Hannah Duston, Passaconaway bobbleheads criticized

Concord, New Hampshire (AP) 8-08

Weeks after the New Hampshire Historical Society began selling two new historical bobbleheads, one employee has quit and another has refused to sell or handle the dolls because they find them offensive to Native Americans.

One doll depicts Hannah Duston, who is said to have escaped from Abenaki Indians in 1697 by scalping the captors who had taken her from Massachusetts to an island in the Merrimack River in Concord. The other depicts Chief Passaconaway, a friend to English settlers and a key figure in New Hampshire’s colonial history who formed the Penacook Confederacy of more than a dozen tribes.

Rebecca Courser, who once managed the society’s museum store and knows the two employees, said administrative assistant Lynn Clark resigned during July. Nancy Jo Chabot, who had worked in the society’s museum store and as a security guard now is working only as a security guard because she has refused to inspect or sell the dolls.

Both Clark and Chabot have expertise in American Indians. Both declined to comment when reached by the Concord Monitor, but Courser said Chabot told society officials in writing that she could not in “good conscience” sell the dolls.

The bobbleheads have been criticized as historically inaccurate and insensitive to American Indians. Duston is shown holding a hatchet. Passaconaway wears a bright blue cap. Critics say the society compounded the problem by celebrating a killer of Indians with a chief who presided over a peaceful time.

“To have the New Hampshire Historical Society come out with a caricature of an Indian after all these years of us working on this issue ... is just staggering,” said David Stewart-Smith, historian for the state’s Intertribal Council.

Bill Veillette, the society’s executive director, wouldn’t comment on personnel matters but defended his decision to choose Duston and Passaconaway for depiction as bobbleheads.

“If (the society) gets scared of every little criticism that comes at us, we’ll crawl under the rock and do nothing,” he said. “We’ll become the most boring place in the world. We’ll reinforce the notion that history is like religion and politics: You don’t talk about it in polite company because you don’t know who will offend.”

While the bobbleheads are intended to expose people to history, their real purpose is to make money for the society’s other operations, he said.

“If you want the product to sell, frankly, you have to use the most iconic image that people are used to,” he said.

He said Duston and Passaconaway were good choices because he wanted to focus on the 17th century, and it’s more economical to release two dolls at once. The designs were based on other sources – a Duston statute in Haverhill, Mass., and a 19th century etching showing the Indian chief in a pointed cap.

Courser said when she managed the store, the society vetted each new product through a committee before selling it. Veillette said he has no interest in that process or in consulting with American Indian groups on such decisions.

“We wouldn’t and we shouldn’t,” he said. “For an exhibition we should, absolutely ... but we run our store probably like everyone else... You don’t run it by the entire staff. You don’t go out and consult with a bunch of people.”'