A Public Foundation Preserving the Past 12 Curry Avenue Newport, RI 02840-1412
Roger L. Payne Executive Secretary, United States Board on Geographic Names U.S. Geologic Survey 523 National Center Reston, VA 20192-0523 Dear Mr. Payne:
Aquidneck Indian Council, Inc.
9 August, 2000
Ascowequassunnúmmis! ( Greetings!) We, of the Aquidneck Indian Council of Newport, RI, , are a 501 (c) (3) non profit Corporation, located in the southern region of RI commonly known as Aquidneck Island. We are in receipt of your letter, dated 2 Aug. 2000, respecting our opinion on a proposed geographic name change. We understand the issue at hand as being whether or not to replace the name “Rhode Island” on available maps and other documents with the new name “Aquidneck Island”. We further understand that although the original name of this region was, in modern spelling “Aquidneck” 1 , that in Newport in March, 1644 , the General Court had “ordered” that “henceforth” the name of the “ysland commonly called Aquethneck” be changed to either “Isles of Rhodes, or RHODE ISLAND”. [Records of the Colony of Rhode
Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, Vol I, 1636-1663. Printed in 1856, Providence, RI: A. Crawford Greene and Brother, State Printers., Page 127]. It is interesting
that a law was passed with an “either/or” proposition! Of related interest to our Council is the issue argued by some parties that “laws” enacted in the 17th century have the force of law in the 21st century.
“Aquidneck” has had many spellings in the Colonial Records, inter alia—“Acquedneck, Acquednecke, Aquednecke, Acquidneck, Aquethneck, Aqueedneck, Aqethnec, Aquidnecke, AquidneckAcquidneck, Aquethnek, Quidy....”
In our opinion, the region commonly called “Aquidneck Island” should be the official name on any and all geographic references including maps and any other written material used to refer or describe the same feature. There are several reasons supporting our opinion. First, every native of this region refers to the feature “Aquidneck Island” to describe an island comprising the three towns of Portsmouth, Middletown and Newport, RI surrounded by Narragansett Bay on the West, and on the East by Sakonnet Bay and the South by Rhode Island Sound. We find one significant contemporary Federal reference labelling the feature “Aquidneck Island”. The geographic entity under discussion is labeled “Aquidneck I.” on the map in Fig. 1, page 161, Bruce Trigger (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 15 (Northeast),. Washington: Smithsonian Institution, © 1978. This map is really an historic one superimposed on a contemporary geographic structure (with present-day State names, geographic features, etc.). This 20-volume encyclopedic set on the Indians of North America is the standard reference work with respect to Native Americans (“Indians”), and a source the Aquidneck Indian Council relies on significantly for such matters as “Place names”. Also it is one of the few references accepted by the Federal Government (DOI) in matters relating to the historic legitimacy of Indian Tribes. We find it compelling that they refer to this entityin a modern context by the commonly accepted usage prevailing in our region. As a practical point, whereas one might inform a person, “I live in Newport, Rhode Island—on Aquidneck Island”, one would never hear the same information articulated: “I live in Rhode Island—on Rhode Island”. No one we know of ever says “we live on Rhode Island” when referring to Aquidneck Island, as commonly used. We have never heard “Rhode Island” ever used except as a name for one of the 50 States of the United States of America. We know that either name —Rhode Island or Aquidneck Island— but not Isle of Rhodes or Rhode Island — represents common knowledge among the American citizenry, as evidenced by the following citation in the Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary: Main Entry: Aquid·neck Island Pronunciation: &-'kwid-"nek Variant(s): or Rhode Island Usage: geographical name island SE Rhode Island in Narragansett Bay; site of city of Newport As further evidence of its common usage, a “search” conducted on the Internet revealed 1,153 documents for the entry “Aquidneck Island”. They refer to the geographic feature under discussion. Our Search Engine for this search was the comprehensive engine referred to as FastSearch (from Oxford University). A manual search of the local telephone directory reveals a large number of business establishments called “Aquidneck”. These data futher support the belief that
“Aquidneck Island” is the commonly acepeted reference to the feature defined above. As to geographic names given by the early Colonists for geographic features, it seems they entertained certain notions which were to be constant “forever hereafter”, but did in fact change. For example, in naming the Governor’s Office (and by implication the name of the State), we note:
...wee have ordeyned, constituted, and declared that ... forever hereafter, [we are ] a bodie corporate and politique, in ffact and name, by the name of The Governor and Company of the English Collonie of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New-England, in America. [“The Charter of The Governor and Company of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, in America, 1663”; reprinted from Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, Vol II, 1664-1677. Printed in 1857, Providence, RI: A. Crawford Greene and Brother, State Printers, p. 6]
