Vermont Senate, House Bills Introduced for Statewide Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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The move in Vermont to permanently change the observance of Columbus Day to the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day (IPD) on the second Tuesday in October – statewide – has made great advances this week. Bills have just been introduced in both branches of the State Legislature to that end. S.83 has been introduced by Chittenden Senator Debbie Ingram, with the support of Sens. Baruth, Brooks, McCormack, and Pollina. H.488 has been introduced by Chittenden 6-4 Representative Brian Cina, with co-sponsors Reps. Buckholz, Chesnut-Tangerman, Colburn, Gonzalez, McCormack, Murphy, O’Sullivan, Rachelson, and Weed.

Both bills are entitled “An act relating to Indigenous Peoples’ Day”, and draw their language from the 2016 Executive Proclamation made by Governor Peter Shumlin last October. A link to the draft House bill itself is here – H.488, and a link to the Senate bill is here – S.83. Rep. Cina visited the February 8th meeting of the VT Commission on Native American Affairs to present his draft IPD language, along with other Native-centric bills he is sponsoring. The Commission passed, by consensus, a motion to support his work to this end and thanked him for the initiative to move this act forward, one that has been on their action list for awhile.

Gill Riverside Historic District Awaits State Decision

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After about two years of work by local residents and the Gill Historical Commission, the fate of a possible National Historic District in the Riverside area of town is in the hands of the state. The commission, with support from town government and area residents, recently submitted its nomination to the state Historical Commission. If the state panel approves, the nomination advances to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., for final approval.

Town officials held a public hearing about a historic district in conjunction with the state Historical Society on Tuesday night at the Riverside Municipal Building.

The district encompass much of the Riverside neighborhood, with Riverview Drive, Oak Street, Walnut Street, Myrtle Street, Pine Street and Grove Street included within the boundaries as well as some properties on the other side of French King Highway.

See the full article by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

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This area at the southern edge of Sokwakik is highly significant for Native heritage and among other things is a subject of the ongoing Falls Fight Battlefield Study Grant. This incredibly productive fishing location drew indigenous people from many different communities for thousands of years. Here and nearby, they would harvest and process the anadromous fish that paused to surmount the falls of Peskeompskut, traded and celebrated, met and married, and shared the Kwanitekw’s gifts in peace. This place still has great power and strong spirit, despite the ravages of industrial exploitation and the ongoing genocidal mindset of settler colonialism. Any action to recognize and support this reality is a welcome beginning.

The Ancient One Returns Home

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Uytpama Natitayt — Kennewick Man, or the Ancient One, an ancestor of the First People of the Columbia Plateau — is finally home.

More than 200 of his relatives came together at an undisclosed location on the Columbia Plateau early February 18 to lay him to rest. They came from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, from the Nez Perce Tribe, from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and the Wanapum Tribe and the Yakama Nation.

Religious leaders from each of the Native Nations jointly conducted a ceremony. And then Kennewick Man’s remains were returned to the earth, just as loved ones first laid him to rest some 9,000 years ago. The ceremony was private.

See the full article in Indian Country Today.

Nova Scotia Pardons Mi’kmaq Chief 60 Years Later

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Gabriel Sylliboy died feeling like he failed his Mi’kmaq people. The grand chief launched a fight for aboriginal rights after being charged with illegal hunting in the 1920s, but the courts of the era dismissed the notion that a 1752 treaty gave Sylliboy any rights. It would take another six decades before those rights were recognized by the courts.

“Our grand chief was really quite sad about the fact that he was charged and wasn’t able to be successful in obtaining Mi’kmaq rights for his people,” said Jaime Battiste, the province’s treaty education lead. “He went to his deathbed thinking he let the Mi’kmaq people down.”

On Thursday, nearly 90 years after his conviction, the Nova Scotia government pardoned and honoured Sylliboy, who was born in 1874 in Whycocomagh, N.S., and became the first elected Mi’kmaq grand chief.

Read the full story in the Herald News.

Abenaki Storytellers at Brattleboro’s Retreat Farm

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As part of  this year’s Brattleboro Winter Carnival celebration, the newly-minted non-profit Retreat Farm‘s Open Barn schedule includes two sessions with Abenaki storytellers. Stop in to join Willow Greene on Friday and Roger Longtoe Sheehan on Saturday for the winter tradition of storytelling, along with other opportunities hosted by the Farm.

