Haverhill’s Native American Task Force Hears Ideas for Balancing Hannah Duston Legend

Duston-Dustin Garrison House. (WHAV News photograph.)

Members of Haverhill’s Native American Commemorative Task Force heard from officials and the public during a roundtable Wednesday to consider ideas for balancing the more than 100-year-old views expressed at downtown’s Hannah Duston statue with those of indigenous peoples.

The commission, named by Mayor James J. Fiorentini a year ago, involved Massachusetts and New Hampshire officials, educators, historians, Cowasuck band of the Penacook-Abenaki, scholars and descendants of Dustin-Duston family. The intent, according to a statement, was to “discuss Haverhill’s rich colonial history and consider ideas for recognizing and honoring indigenous peoples who inhabited the city and region long before the arrival of European settlers.”

As WHAV reported first this past July 5, members of the Task Force opened discussions with the Cowasuck band of the Pennacook Abenaki people and New Hampshire state officials to similarly learn of plans for the Hannah Duston statue in Boscawen, N.H. One proposal calls for renaming the New Hampshire site from the Hannah Duston Memorial Site to Unity Park N’dakinna, which means “our land” in Abenaki.

Following vandalism at Haverhill’s statue two years ago, Fiorentini proposed the compromise of keeping the Duston monument, but adding the Native American side of the story. At the time, Fiorentini told WHAV listeners, “I think the Hannah Duston statue only says half the story. I want something that tells the other half of the story—the story of the Native Americans who used to live here. This was their land. I want the story of what happened to those Native Americans.”

Local uproar, repeating historical complaints about racial stereotypes, grew following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Fiorentini said the form of his envisioned commemoration—“whether it be a statue, trail, display or similar honoring—is still under consideration.”

Following the roundtable, Task Force Chairman Dan Speers, a local poet and indigenous peoples’ historian, led the group on a tour of the Dustin-Garrison House at 665 Hilldale Ave.; Hannah Dustin Park and Rock site on Monument Street, Dustin marker near River Street and Western Avenue, Buttonwoods Museum on Water Street and he Hannah Dustin statue, erected in 1879 in GAR Park in downtown Haverhill.

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