Correcting the Corrections

Editor of the Reformer,

This note is in reference to a letter to the editor of the Reformer published Friday, June 28, 2020, headlined “Historically inaccurate attack on Ethan Allen.” The missive purported to address perceived inaccuracies in a previous letter of June 18, “The Allen brothers are symbols of wrong done to Abenaki.” Without belaboring the politics, I must cry foul on a few of the respondent’s assertions, made to bolster the tarnished reputation of a justifiably-deflated folk hero. The response is rife with its own inaccuracies. It is indeed good to “learn abut history” and then work toward positive change.

1. Allen’s sending of Capt. Daniel Nimham, Stockbridge Mohican, to the Seven Nations in May 1775, wasn’t as much to recruit the Abenaki to the American side as it was to assure their neutrality. Further, the emissaries never made it to Caughnawaga; they were captured, convicted as spies, and nearly hung. Ethan Allen never was a true friend of the Abenaki; when members of the Missisquoi band returned to Swanton after the war, Allen ran them off, claiming it belonged to him.

2. The writer continues to work the Stockbridge Mohican angle – for some reason – claiming their territory ran up Lake Champlain to Missisquoi and east to Middlebury Center. Rather, it is widely understood – including by the Native nations themselves – that Mohican homelands meet those of the Abenaki near the juncture of lakes George and Champlain – nearly 100 miles further south.

3. The Stockbridge Mohican brigade never fought at the Battle of Bennington. They set off for the engagement late, and upon receiving word, turned back to their homes to (sadly) fight another day elsewhere.

4. Vermont’s granting in 1781 of what became Marshfield, Vermont to the Stockbridge for war services rendered was no solace or gain; they immediately were forced to trade it for debt payment to Capt. Isaac Marsh, tavern-keeper back in Stockbridge. For their troubles, most of the tribe eventually found themselves displaced 750 miles to the west.

5. Ethan Allen went before the Continental Congress in person more than once. Examples are easily documented: On June 23, 1775, Allen with Seth Warner appeared in Philadelphia to ask that the Green Mountain Boys be recognized as a regiment.

6. The Green Mountain Boys, in their several iterations, cannot be conflated with Roger’s Rangers, but there certainly was significant overlap. Members of Allen’s original Boys as well as former Rangers served together in Warner’s Extra-Continental Regiment in the Revolution.

Rich Holschuh,

Wantastegok/Brattleboro, June 29, 2020

>>This letter ran in the Brattleboro Reformer on July 7, 2020.

Elnu Abenaki Statement on Northampton, MA Roundabout Project

Full statement below, pdf here: Elnu Abenaki Northampton statement.

July 2, 2020 Concerning the dialogue about the proposed highway project at the intersection of Hatfield St. and Rts. 5 & 10 at Northampton, MA: Elnu Abenaki, a Vermont State-recognized Tribe, offers the following comments with regard to the ongoing situation and the parties involved.

 Kwai mziwi – greetings everyone,

This statement is on behalf of Elnu Abenaki, representing our understandings and council, grounded in the perspective of a Native community that has ancestral ties through both kinship and relationship with Ndakinna, our homelands.

  • Abenaki have a direct, ancient association with the mid-Kwenitekw/Connectict River valley, by proximity and through diplomacy and kinship. As a result of the process of colonization, it is well-known that the dispossession of Indigenous people that traditionally call today’s Northampton and Hatfield home resulted in many joining the Abenaki at Schaghticoke, Missisquoi, Odanak, and elsewhere. Their descendants are among us today.
  • Similarly, Abenaki have longstanding relationships with Nipmuc – for the identical reasons, as neighbors, allies, and kin – and who are subjected in like manner to the destruction of colonization. We stand with Nipmuc and their own previous sovereign statements.
  • We have been following the progress of this project for over a year. To the best of our knowledge, the NHPA Section 106 process has followed protocol, and cultural resources have been surveyed, documented, and impacts addressed according to requirements.
  • The laws being what they are, we acknowledge and appreciate that at least one Federally-recognized Tribe has actively participated as cultural monitor, in the person of Mark Andrews of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). Meaningful inclusion of Native voices with regard to Indigenous cultural concerns is paramount and should be foregrounded and expanded
  • We concur that any ancestral materials should return, or remain, in the Earth, our Mother, who is the holder and provider of everything.
  • We are grateful for the consideration and care of others that have stepped forward from the several Native communities to intervene and clarify this confusing situation, and for the support and interest of allies.
  • We maintain that, going forward, the best means of finding balance and peace, and minimizing these situations – recognizing that the inevitability of change is embraced through responsibility and relationship – is to prioritize inclusion and awareness. We aspire toward a better way of being here together and that includes recognizing where change is needed.