Other references to the “State name” include the phrase “in Narragansett Bay”. One wonders how serious the Founding Fathers of the State, and Island of Aquidneck/Rhode Island of Rhode Island really were in passing certain “name laws” in the vein “forever hereafter”, only to be changed later under the like effect of “forever hereafter”. Obviously the European Colonists were responding to the Birth of the Nation in adopting the present-day State name, “Rhode Island and Providence Plantations”. It may be of interest to note that some historic maps of the 17th c. draw the entire state as an island and call it “Rhode Island” (Foster Woodcut, 1677). The notion that [all] ‘laws’ passed in the 17th century “are as applicable today as when originally enacted” does not seem correct de facto (e.g., The Bill of Rights and Federal Legislation). Moreover it seems wrong insofar as enforcement or compliance of said laws is concerned. To exemplify this point, a careful reading of Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England (Vol. I, et seq.) with respect to “Indians” would indicate that the undersigned as well as the approx. 8,000 other Indians in RI should legally be (a) imprisoned, or (b) fined, and possibly (c) killed for having committed such “crimes” as :
buying property, being out and on the public streets after 9 PM, lighting fires, building homes and communities, purchasing or consuming liquor, purchasing or using firearms or purchasing foods (such as corn) at market price, performing “Indian dances” or having Powwows
and other actions which were “outlawed” by “the courts” in the 17th c. within the boundaries of the present State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations As a final issue, we support very strongly the change proposal for historical and moral reasons. The expression “Aquidneck” is a phrase originating in the local
Algonquian Indian dialect. It was apparently derived from the visual sense of perceiving a large mass of land that seemed to be floating on the water. Etymologically, one can trace a noun substantive aquidne (a floating mass) + ut (an affixed locative > “at, of, on”). Thus “Aquidneck” translates roughly as “the floating-mass at” or, in Euro-American concepts, “at the island”, or “the island”. “Aquidneck” certainly bears no relation to the popularly held belief that it means “The Isle of Peace”. We believe our Indian heritage is slowly being eroded day by day. Hundreds of names for geographic features once bearing traces of the language of The First Americans have been replaced by non-Indian names. When a valid, correctly translated geographic name, based on the local American Indian languages is in use, we support its transition to official status. Such is our opinion on this drop/add proposal. We appreciate that the United States Board on Geographic Names, US Geologic Survey has allowed the Aquidneck Indian Council to render its judgments and opinions on this important matter. For the record, we list the Colonial references we have consulted for this project:
Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, Vol. I, 1636-1663. Printed in 1856, Providence, RI: A. Crawford Greene and Brother, State Printers. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, Vol. II, 1664-1677. Printed in 1857, Providence, RI: A. Crawford Greene and Brother, State Printers. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, Vol. III, 1678-1706. Printed in 1858, Providence, RI: A. Crawford Greene and Brother, State Printers. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, Vol. IV, 1707-1740. Printed in 1859, Providence, RI: Knowles, Anthony & Co., State Printers. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, Vol. V, 1741-1756. Printed in 1860, Providence, RI: Knowles, Anthony & Co., State Printers. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England, Vol. VI, 1757-1769. Printed in 1861, Providence, RI: Knowles, Anthony & Co., State Printers.
Moondancer (Francis J. O’Brien, Jr., Ph. D.) ⊗ Strong Woman (JulianeJennings) President Vice President
cc: Darrell Waldron, RI Indian Council
Moondancer (Dr. Frank O'Brien) is of Abenaki descent. He is President of the Aquidneck Indian Council, and serves as Council Secretary, Rhode Island Indian Council. Dr. Frank Moondancer O’Brien holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University, in New York City. He is listed in Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, and has been selected for 2000 Scientists of the 20th Century. Strong Woman is a Wampanoag-Pequot artist and vice-president of the Council. She has authored Succotash. Strong Woman is listed in Who's Who in America. Together, they have co-authored • Understanding Algonquian Indian Words (New England) • A Massachusett Language Book, Vol. I. • Wampanaoag Cultural History: Voices from Past and Present • Indian Grammar Dictionary for N-dialect: A Study of A Key into the Language of America, by Roger William, 1643. and the soon-to-be released book: • An Introduction to the Narragansett Language. Their work has been supported by The RI Committee for the Humanities/National Endowment for the Humanities. The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, Rhode Island Foundation, Expansion Arts and others.