Written Testimony Before Committee for H.119 and S.68, Indigenous Peoples’ Day

On February 27, 2019, I was invited to present testimony in support of H.119 (VT House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs) and S.68 (VT Senate Committee on Government Operations). Both similarly worded bills are entitled “An Act Relating to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”  The testimony text is below. It is also downloadable here: Written Testimony Rich Holschuh Feb 27 2019, and at the respective Committee online archives (House H.119, Senate S.68).

An overview of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day in the State of Vermont

H.119 “An Act relating to Indigenous Peoples’ Day” and S.68, of the same title, are currently being considered in their respective Chamber’s Committees for the 2019-2020 Session; the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs and the Senate Committee on Government Operations. The language in each is essentially identical, laying out the reasoning behind the proposed action and its implementation. The language also follows the consecutive Executive Proclamations made in by Vermont’s sitting Governor in 2016 (by Gov. Peter Shumlin), 2017, and 2018 (both by Gov. Philip Scott). I made those requests and submitted the suggested language.

Vermont, often a national leader for social equity, is not alone is considering this change and the recognition that comes with it. Over 60 cities and towns nationwide have already taken this step forward, beginning with Berkeley, CA in 1992, and including Santa Cruz and Los Angeles CA; Minneapolis, MN; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; and Nashville, TN. Here in New England, Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October has been declared on a permanent basis (among others) in Bangor, Orono, and Portland, ME; Cambridge, Amherst, Northampton, and Pittsfield, MA; Durham, NH; and Bridgeport and West Hartford, CT. Three towns in Vermont have already implemented this change: Marlboro, Brattleboro, and Hartford.

While several other states (Oregon, North Carolina, Iowa) have also had annual Governor’s Proclamations issued, I will make the case that no one state has yet completed this exact step of making the change from a recognition of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October. Bills to this effect are under consideration right now in the legislatures of New Mexico, Montana, and Maine. Alaska, which does observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day on that day, never did observe Columbus Day, similar to Hawaii, which observes Discoverers’ Day (referring to the original Polynesian voyagers) on the same day, although it is not an official state holiday. South Dakota recognizes Native Americans’ Day. Vermont has the ability to be the first state to make this decisive recognition.

We do need to look at the story behind Columbus Day, currently an official state holiday here in Vermont and about half of the rest of the states. The anniversary of Columbus’s landing in the Bahamas on Oct. 12, 1492 was observed at first as an unofficial patriotic holiday, similar to the Fourth of July, with the icon of Columbia standing in for the country itself. The first official Columbus Day per se was declared in Colorado in 1907. Several other states followed suit. After intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal organization, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress made it a Federal holiday in 1937. It was moved in 1971 in a standardizing effort with other observances to a Monday for a 3-day weekend in 1971.

I do not support the idea of removing from our histories those events or persons that we, with hindsight, now find less palatable or honorable. We need to know these things. This is the value of “learning the lessons of history.” By exploring a more complete narrative, with the inclusion of all the voices involved, we can listen, understand, and resolve to do better. Columbus is very much a part of these stories, but we know now he was not the idealistic, magnanimous, inspirational figure we were told years ago. He is not the one to be set on a pedestal and honored for his great, and often fictional, accomplishments. The heroic myth was created in service to a set of divisive ideologies of separation and entitlement, which left those outside its walls denied, dispossessed, and/or dead. Not to be ignored is the fact that a version of these attitudes has played out all over the planet, with the indigenous people of each place at the receiving end of exploitation, disenfranchisement, and dismissal, often paying the ultimate price. This is the more complete story that we should learn, and understand. And then work to honor and celebrate the resilience of the human spirit, its creativity, persistence, and adaptability. There is much to be done – and undone – in order to provide for the future generations and the world they will inherit. This is our mutual responsibility and I take this very seriously – to do better for our communities, as we know better. I offer that it is specifically the charge of our elected legislators as well. Your consideration and support is appreciated.

