By Xander Landen/VTDigger
WEATHERSFIELD—The Vermont Board of Libraries struck down a petition Tuesday, July 17 to rename Mount Ascutney, citing little local support for a proposal to call the peak Mount Kaskadenak — an Abenaki word — and noting that the mountain’s current moniker already derives from the Abenaki language.
Robert Hutchins submitted a petition to change the mountain’s name in 2016, and has argued that its current name is not what the Abenaki, a Native American tribe, called the mountain before English speaking settlers arrived.
Hutchins has presented evidence suggesting that “Ascutney” is an Anglicanized version of the Abenaki word “Ascutegnik,” which means “meeting of the waters,” The Valley News reported.
He instead says that Kaskadenak, a word that translates to “mountain of the rocky summit,” is the peak’s true name.
Hutchins did not attend the board’s hearing on his petition and did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
In an undated letter to Martha Reid, Vermont’s state librarian, Hutchins said his efforts to change the mountain’s name had garnered support from members of the Abenaki tribe.
“They had known about the error in the name for years,” he wrote. “I believe with returning the original name it will bring lots of interest among Vermonters and others. Most of all it will again have a name with meaning!”
However, towns neighboring the mountain did not share his enthusiasm about the name change.
In a poll of 1150 Windsor residents, 90 percent of respondents opposed the change, according to a letter from Thomas Marsh, the town manager, to Cherie Yeager, executive staff assistant at the Vermont Department of Libraries. Five percent of respondents said they were in favor, and five percent chose “other” as their response, according to Marsh.
Summarizing a meeting in West Windsor during which the proposal was discussed, Marsh said residents found a presentation given by Hutchins and John Moody, another proponent of the name change, “interesting, but not convincing.”
“The opposition expressed worry about impacts on existing enterprises using the name ‘Ascutney,’ emotional connection with the name which is widely shared, and wonder that broad Abenaki tribal support for the change has not been more clearly conveyed,” he wrote.
The West Windsor and Windsor selectboards both voted against the proposal.
In an email forwarded to members of the library board, Ives Goddard, a linguist at the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Anthropology, said that the name Ascutney “certainly referred to a mountain and not a river.”
He said that “Ascutney” likely comes from English speakers who first heard the Western Abenaki word kaskatena, but who were unable to properly pronounce it.
“Ascutney…and Cascadnac (from Western Abenaki kaskadenak) are both authentic names meaning ‘wide mountain,’” Goddard wrote. “Both names reflect variable features of the local Native American language and of English from different times.”
Citing Goddard’s research, Bruce Post, chairman of the Vermont Board of Libraries, said he saw no reason to change the mountain’s name.
“I think keeping it would actually be faithful to the Western Abenaki name,” he said.
The board voted unanimously to reject the proposal.