Photobook showcasing Indigenous history subject of Sunderland Public Library talk

The Sunderland Public Library at 20 School St.

The Sunderland Public Library at 20 School St. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE


Staff Writer

Published: 11-20-2023 12:05 PM

SUNDERLAND — Residents are invited to the Sunderland Public Library on Tuesday for a presentation and discussion about a locally produced photobook.

The library is hosting photographer Sandra Matthews and Nolumbeka Project President David Brule to talk about “Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land,” a photobook featuring pictures of historical and contemporary structures on Indigenous lands to show how these sites were used historically and how they are used today. The book includes essays from Brule and writer Suzanne Gardinier.

Matthews, who is a former Hampshire College professor, and Brule will begin their presentation at 6:30 p.m.

This program will conclude the Sunderland Public Library’s yearlong exploration of social justice topics.

“It’s been really wonderful. We’ve tried to talk about a wide variety of social issues and I think it’s really fun to see different people come out,” said Library Director Katherine Umstot. “I think people are really hungry to learn a lot more about our community in general and what they can do to make it better.”

When the book came out in 2022, Brule said people were able to see photographs of these sites in their current state, which is a “little ironic in some ways” because some of them are “not up to current standards of historical accuracy and inclusiveness.” Matthews traveled across the state seeking out Indigenous sites with a “good focus on western Massachusetts.”

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“It’s simple photographs that tell the story,” Brule said in September 2022. “There’s no editorializing.”

While Matthews’ photos tell a story with no words beyond any signs that are featured, Brule said his essay tackles the concept of “finding a way forward” after the multi-generational trauma Indigenous people have faced.

“My basic premise is that in talking to modern-day tribal people and their tribal offices,” Brule said, “finding a way forward is very difficult because how do you heal 400 years of a loss of your homelands, the hurt and injury that was done and the multi-generational trauma?”

Umstot said the strong local ties in some of the photos made “Occupying Massachusetts: Layers of History on Indigenous Land” a great candidate for the library’s ongoing programming, and Matthews and Brule can share that local history with a broad audience.

“Our patrons have expressed a strong desire to learn about local history. They want to come to terms with what happened here, even though parts of that history are uncomfortable to deal with,” Umstot explained. “‘Occupying Massachusetts’ is both a beautiful and profound book, and we are grateful to these authors who have agreed to come and share their perspectives with us.”

The library’s programming is supported by the Sunderland Cultural Council, and Tuesday’s event is free and open to the public. More information about “Occupying Massachusetts” can be found at

Chris Larabee can be reached at or 413-930-4081.