Donna Caruso, pen name Donna Laurent Caruso, is a noteworthy freelance writer and editor of Abenaki descent. Caruso received her Bachelor’s of Science in English and Journalism from Suffolk University and continued on to study Communications at the graduate level at Boston University. She is the daughter of Francis Caruso and Mabel Celine Cadran. Her Abenaki heritage lies on her mother's side. Her mother's father is George Cadran of Turner Falls. His parents were from Yamasaka and St. Julie Canada. Her mother's mother is Marion Pomroy Smith Brown and can be traced all the way back to the 1300s, for she was English.
Soldering her Native Background
Having no knowledge of one's Indigenous heritage was not uncommon for Indigenous people of New England. Caruso had to investigate her heritage and family tree and try to solder the pieces together. Caruso discovered that her mother who is of Abenaki descent was placed in The Chase Home for Children orphanage in Greenland/Portsmouth, NH in 1928. Caruso and her Mother lost contact shortly after Caruso’s birth. After timeless arduous research in the 1970s, Caruso discovered her mother was Celine Cadran, an Abenaki. Cadran lived through a time where erasure of Indigenous peoples history was common. Cadran’s total family history had been erased. Caruso recently was able to trace her Mother to the 1930s census where it listed her Mother as a 4 year-old inmate of the orphanage, showing how unjustly Indigenous people were treated.
Caruso was in her forties when she reconnected with the Abenaki side of her family. However, because New England native history has been so torn apart, the feeling of “family” did not come as one would hope. Because of the displacement and eugenics that occurred on so many indigenous families, its people cannot be mended, or soldered, the point that Caruso is trying to make in her fiction writing To Solder the Birch Bark.
To Solder the Birch Bark
To Solder the Birch Bark features short stories that shows the reader cultural understandings of the Abenaki community, along with ways and hardships of New England Indigenous life:
“People think our enslavement, the taking of children, the stealing of our property and language, happened a long time ago in New England, but that is no true. A little Indian girl from Peskeompscut was placed in an orphanage by attorneys from Portsmouth, NH, in 1928. That little girl’s mother, who had died, had an inherited English fortune, but because her father (George) was Indian, the little two-year-old was stolen from him and put away in an orphanage,” an excerpt from “Ogawata (sites out of site; in the shadows, Abenaki)”
The stories in Caruso’s book are the results of recent social issues for descendants of Indigenous New England people and the struggle to keep their identity.
The major social issues touched upon in her fiction writing is eugenics of Indigenous woman and the erasure of Indigenous past and history, a social issue Caruso experienced personally and that many other Indigenous people are experiencing. To solder is to mend two things together with a soldering iron. Birch bark cannot be soldered without being destroyed. Caruso uses this symbolism in the book’s title to demonstrate the reality that it is impossible to retrieve the past for Indigenous people.
Continuing with “Ogawata,” it shows various ways Native Americans concealed their identity but never lost it. “Ogawata” is a letter written to a Palestinian woman whom described in her book a childhood of beauty, tradition and love in her now destroyed homeland. This letter, written from the point of view of a New England Indigenous, sympathizes and also rebuts by showing how Indigenous people have lost their identity, yet Palestinians still have theirs,
“Like you, my land is also reoccupied, also in a ‘legal’ way by a foreign government. Unlike you, our survival as a people required us to suppress our race, our nationality, our cultural traditions. We went under-the-ground.”
The letter shows the hardships of Indigenous life where ancestors concealed their identity for fear of being enslaved, sent away, or put through eugenics,
“..there is no written record or ‘vital’ statistic of my family once it returned to Peskeompscut. There is no border crossing record, no ship’s manifest, no death certificates, birth certificates, or even (God forbid) social security records. We are not even listed in the census records release in the late twentieth century! Our disappearance is so complete because we not only hid ourselves. . but the newcomers pretended and legalized our disappearance.”
Caruso’s writing shows the relentless efforts that were put upon erasing the identity of Indigenous people completely, a reason why it is so difficult to solder their past together.
Career as a Journalist
Since 2004, Caruso has written frequently for the award-winning newspaper Indian Country Today. She covers topics from language preservation to Pow Wows to Abenaki culture. Caruso was the editor and marketing assistant of Tales from the Whispering Basket, written by Larry Spotted Crow Mann. She also wrote for Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise in the early 2000s, where she concentrated on issues for health, housing, and education.
Caruso enjoys the balance between her fiction writing and journalism. She is able to balance out the hardships in her fiction writing by writing about happy, contemporary, and successful Indigenous people. An example of this is in her article “The Wandering Bull Charges After Pow Wow” featured in Indian Country Today in March 2011. The article shows the success of the Wandering Bull’s family business along with the recent increase of number of Pow Wows taking place, “unlike in other parts of the country, there can be a Pow Wow or social in New England nearly every weekend all year long.” Caruso’s story shows the increase of Indigenous people coming forth celebrating their heritage and not masking their identity. Her news stories cover the wonderful aspects of Indigenous life along with social changes that recently have taken place throughout recent decades.
Present Day Life
Currently Caruso is enjoying the life she lives in Fitchburg, Massachusetts where she resides with her son, Daniel Lang. Caruso is able to visit many sacred areas of Northern Massachusetts that are protected and preserved to enjoy and write about from her home. Her husband Warren Lang passed in 1999 and despite being ill played a huge role in helping Caruso solder her family history together.
Articles featured in Indian Country Today:
Articles featured in Fitchburg Sentinel and Enterprise:
Board demands correspondence from developer May 2002
Police chief honored for 25 years of service May 2002
Indian center secures permanent Devens site May 2002
Hard Work Teens say summer jobs can be found, with effort May 2002
Antonioni to receive leadership award for suicide prevention efforts in Senate May 2002
Developer on Hill Road project to address buildings' problems with new team April 2002
Other speakers at youth conference talk of setting goals for success April 2002
'You Are Not Alone' April 2002
U.S. Dept. of Ed. rep urges better math instruction April 2002
Many Hill Road homeowner problems to be addressed by next week April 2002
Hill Road homeowners face problems with subsidized homes March 2002
Nashua River Watershed Association requesting Squannassit be an Area of Critical Concern March 2002
State asked to restore prison funds March 2002
Loss of state funds a crisis for Shirley March 2002
Caruso, Donna Laurent. To Soldier the Birch Bark. Fitchburg: Nashaway Publications. 2011. Print.
Caruso, Donna. E-mail interview. 12 Apr. 2013.
Calloway, Colin. The Western Abenakis of Vermont, 1600-1800. OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. Print.
Sutlzman, Lee. "Abenaki History." 1997. Internet. Accessed 2013. http://www.tolatsga.org/aben.html
Wiseman, Matthew. Reclaiming the Ancestors Decolonizing a Taken Prehistory of the Far Northeast. Lebanon: UP of New England, 2005. Print.
Stephanie Field UNH '14
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