For millennia, humans have been stewarding the lands and waters that now comprise Olmsted’s many designed parks across Greater Boston, including the Emerald Necklace. Before John Winthrop and the Puritans arrived from England and established Boston in 1630, the area’s Indigenous Algonquin inhabitants numbered in the tens of thousands. Boston sits within the traditional territory of the Massachusett people and has long served as a site of exchange among communities including the Massachusett, Wampanoag and Nipmuc. Prior to colonization, they developed maize horticulture and managed forests and waters for hunting and fishing, sharing land communally and using it seasonally. Today, we continue to use derivations of their place names, inspired by the landscape: in Algonquian, Messatsoosec (later Massachusett) means “great hills,” referring to the Blue Hills, and Mashau-womuk, identifies the sheltered estuary near the bay, referred to as Sha um ut (Shawmut), the hilly peninsula upon which Puritans founded Boston.
Over the past century, discoveries of material evidence of Indigenous peoples affirm their prior occupation of lands and waters we now call the Emerald Necklace. The Arnold Arboretum preserves stone projectile points found onsite from the Middle Archaic Period (around 8000 years ago). These and other arrowheads reveal prehistoric hunting activities and migration patterns. In 1913, at the southeast corner of the Boston Common, excavation work for the Boylston Street subway unearthed an ancient fish weir—a woven fence of branches used to corral fish in the currents of shallow estuary waters. Analysis showed the aligned wooden stakes dated back more than 5000 years and were maintained for about 1500 years, before sea levels shifted and other fishing methods were developed. This Indigenous technology to harness tidal flows far precedes Olmsted’s work upon the tidal marsh he named “the Fens”; it continues to inspire annual celebrations of the care, inhabitance and protection of these lands today.
Fundamental to FLONOW’s commitment to partnerships toward spatial and environmental justice is both acknowledging these Indigenous legacies and actively seeking right relations with local Indigenous partners as a way to re-center our understanding of preserving shared open space. We humbly ask for wise counsel and partnership with Massachusett, Wampanoag and Nipmuc guides and their allies as we embark on these questions:
How can a celebration of Olmsted directly support local Indigenous community needs?
How can local Indigenous insights on stewardship actively inform Bicentennial goals and outcomes?
Beyond the Bicentennial, how can partnerships among stewards of Greater Boston’s parks and Indigenous traditions align toward deeper education and appreciation of these lands?
We imagine this acknowledgement will evolve with our shared learning.