming students. I was astonished to learn that they were not paid; they dedicated themselves to working tirelessly—cooking, driving, planning, and coordinating—simply because they believed in the cause. And, to be honest, they accomplished something incredible. During the first-year trips, I felt at home.
It was during this time that the words of Chief Seattle's Letter to Franklin Pierce, the 14th President of the United States Of America, came to mind: "If we sell you our land, remember that the air is precious to us, that the air shares its spirit with all the life that it supports. " This same air that Dartmouth, along with the rest of the world, pollutes to a degree that alters our planet's climate. I felt at home, but I didn't obey the values most sacred to my host.
Chief Seattle imparts, "Every part of the Earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people." These words prompt me to question what I hold sacred and, by extension, what we collectively hold sacred. Dartmouth certainly cherishes community, which is a positive step, but we, as integral parts of the Western world, have veered away from the wisdom of respecting the Earth. Instead, we've embraced a worldview that prioritizes human dominance over nature.
Let's see how it works out for us.
PS: Thank you to all the people who work incredibly hard to make our first-year trips a reality; honestly, I will never forget the beautiful moments you are responsible for.
Thank you to my tripees and the trip leaders, Ryan and Abby.
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