Duston made history in 1697 when she escaped from Abenaki Indians who had kidnapped her and killed her infant daughter by bashing the child's head against a tree. Duston escaped from an island in the middle of the Merrimack River near Concord, N.H., two weeks later by killing and scalping as many as 10 of her captors.
Posters advertising yesterday's "Haverhill Rocks!" music festival contained the image of her statue holding an electric guitar. The posters sparked controversy and curiosity in recent weeks - so much so that the concert's promoters proposed Haverhill declare an official Hannah Duston Day.
Chief Nancy Lyons of the Coasek tribe of the traditional Abenaki Nation, said using Duston as a promotional tool not only insults American Indians but glorifies violence.
"It's not so much because Hannah Duston killed Indians. The biggest issue that I find absolutely appalling is that the promotion that they're doing is extremely racist - it's emphasizing violence and they're promoting that to young people," Lyons said. "More than being an Indian, being a mother I find it absolutely appalling that a community would promote violence and a violent act in a racist manner to young people today."
Charles True, speaker of the Abenaki Nation of New Hampshire, said Duston has become a folk legend over the years and her legend bears little resemblance to the actual events of 1697.
"Folk legends rarely represent the actual truth about things," True said. "In New England history books, our people have not had a fair shake. We were victimized very cruelly by New England people. ... It makes you wonder why history books for schoolchildren over the years have made us out to be blood-thirsty savages. Haverhill can do what it pleases with its folk hero. We're not interested."
Constantine Valhouli, principal of a Bradford company that specializes in revitalizing historical urban centers, helped promote yesterday's music festival and is a proponent of declaring an official Hannah Duston Day in Haverhill. Valhouli said he envisions the day as a chance for the city to learn about its history with an eye to reconciling the settlers' version of the Duston story with the Abenaki view of her legacy.
"If we do this right, we actually have a chance to really explore how history is interpreted without drawing any value judgments," Valhouli said. "Haverhill's Colonial history might be best explored as a way for future generations to really learn. It's a teaching tool. If we approach it that way, Haverhill becomes a place where tolerance is increased."