Rock Dunder: The Story of The Transformer

Scientific knowledge has concretely described the formation of Lake Champlain from millions of years of geological shifting.

The Abenaki, however, tell a different story.

Off the Burlington shoreline, southwest of the ferry dock, a tiny outcropping of rock juts out of Lake Champlain. Known simply as “Rock Dunder,” this miniature island holds a sacred history. As Native American legend has it, this is the permanent form of an ancient deity known as Odzihozo, which translates into “the Transformer.”

Rock Dunder

Odzihozo was a not a god, but he was a creator. The story goes that he even created himself. When first sent to earth, he made his body, his head, and his arms. However, Odzihozo was impatient and, frustrated by how slowly his legs were forming, he set about his work by dragging himself across the land. Where he dragged himself became the rivers. He lifted the mountains from the ground, dug the holes for lakes and ponds, and flattened out the fields.

As his last project, Odzihozo created Lake Champlain. He was so impressed with his own work that he decided to change himself into stone so he could forever observe and enjoy his creations. He chose the spot off Burlington Bay, transformed, and now forever sits at “Rock Dunder.”

The rock would play many important roles in the coming years. Newspapers from the late 1800s reported that the island was used as a neutral meeting spot for rival native tribes. As late as the 1940s it was documented that Abenaki members would bring offerings of tobacco and other gifts out to the rock.

But what of the name “Dunder?” There is no official documentation of it being named after any particular person or event. It is most likely the product of a commonly used slang term during the late 1800s meaning ‘stupid’ or ‘damn.’ Being a hindrance to navigation and difficult to see, one can imagine the cursing it caused being located right in a major shipping lane…