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

indigenous-peoples-day-marchers

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

gill riverside historic district

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.

Sokwakik, the Change Begins: Whitelaw’s Map of Vermont 1796

whitelaw map 1796 vermont

Title – “A correct map of the state of Vermont, from actual survey :  exhibiting the county and town lines, rivers, lakes, ponds, mountains, meetinghouses, mills, public roads, &c   / by James Whitelaw, Esqr., late surveyor general ; engraved by Amos Doolittle, Newhaven, 1796, and by James Wilson, Vermont, 1810.

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An inset detail of Windham County (click to enlarge).

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The label for the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River tributary (known today as West River) is given as “Wantastitquck or West River” – very close in pronunciation to both Wantastekw and Wantastegok.

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Let’s look at some details for Wantastegok/Brattleboro, at this relatively early date of British settlement. The east-west Turnpike which became the basis for Vt Route 9 has not been built yet (about 1800). The road existing at the time running westward was known as the Great Military Road, or the Albany Post Road, circa 1746. This was the road used for scouting and patrolling by militia between Fort Dummer (in the southeast corner of Brattleboro, not shown here) and Fort Massachusetts (in what is now Williamstown, MA) and onward to Albany, NY. It was a repurposed Native trail, a single-file footpath, as were all of the earliest roads. In fact, there is a good chance most of the roads shown on this map as dotted lines were of the same provenance. The courses of these roads as marked on the map are general and somewhat imprecise, and some are missing. The Great River Road, a major Abenaki trail running parallel to the west side of the Kwanitekw, which is now VT Route 5, was now enjoying benefits of the first bridge at the mouth of the Wantastekw/West River, opened in 1796, the year of this survey.

More to follow…

French and Indian War Ends: February 10, 1763

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On February 10, 1763, the “French and Indian War” officially ended with the Treaty of Paris, giving the British victors license to continue their mission to destroy Native culture and displace the People from their homelands.

In 1754, before the creation of the United States of America, the British declared war against the French, pitting the countries against each other in a battle that began with the Ohio Valley, which the French had already claimed.

Tribes allied with the French hoped to keep British expansion at bay. The French had caused less strife than the British, who were bringing their wives and families to settle while the French were intermarrying with Native women (editor’s note: oversimplified, but a telling difference).

With 1.5 million British settlers along the eastern coast from Nova Scotia to Georgia and only about 75,000 French in North America, it was critical for the French to rely on their strong alliances with Natives across Canada, who were willing to support the efforts against further British colonization.

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The full onslaught of colonialism in Vermont started right here in Windham (Cumberland) County, immediately following the cessation of hostilities. Fort Dummer, within the borders of what is now known as Brattleboro, was the northern frontier outpost protecting the British settlements southward down the Kwanitekw. Once the perceived danger of the allied French/Native forces was over, the floodgates were opened to settlers who swarmed in by the hundreds to usurp the fertile river bottoms and surge up into the hills. This is ground zero. Brattleboro, Guilford, and other southeasternmost county towns were among the most populous settlements in the territory (then contested by New York and New Hampshire) for several decades.

Read an overview article in Indian Country Today.

 

East To Monadnock

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From the peak of Bedegwajo/Round Mountain in West Brattleboro, VT, a line of sight running 27 miles due east to Menonadenak/Menadenak/Monadnock in New Hampshire crosses directly over the ridge of Wantastegok Wajo/Mt. Wantastiquet, on the east bank of the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River.

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Retreat Farm Expansion Underway

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The Retreat Farm’s makeover-in-progress is mostly likely observed if you’re driving in or out of Brattleboro via Route 30. The Windham Foundation donated the property to Retreat Farm LTD and grants have propelled the nonprofit to this point. “We’re just about to kick off additional fundraising,” said Arthur “Buzz” Schmidt, Retreat Farm president. Close to $1 million has already been spent on planning, groundwork and renovation of the farmhouse, according to Schmidt’s estimate.

Retreat Farm was transferred to his group on Aug. 19, a little later than originally anticipated due to issues with subdividing the land. The Grafton Cheese Factory had to be separated from the parcel. The business is owned and operated by the Windham Foundation. Last winter, the state approved an Act 250 permit so some development on the property could begin. A master plan application will still be needed for Act 250 review.

Altogether, there are 600 acres that Schmidt’s group is responsible for maintaining, including Retreat Meadows, trails, woodland and a farmstead. “It’s an expansive complex property,” Schmidt said. “There’s an underlying easement with the Vermont Land Trust that restricts the development on the property really to one 25-acre farmstead. That’s where all the development has to occur. We can develop farm resources on the other lands and we’re doing that.”