Friday, February 24
Noon – 4:00
Open Barn Preview
Bonfire (with food!*)
Children’s activities & animals
2:00 Abenaki storyteller Willow Greene

Saturday, February 25
Noon – 4:00
Open Barn Preview
Bonfire (with food!*)
Children’s activities & familiar animals
2:00 Abenaki storyteller Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief of the ELNU Abenaki tribe

Gill-Montague Superintendent’s Thoughts Regarding the Turners Falls Mascot

Remarks made by Superintendent Michael Sullivan on Feb. 14, 2017, when the GMRSD School Committee voted 6-3 to change the Indians mascot/logo, after a contentious but thorough examination of the issue. Full quote below:

Before I share my thoughts about the logo/nickname situation I would like to thank the school committee for having the courage to address this issue, knowing in advance that it would be controversial. The integrity and earnestness with which you have undertaken this process is admirable and I am proud to serve you. It also needs to be said that given your knowledge of the district’s communities combined with the scores of hours you have put into listening to citizens and scholars and studying this matter, no one is better equipped and poised to make decisions about it than you are.

In terms of sharing my perspective on the “TFHS Indians”, I would start by saying there is no doubt that the “Indian” is a symbol of tradition and pride to many, if not most, of the adult members of the district’s communities and we now know that most of our students feel similarly. We also know that those who support the “Indian” have no ill intent towards Native Americans. But, because they bear no ill will, many supporters of the nickname and logo, particularly students, continue to ask “where is the harm in it?”

As the district’s educational leader I believe we need to help our students understand that there is harm in the status quo. On average, each year, three of our students are Native American and these students deserve and are afforded the same civil rights protections enjoyed by all students. According to our policies, these rights include learning in an environment free from conduct, symbols, and language that create a hostile, humiliating, intimidating, or offensive educational environment.

Over the last several months we have heard from over 50 area Native Americans, both at forums and in writing, who find the “Indian” to be offensive, humiliating, and harmful. These sentiments have been the clear consensus view of the Native American community in our region. We have also learned that organizations with expertise in the social sciences have condemned the use of Indian mascots as harmful and/or in violation of students’ civil rights. These include the American Psychological Association, the American Anthropological Association, the American Sociological Association, as well as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Congress of American Indians, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Our review process has shown that there is widespread interest in having students learn more about local history and Native American cultures. This is commendable and will be acted upon. But this will not be enough. Our review process has also revealed that Native American mascots have helped legitimize and perpetuate harmful racial stereotypes and that these symbols exist within a context of historical oppression against indigenous people, including an act of tragic violence that occurred right in this community, only to be followed by centuries of ongoing assault, subjugation, and dispossession. Understood in this context it is logical to see the injustice of appropriating a name and culture that is not ours to take and shape as we please. Indians are not like cowboys or Vikings. They are cultures of real people, our neighbors, and it is inappropriate to treat them or any racial, ethnic, religious, or gender group in ways that perpetuate and legitimize stereotypes.

Part of the mission of all public schools is to teach students to think critically and to equip them to live in a multi-ethnic and complex world, which includes learning to recognize and dispel prejudices and stereotypes. Our review process has made clear we have much work to do to advance all facets of students’ multicultural learning; from thinking critically about history, to learning to see events from multiple perspectives, to understanding the nature of prejudice, discrimination, and oppression.

Many of our students have difficulty understanding this perspective and instead fall back on their honestly held belief that where no offense is intended, no problem exists. We have an obligation, as a public school system, to help our students grow beyond this line of reasoning, an aspiration clearly advanced by the district’s core values of empathy and continuous learning and it core belief that public education is the primary means we have for cultivating democracy and achieving social justice.

In my opinion there is no way to retain the name “Indians” that would not continue to present a civil rights problem, a pedagogical mixed message, and a misalignment with our mission and core values. That we did not understand these things in the past need not be anyone’s fault, but if we do not act upon what we understand now it will be a lost opportunity to be our best selves.

Sacred Ojibwa Bark Scrolls Returning After 70 Years

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In the 1930s, an American anthropologist named Irving Hallowell journeyed north to Canada to live among the Ojibwa and study their culture. He left with a wealth of knowledge – and something else. He took a bundle of sacred scrolls, made out of birch bark, and central to the performance of ancient religious ceremonies of the tribe.

The scrolls were never forgotten by those whose ancestors used them. Some elders in the tribe remember the old ways of doing things. Elder Donald Bird still uses the sweat lodge behind his house. There were other rituals, like the drum and the shaking tent, used to conjure the souls of the living and the dead.

Read this archived article from CBCNews.

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Traditional knowledge and its tangible representations has been scattered, banned, appropriated, diluted, sold, and destroyed, ever since coercive colonial forces have arrived in indigenous homelands. The principles and understandings of spirit signified by these materials persist, however, in the landscapes which generated them and in the heartss of the survivors who hold them. They are the same. They are still here. They can still be known by those who seek to restore the connection and the relationship. All is not lost… all is still here to be found.

From John Trudell’s “Crazy Horse”:

The Wild Age, the Glory Days live
Crazy Horse, We hear what you say
One Earth, One Mother
One does not sell the Earth the People walk upon
We are the Land…