Wliwni – thank you,

Sôgmô Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief Elnu Abenaki

Jim Taylor, Councilman Elnu Abenaki

Rich Holschuh, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Elnu Abenaki

Elizabeth Sadoques Mason

elizabeth sadoques mason 1897 1985

From the Keene Sentinel June 1, 2020

“Elizabeth Sadoques Mason (1897-1985) studied nursing in New York and received her certificate as a registered nurse in 1919. Mason was a full-blooded Abenaki Indian. Her sister Maude also became an RN. They were members of the well-known Sadoques family of Keene, recently commemorated in a Walldogs mural in the city. Elizabeth worked as a nurse in Keene until the late 1950s. According to the winter 2008 issue of Minority Nurse magazine, Elizabeth Sadoques Mason may well have been the first Native American registered nurse in the United States.”

Valley Post: Comments on Northern Hydro

From a contribution to a column by Eesha Williams (Editor) in the Valley Post, linked here.

Native Americans are trying to stop a plan to send hydro-power from Canada to Massachusetts. They have a web site at www.NorthEastMegaDamResistance.org.

Rich Holschuh lives in Brattleboro and, with seven other people, [serves on] …the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. That’s part of the state government. In an April 30 interview with the Valley Post, he said, “Indigenous people worldwide share the common experience of colonization. Colonization is the process of appropriating a place for one’s own use, exercising control by force for the benefit of the newcomer…. The original inhabitants of a place consider themselves to be a single entity: the people and the land are the same. It is a network of sustained, interdependent relationships overlapping with others in a balanced, self-supporting continuum. This balance is disrupted and harmed when those relationships are disregarded, by manipulation and appropriation for externalized profit. Colonization is not a historical event; it is an ongoing system, with lasting damage to the subjects while continuing to accrue benefit to the takers.”

Holschuh continued, “What is happening in the northeastern reaches of this continent, with massive hydroelectric development and export of energy to markets elsewhere, much of it in New England, derives from the same mindset that created the antecedent hydro facilities here on the Kwenitekw (Connecticut) river, and across the continent in the realization of so-called Manifest Destiny. The natural abundance of earth — the gift of Creation — has been coerced, privatized, commodified, extracted, and sold, without due regard for the lasting effects of that interruption of the sustaining cycles. The indigenous people of these places are implicated equally, left outside of consideration, with the network of relationships that constitutes their existence grievously harmed.”

Holschuh said, “The northern mega-dams may seem out-of-sight, and thus out-of-mind, not important or impactful to lives proceeding apace to the south in New England. Vermont, in its claims to cleaner, greener policy, derives a significant portion of its electrical energy demand from facilities such as those of Hydro-Quebec. This is projected to increase as the state adjusts its goals away from less-desirable sources through the Comprehensive Energy Plan. The issue has been raised with Lt. Governor Zuckerman’s Vermont 2050 Planning Group — it’s a very real exacerbation of an existing policy flaw. A reliance on imported energy, and its associated human and environmental costs, has been a contested issue in the past, and it should/will be again soon. This is not a problem in somebody else’s backyard. It is a problem of our own making and it is a repetition of what has and is happening right here in the homelands of the Abenaki and their kin. If we are being honest, this connection and the dynamics that effect it are easily recognized. What happens to one, happens to us all. And so, I recognize All My Relations and ask that together we seek balance and exercise compassion, seeing that there is a better way.”

High Country News: Land Grant University Investigation

The results of a momentous 2-year research project into the implications of Indigenous Land appropriation and redistribution through the Morrill Act of 1862, documented in a series of articles in High Country News that began March 30, 2020.