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Note: The land at and near the Retreat Farm is highly sensitive for indigenous heritage and cultural lifeways, in more ways than one. Discussions have been initiated with the team (specifically Buzz and Lu, at this point); they are aware of this aspect and intend to incorporate awareness and respect into their long-range plans.

Full story by Chris Mays in the Brattleboro Reformer.

More information can be found at retreatfarm.org and on Facebook.

 

Sokwakik Now: Vernon Eyes Data Center for VT Yankee Site

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Could rows of quietly whirring computers replace Vermont Yankee? Seeking long-term options for the former nuclear plant property, Vernon Planning Commission is looking into the possibility that a technology company could build a data center – sometimes called a “server farm” – at the site.

Commission members were buoyed Wednesday night by Matt Dunne, a former Google executive with experience in siting data centers. Dunne said he believes the Yankee property has many key assets for such a development including land, water and access to large quantities of reliable power.

“It’s difficult to find the land and the kind of infrastructure that you happen to have here,” Dunne said. “It is a unique site.”

Officials said they would explore the idea further. “This, to me, is the most exciting thing for Vernon right now out of everything we’ve discussed,” Planning Commission member Patty O’Donnell said.

Full story by Mike Faher at VTdigger.org

Another version in the Greenfield Recorder

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Observations: Matt Dunne mused that this is a unique site; he may have no idea of the deeper significance of his statement. The land immediately adjacent to the Great Bend of the Kwanitekw, on both sides of the river – in Vernon, VT to the west and Hinsdale, NH to the east, but especially on the Vermont side – is highly sensitive to the Sokwakiak Abenaki and their ancestors. Adjacent to a highly favored [former] fishing place at the rapids now subsumed by the Vernon hydroelectric dam, the level terraces would have hosted the shelters, fish processing stations, food storage, celebratory and ceremonial areas, and other supporting functions needed for any sizeable, extended gathering of people. The popularity of the location amongst the region’s indigenous dwellers is documented in the historical literature, although scantily, in common with most of the area at the time of contact and immediately thereafter. It is likely there are multiple cultural sites of both a permanent and transient nature, constructed and occupied over thousands of years, and home to many hundreds of occupants, much less their final resting places purposefully chosen close by a beneficient and sacred gathering place.

Beside historical settler uses for agriculture, mills, logging, residences, and mineral extraction over the past 275 years, the very same area has been heavily compromised by the construction and operation of two electric generating plants. The aforementioned Vernon Hydroelectric dam and power station, currently owned by TransCanada, and the recently-shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, owned by Entergy Corp. – both utilizing the 26-mile impoundment of the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River – have been sited directly atop this sensitive area. As an aside, it is a patently obvious correlation that nearly all of the most noteworthy locations up and down the Valley (in terms of advantageous siting and “resources’), now heavily developed by modern industry and their attendant settlements, were chosen as a direct observation that they had already been recognized as such by the preceding indigenous populations.

These two industrial installations, although under the purview of Federal as well as many other state and local agencies, have never had comprehensive cultural assessments performed at their sites. There was little to no sensitivity for these attributes of this naturewhen the power facilities were initially sited in the early to late mid-twentieth century; although that regulatory environment has changed, awareness and responsibility have not progressed as far. There have been several smaller-scope studies completed in the course of more recent operational amendments, but these have been dismissive, incomplete, or cursory at best. A simple review of newspaper accounts from the past two centuries reveals many accounts of human remains and cultural “artifacts” recovered in the immediate vicinity. While there are a very few documented, professionally-managed archaeological sites in the record, there was also a plethora of amateur digging and collecting over the last 150 years, when such activities were quite popular and the whereabouts of such sites was much more common knowledge. The names of Walter Needham, Jason Bushnell, and Gerald Coane come to mind.

This grave omission should not stand unacknowledged and unaddressed. There are several projects and/or processes currently underway, or imminent, that will once again open these ancient and still hurtful wounds. Today’s agencies of oversight operate under a somewhat more enlightened set of responsibilities, not the least of which is inclusivity of indigenous tribal concerns, along with both human and environmental rights in general.  It is hoped that the dialogue will expand to truly reflect many more voices going forward. This blog will be sharing these stories and viewpoints as they manifest. The Old Ones are here with us in this land.

N’mikwalm8nowak – we remember them.

Askwa iodali n’daoldibna – we are still here.