Kchi wliwni – with great thanks, Rich Holschuh

Wantastegok wji Sokwakik/Brattleboro, VT

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VT Rep. Brian Cina’s Introduction of H.119, Indigenous Peoples’ Day

On Feb. 15, 2019, Sponsor Rep. Brian Cina introduced H.119, “An Act relating to Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” to the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs, where it had been assigned by the full House on Jan. 30th. His well-written statement is below and can be found at this link as well. Thank you Brian for your thoughtful and continual support!

H.119: An act relating to Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Representative Brian Cina
February 15, 2019

We are living on an ancient land that has been home to Indigenous Peoples for thousands of years. Our state and nation grew out of this sacred soil, these rocks, these rivers, these valleys and these mountains. The story of this continent is like a delicately woven basket, a complex history of interactions between various Indigenous peoples and people who came here from other places. This rich history is evident today by the names of natural landmarks and places, such as: Missisquoi- “where there is flint,” Winooski- “wild onion land,” Connecticut- “long tidal river,” Memphramagog- “where there is a big expanse of water.”

This history plays out in our foods, many which were cultivated by Indigenous people of the Americas, such as corn, tomatoes, potatoes, wild rice, pumpkins, cranberries, peanuts, and maple syrup. Indigenous people taught Europeans how to hunt and grow food, they shared knowledge about plant medicines, they served as guides, they fought for the Nation’s independence and have served in every war since then, they have contributed and continue to contribute to American society on every level. Many Americans have traces of indigenous blood running through their veins and Indigenous genes in every cell of their body, and many Americans celebrate and practice their Indigenous culture and values, which have survived through disease, war, genocide, eugenics, and many methods of cultural oppression. Indigenous contributions to our state and nation have not been given proper recognition, and instead have been erased or revised as part of colonization. As our society considers ways to work towards reconciliation, it is important to make space for the celebration of Indigenous
People.

There are many places that have created an Indigenous Peoples’ Day. At last count, there were sixty cities and schools that have officially replaced the day. South Dakota has a separate “Native American Day.” Alaska has an “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” but never had Columbus Day. There are currently 5 states with active Indigenous Peoples’ Day bills: Maine, New Mexico, Montana, New Hampshire, Kansas. For the past 3 years, both Governor Scott and Governor Shumlin proclaimed Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day. It is time for us to make a permanent change. No state legislature has made this change yet, let Vermont be a leader yet again.

 

Are Invasive Species Settler Colonial?

An intriguing examination by Nicholas J. Reo, Laura A. Ogden.

Abstract:  Conservation discourses tend to portray invasive species as biological entities temporally connected to colonial timelines, using terms such as “alien”, “colonizing”, “colonial”, and “native”. This focus on a colonial timeline emerges from scientific publications within conservation biology and invasion ecology and is enacted through invasive species management by state and NGO actors. Colonialism is influential for indigenous nations in myriad ways, but in what ways do indigenous understandings of invasive species engage with colonialism? We conducted ethnographic research with indigenous Anishnaabe communities to learn about the ways Anishnaabe people conceptualize invasive species as a phenomenon in the world and were gifted with three primary insights. First, Anishnaabe regard plants, like all beings, as persons that assemble into nations more so than “species”. The arrival of new plant nations is viewed by some Anishnaabe as a natural form of migration. The second insight highlights the importance of actively discovering the purpose of new species, sometimes with the assistance of animal teachers. Lastly, while Anishnaabe describe invasive species as phenomenologically entangled with colonialism, the multiple ways Anishnaabe people think about invasive species provide alternatives to native–non-native binaries that dominate much of the scientific discourse.

Link to original posting.

The Story of Father Rasle at Kennebec Historical Society

Death_of_Father_Sebastian_Rale_of_the_Society_of_Jesus

“Go and set the world on fire,” was St. Ignatius of Loyola’s famous call to the Jesuits to preach the gospel to the far corners of the world. Fr. Sebastian Rasle followed the call of his order’s founder and left France in 1689 to give his life to caring for the souls of native Americans. This he did for 30 years in a small mission village amidst the Abenaki people far up the Kennebec River. The village was called Narantsouack (i.e. Norridgewock.)