A lot to digest here…

The Other Side of Plymouth Rock

david brule joe graveline nolumbeka river stories

“…Native Americans in the Valley and elsewhere in New England are looking at the [Plymouth] 400th anniversary through a different lens. For them, Plymouth Colony was the opening chapter of a far grimmer story, one in which regional tribes would be stricken by European diseases such as smallpox, forced from their land, and finally decimated by the violence of King Philip’s War in 1675-1676. It’s a fraught memorial, much like 2019, which marked 400 years since the introduction of African slaves to North America.”

Read the full story in The Recorder.

Podcast: David Brule on River Stories 2020

david brule river stories podcast valley advocate

David Brule, president of the Nolumbeka Project, based in Greenfield, speaks about a series focusing on Native Americans in the Valley. The series, which will consist of about a dozen events, is in part a response to this year’s Plymouth 400 observance, which is more focused on white settlers and the 1620 Plymouth Rock landing by the Pilgrims.

Check out the podcast at the article link.

Abenakis Celebrate the Greetings Moon & the New Year: A Forgiveness Day Announcement

Join Abenaki Community members on December 26, as the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center celebrates the beginning of the New Year.  The first New Moon after the Winter Solstice “sets” the traditional Abenaki agricultural calendar year.  However, this astronomical event is more than a simple calendrical observance, it is also a time to pause and reflect about our relationships with others.  Bring yourself, family friends and a small piece of scrap of untreated wood, cardboard or organic tree trimming, to the “Tavern” at the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum at 4:00 PM on December 26 to learn how it is done.

After a few words of welcome and greeting, we take and silently hold those small pieces of clutter and quietly think about the scraps of physical and emotional disorder that have accumulated in our lives through the dying year.  This gentle meditation is the Anhaldamôwadimek, the “forgiveness time.”  Through thinking sincerely, we may begin forgiving ourselves and others for hurts given and received.  In doing so, we transfer a year’s remembrance of pain and disorder to the scraps in our hands.  Then, as the sun sets, we bring those scraps to the Pileated Woodpecker Dance Ground, where the Sacred Fire has been lit and tended by the fire keeper.  At precisely 4:52 PM, the moment when the sun sets on the year, we throw the scraps into the fire — to represent giving ourselves and others the grace of forgiveness.  As the scraps are burning brightly at sunset, the Round Dance celebrates our collective hopes for a clean emotional and physical slate for the upcoming year.  After the symbolic clutter in our lives is consumed by cleansing fire, we retire back indoors for the New Years’ greetings ceremonials.  We pass around the Alnôbaiwi wampum belt of mourning; for people to share, if they wish, stories of loved ones who have passed.  This witnessing ritual carries memory safely into the infant year.  And, in a new wrinkle to the old Alamikkôwadin (“people greet each other time”) tradition, we go through our cell phone contact list, then text a greeting to old, but neglected friends and colleagues.  Drumming, singing and greeting old and new friends punctuate and complete the ceremony.  It is now up to us to live up to the ancient promises, covenants and relations among, sun, moon, and our feelings — and in so doing, set the stage for a wonderful New Year.

Where: Ethan Allen Homestead Museum

            1 Ethan Allen Drive

            Burlington, VT 05408

            (802) 865 4556

Time:   December 26, 2019

            4:00-7:00 (ish)

PROGRAM: Forgiveness Day Celebration Program

  1. Welcome by EAHM and Heritage Center

            Welcome Song, Greeting song

  1. Explanation of the Ceremony
  2. Thinking about Forgiveness
  3.  Procession to the Fire @4:45
  1. Four Directions and Countdown to Sunset
  2. Throwing in the scraps @ 4:52 PM
  3. Round Dance
  4. Procession Back to the Tavern
  1. Death Song
  2. Passing the Mourning Belt
  3. Song (TBD)
  4. Cellphone Ceremony
  5. Song (TBD)
  6. Goodbye

Community and Mental Health Providers Tackle Rising Suicide Among Abenaki

From the St. Albans Messenger – December 7, 2019 – Full article

By Michael Frett, Messenger Staff Writer

SWANTON – For several months now, a coalition of community leaders and health care providers have come together in Northwest Vermont as a disturbing trend became more apparent: Vermont’s growing suicide rates might be disproportionately affecting the Abenaki.

Suicide rates in Vermont have swelled above the national average for at least a decade now, reaching a high of 18 people per 100,000 residents in the Green Mountain State in 2018. The state currently has one of the fastest growing suicide rates in the U.S., second only to North Dakota.

