Dear Durham Town Council,
We, members of the Indigenous New Hampshire Collaborative Collective (INHCC), write to you respectfully to advocate for the removal of the Mill Pond Dam. Several of our Indigenous collaborators and partners, including Kathleen Blake, a chair of the NH Commission on Native Affairs, and Paul and Denise Pouliot, spokespersons for the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People have previously written to you about this initiative.
At Durham's public hearing (1/11/21) the recent feasibility study (“Dam Removal Study”) was discussed. Comments were heard about the progress made over many years in favor of the dam's removal. The Durham Conservation Commission had previously voted unanimously (7-0) for dam removal stating in part “we need to speak for the flora and fauna who can't speak for themselves and recognize the river's history that started well before the arrival of Europeans.” Further, the Commission stated that all fisheries and wildlife conservation groups supported removal in order to preserve a healthy ecosystem connecting the Oyster River and the Great Bay Estuary.
Natallia Diessner, an INHCC member and Ph.D. candidate in UNH's Natural Resources and Environmental Studies Department conducted a public opinion poll to inquire about preferences regarding dam removal in NH. Her key findings showed that a majority of respondents prefer to remove dams when the alternative is to keep them for maintenance of waterfront property values, preservation of industrial history or maintenance of lake or pond based recreation. The sole overriding reason to keep dams is in the case of hydropower generation.
We support scientific studies showing that fish ladders decrease fish runs and endanger the natural life cycles of the many species formerly abundant in the Oyster River, namely, chad, alewife, herring and salmon. According to Kathleen Blake, after Exeter removed its dam, “the river is much more beautiful today and has returned to a fully functioning riverine system. For example, the alewives returned that year. When we respect the Earth, we are given respect in return.” The Nature Conservancy states that what they have seen with dam removal is nothing but improvement; nature is allowed to restore and heal itself.
Finally, we take issue with the many arguments citing financial costs. These can be mitigated by federal grants and other available funding sources. Additionally, the potential dangers of dredging up chemical toxins buried in the pond’s sediment can be mitigated by careful engineering and chemical disposal as has been accomplished in 26 states. As one advocate stated, “this is not rocket science.”
This is the hope of INHCC, that the dam should not be preserved at the expense of a healthy river. Our land acknowledgement states “we are on the homelands of the Abenaki/Wabanaki people who have ongoing cultural and spiritual connections to this area. We acknowledge the land, the waterways and the people who have stewarded it through the generations.” The dam is destructive to the ecological integrity of a river that has been stewarded by Indigenous ancestors for thousands of years.
Protecting the river involves restoring its authentic history. Mill Pond Park features the account of the “Oyster River Massacre” that resulted in the murder over 100 local settlers. This false myth perpetuates harmful racial stereotypes and prejudices. In fact, historical records explain that the Indigenous people were fighting back against colonists who had broken treaties, destroyed their farming and hunting grounds, stolen their lands and extorted control over those who had lived in the region for thousands of years and had tried negotiating their complaints in the English courts. Warfare was their last resort. This narrative needs to be heard.
INHCC looks forward to working together to preserve the park’s ecology and history. Suggestions include a model fish weir, keeping the dam’s original abutments and signage naming trees and shrubs in many languages, including Abenaki. Much work lies ahead, but it is good work and we look forward to it.
Very best regards, INHCC