But this peaceful mission was not to last. In those few decades, Fr. Rasle’s little village got caught in a blaze of controversy that ended in the mission being burned by a Massachusetts militia and its pastor being shot. Joseph Moreshead, a seminarian for the Roman Catholic diocese of Portland, will discuss the origins of this conflict between Fr. Rasle, the New England colonists, and the Abenaki people and how competing interests among the three parties led to such a tragic end.

Joseph Moreshead is a native of South Portland, and a current student at the Catholic University of America, studying to be a Catholic priest in Maine. A graduate of Cheverus High School and Fordham University, Moreshead was educated for eight years by Jesuits like Fr. Rasle. After extensive research on the Jesuit Relations, he led a pilgrimage to Fr. Rasle’s grave last August. He holds a bachelor of arts in philosophy and classical language.But this peaceful mission was not to last. In those few decades, Fr. Rasle’s little village got caught in a blaze of controversy that ended in the mission being burned by a Massachusetts militia and its pastor being shot. Joseph Moreshead, a seminarian for the Roman Catholic diocese of Portland, will discuss the origins of this conflict between Fr. Rasle, the New England colonists, and the Abenaki people and how competing interests among the three parties led to such a tragic end.

The Kennebec Historical Society’s May Presentation is free to the public (donations gladly accepted) and will take place on Wednesday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m., at St. Mary’s Church located at 41 Western Avenue in Augusta.

Link to original article in The Town Line.

Words and Abenaki Heritage in Wantastegok

abenaki words project roundtable poster

Read: Press Release_ The Roundtable Discussion Series, Words & Abenaki History

See the Facebook Event page here.

Native Insight: Local Scholars Offer Fresh New Look at an Old War

king philips war lithograph

…how could the timing of two new Yale University Press books by local scholars examining King Philip’s War be better? Both books are scheduled for a Jan. 9 release. One, by Amherst College historian Lisa Brooks — who may be familiar to readers for her previously authored “The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (2008)” — is titled “Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip’s War.” The other, by Mount Holyoke College historian Christine M. Delucia, is titled “Memory Lands: King Philips War and the Place of Violence in the Northeast.”

Both authors write from the authority of their own Native American lens, as both share Wabanaki roots and understand what West Coast poet Gary Snyder calls “The Old Ways” — a belief system under which all animate and inanimate objects are beings with palpable spirits. That includes lakes and ponds and streams, mountains and swamps and high, lonesome glacial-erratic boulders, beavers and bears and deer, insects and worms and underworld serpents with ominous rattling tails. Viewing the world through such a holistic lens, buttressed by deep oral history recited in song, dance and ritual performance around warm winter fires, puts a different spin on life, one that conflicts in a major way with the Christian way Europeans transported with them to the New World. It is this world-view that backbones Brooks’ and Delucia’s refreshing narrative and challenges conventional, accepted conclusions about KPW.

Both of these fresh, New-Age female scholars refuse to buy the tired documentary evidence supplied by the likes of old-standby colonial clergymen William Hubbard and Increase Mather, entrepreneur John Pynchon, or Narragansett-country colonial land-grab military officer Benjamin Church. The recorded histories from these primary sources are, in Brooks’ and Delucia’s opinion, those of conquerors publishing second-hand accounts that are, at the very least, biased if not totally invalid. Of course, these two young scholars are not the first veritable historians to challenge the long-accepted, often-repeated norms of KPW history. They’re just taking similar positions to previous chroniclers like Francis Jennings, Howard Zinn, Jill Lapore and others pejoratively called “revisionary historians” by more conventional colleagues and critics.

Read the review by Gary Sanderson in The Greenfield Recorder.