A previous Messenger report examining gun-related fatalities in Northwest Vermont centered heavily on recorded suicides, the predominant source of gun violence in both Northwest Vermont and statewide.

Death certificates examined by the Messenger and Vermont Public Radio’s Gunshots project found the majority of victims to be white, middle-aged men, many of whom had a record of military service.

However, according to Brenda Gagne, an Abenaki tribal member and coordinator the Circle of Courage Afterschool Program; Jeff Benay, the Director of Indian Education for Franklin County Public Schools; and Northwestern Counseling & Support Services (NCSS)’s Director of Behavioral Health Services Steve Broer, many of those who passed were Abenaki.

“We would go through the death certificates,” Gagne said, “and we know who our people are.”

“We started meeting ten years ago and tracking the data on Abenaki suicides, and it was what we feared,” Benay said. “I think it was a lot higher than what we feared.”

Out of respect for the Abenaki community, members of the grant-funded coalition calling itself Community Partners for Suicide Prevention (CPSP) declined to share how many members of the community had died by suicide.

While state death certificates do allow for Native American identification, very few are explicitly identified among the death certificates previously analyzed by the Messenger alongside VPR’s Gunshots project.

In an email with the Messenger, a representative from the Vermont Dept. of Health said demographic information for death certificates is collected from the family, funeral directors or others responsible for the disposition of the deceased’s remains. While there is an option to list an individual as “American Indian or Alaskan Native” with a tribal affiliation, there are no assurances the reporters either include or would be aware of those affiliations.

Anecdotally, though, Benay and Gagne said the impact has been deep enough that members of the Abenaki community have joined with area health care providers and the statewide Vermont Suicide Prevention Center (VTSPC) to address regional trends in suicide that appeared to be disproportionately affecting the Abenaki.

Organized through a University of Vermont (UVM) Medical Center grant by the Title VI Indian Education Program of Franklin County’s Parent Advisory Committee (PAC), NCSS, area community health centers and VTSPC, CPSP expects to have a selection of answers developed from the bottom-up with the explicit support of the Abenaki community – new for a Native American community historically relegated to part-time subjects by health researchers.

“In the Abenaki community, there’s long been a sense that people come in and research the community, but they come at it as researchers and look at the community as objects,” Benay said. “We’re trying to remove the objectification… by doing it together.”

“It’s coming from us,” Gagne said. “We’re doing something for us and not to us.”

According to an abstract from CPSP’s application to the UVM Medical Center, while results gleaned from CPSP’s long term study will focus on “culturally sensitive care for Abenaki populations,” infrastructure and programming recommended through CPSP could be expanded for the general population.

The group will spend the next few months interviewing members of both the Abenaki community and the health care community in order to identify barriers to mental health services that might keep members of the Abenaki community from seeking mental health services.

Though CPSP’s grant application does not cite specific barriers to service, it notes that its particular region of focus – Grand Isle County – struggles with many of the risk factors typically blamed for the steady climb in suicide rates in both Vermont and the U.S. at large.

The predominately rural area remains largely isolated from service providers, and a lower population density means public health agencies struggles to reach people with information, the application says.

The Champlain Islands targeted by CPSP’s study especially struggle with their distance from service providers, many anchored in nearby Franklin County, and transportation costs can prevent those in need from seeking help.

According to Broer, regional data on deaths by suicide is tracking with national estimates that found 70 percent of those who died by suicide were not actively seeking help in the mental health care system, though many had apparently met with a primary health care provider at least a month before their passing.

Suicide rates in Vermont have ebbed and flowed over the past decade, but, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over at least the last five years Vermont’s suicide rate has tracked above federal suicide rates, as both continue an upward climb overall.

In Vermont, suicide is the eighth leading cause of death, and with 112 Vermonters dying by suicide in 2018, suicide continues to claim more lives in Vermont every year than traffic accidents.

According to Broer, while professionals have attributed suicide trends to everything from rural isolation and the ongoing opioid epidemic to the prevalence of social media, there is no singular, clear cause for what health care providers and commentators have called a national suicide epidemic

“There are so many different pathways to suicide,” Broer said. “We’re concerned about youth. We’re concerned about older Vermonters. We’re concerned about individuals from the Abenaki community. We’re concerned about veterans.”

More generally, Broer said stigmas continue to influence discussions around suicide as well, adding, “there’s a lot of shame attached to it, too,” and many still see mental health treatments in terms of hospitalization, something that may keep some from seeking help.

“There is also the fear of being psychiatrically hospitalized when the reality is most individuals who experience suicidal thoughts, feelings and behaviors can be effectively treated in our community,” Broer said in a follow-up email to the Messenger.

NCSS, Broer said, is currently using a more personalized, evidence-based treatment called Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicide (CAMS) in response, allowing the mental health care provider to approach patients with more flexibility when it comes to addressing suicide.

The U.S. Dept. of Health cites CAMS as a “program with evidence of effectiveness,” meaning the program has shown at least some positive impacts on treating suicide by health department metrics.

Reports of the Abenaki being disproportionately affected by trends in suicide, would track with national trends. According to the CDC, suicide impacts Native American communities more than any other demographic group in the U.S.

The Abenaki, like many First Nation peoples, saw their longtime home gradually whittled away as European – and later American – settlers spread into what is now known as New England.

According to historians William Haviland’s and Marjory Power’s The Original Vermonters, the Abenaki had lived in Vermont for centuries before the eventual arrival of Europeans. Even after initial contact with Europeans through the fur trade and French missions, the Abenaki remained the dominant culture in Vermont for some time.

By the end of the 18th century, however, decades of conflict with European settlers and increasingly large territorial claims by European and American businessmen carved the Abenaki’s longtime home into white landholdings.

As white settlements started supplanting the Abenaki across Vermont, many of the Abenaki opted to remain in their ancestral homeland. According to Haviland and Power, many took to European culture as a means to survive, eventually becoming “all but invisible” to the white neighbors who displaced them.

According to Benay and Gagne, the traumatic loss of that homeland and the ensuing marginalization of the Abenaki that followed Vermont’s statehood might have left emotional scars on the community informing at least some of its current struggles with mental health.

Researchers studying the psychological effects of historical events like genocide and mass starvation have found evidence suggesting behaviors and emotions tied to traumatic events, like anxiety or insistence on food hoarding, can also be observed several generations after the event.

The Abenaki were infamously signaled out for forced sterilizations under Vermont’s eugenics program in the first half of the 1900s, and, according to Gagne, discrimination in schools and targeting by state organizations deepened that trauma and inspired further distrust of the state and institutions among members of the Abenaki community.

“We’ve been told not to air our dirty laundry,” Gagne said. “That’s been born into us.”

That distrust, according to members of the CPSP, has trickled into the medical world as well, potentially leaving community members skeptical of mental health care providers like NCSS where, according to Gagne, identification as Abenaki might inspire certain prejudices and stigmas by default.

“We’ve already been labeled,” Gagne said. “So, if you seek out mental health care and you’re Abenaki, that’s a mark against you.”

According to NCSS’s Broer, curtailing those stigmas was one of the places where organizations like NCSS could start when it came to addressing suicides among the Abenaki. While the organization has implemented cultural competency training related to the Abenaki in the past, Broer admitted there was still a need for more systematic training for staff.

Those trainings, in turn, could be shared with other health care providers, he suggested.

Another novel pilot suggested by the group would connect veterans within the Abenaki community to one another, helping bridge some of the feelings of isolation that can come from rural life and life after military service.

According to Benay and Gagne, strides had also been made in the schools, where Gagne said she remembered growing up facing discrimination and where, through work steered by groups like the PAC and through programming like the Circles of Courage, current Abenaki students had found room to express themselves and learn about their culture that, until recently, was stigmatized in places like Swanton.

Already this year, flags were raised over the schools of the Missisquoi Valley School District and an Abenaki totem was installed at the Swanton Schools, reminding people that, according to Gagne, “we’re here and we’re going to continue to be here.”

The CPSP’s work is ongoing and members of the group warned there would likely be no single answer to the disproportionately high suicide rates facing the Abenaki.

As interviews within the Abenaki community occur, though, and as members of the community come together to discuss ways to curtail those trends, those involved appear optimistic. “It’s coming from the community,” Benay said. “It’s messy and it’s time consuming… but this is what we have to do.”

VTSPC, one of the CPSP’s leading partners, is a subset of the Center for Health and Learning, a Brattleboro-based nonprofit dedicated to suicide and substance abuse prevention.