Leah Fury: What’s In a Name? History, Violence and Agency

A powerful commentary piece in Vermont Digger April 2, 2018 (read full article):

While doing research on my family genealogy, I learned that my late grandfather, a child of German Jews, was born with the middle name Adolph. I knew that his family had changed their last name from Slawitsky as his father, my great-grandfather, faced insurmountable anti-Semitism while serving in the U.S. military against the German Nazis due to his surname. What I didn’t know was that when making the anglicized legal switch from Slawitsky to Lawton, the family had also changed my grandfather’s middle name from Adolph to Tilden, defiantly distancing him from a dangerous oppressor while assimilating to avoid discrimination. While I do grieve the loss that my family suffered through the assimilation of our last name, I also celebrate the agency that allowed my grandfather to feel liberation from one of the most despicable practitioners of violence and hate. The name Tilden was passed on to his own son, and just a month ago my cousin gave the name to her newborn son, his great-grandson who he did not live to meet.

Here in Vermont we have an unfortunate history of refusing individuals their agency that has played out from the first time that European settlers arrived, simultaneously and paradoxically denying both the presence and the humanity of the Western Abenaki. Since that relatively recent arrival, the Abenaki have survived genocide taking the forms of land theft, property destruction, mass murder, scalping and more – insult after injury after insult after injury. The forced sterilization of Abenaki en mass in the 1930s and early ‘40s via the Vermont Eugenics Survey is only one of the more recent manifestations of this genocide… (see link above for balance)

Advertisements

Michael Caduto: Making Peace, Olakamigenoka

In the spring of 2010, I was asked by members of the Church of Christ at Dartmouth College to help with a Peace Pole they were erecting in the Memorial Garden next to the church. Knowing that I had worked with members of the Abenaki Nation, and that I teach about Abenaki culture in my programs and writing, I was asked, “How do you say, in Abenaki, ‘May peace prevail on Earth?’”

I discovered that the Abenaki word for peace, olakámigénoká, is a verb that reflects an entirely different concept of “peace” than we express in the English language. Olakámigénoká, “make peace,” is a linguistic window into the Abenaki world view, in which peace is more than a state of tranquility that exists in the absence of violence: Peace is an act that one makes toward other people and the rest of creation.

A few years earlier, in April 2006, the Quebec-Labrador Foundation asked me to facilitate an environmental education seminar at their 50th anniversary Alumni Congress in Budapest, Hungary. During this gathering of conservationists and educators from the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, everyone had 10 minutes to share what they were doing in the respective countries. After hearing about how I was using Native American stories to teach children about nature and stewardship in the “Keepers of the Earth” books, the director of environmental education for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority suggested that colleagues from the Middle East work together to gather folklore stories about nature from all around their region, and to use those stories to teach children about the natural world and environmental issues.

At that time (on that day, in fact), Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Gaza were actively engaged in a bombing campaign — a backdrop that generated considerable anger and tension during our meeting in Budapest. Despite this ongoing conflict, a surge of energy charged the room when everyone present from the Middle East agreed to collaborate on this environmental storytelling project, including colleagues from Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. These professionals had been working together for more than a decade as participants in QLF’s Middle East Exchange Program, which promotes peaceful collaborations among “conservationists without borders.” They had reached out to one another to build partnerships and friendships, despite the risk of criticism and ridicule from those who questioned the act of working across political barriers.

Thus was planted a seed whose gestation spanned more than a decade, including many trips to the Middle East to gather traditional tales from storytellers, Bedouins and other keepers of oral tradition. This, the Storytelling for Environmental Stewardship Program, eventually involved more than 50 individuals from 20 organizations in the Middle East and led to a book published in December 2017 — an illustrated anthology of children’s stories called “The Garden of Wisdom: Earth Tales from the Middle East.” In addition to teaching about environmental awareness and stewardship of the natural world, lessons about friendship, justice and faith are woven into the fabric of the stories. Back in 2006, no one could have foretold that this book would be on the verge of publication at a time when the forces of political and religious extremism would be driving government officials to make decisions that defy rational thought, promote conflict and undermine long-standing efforts to broker a lasting peace. The level of peaceful coexistence that exists in the Middle East today is rooted in the actions of the majority of people from this rich mélange of cultures and faiths who place a high value on living justly and in civility with one another. While hope fades for a government-brokered Middle East peace, it is the decency and humanity of individuals that holds the region together and prevents a descent into widespread violence. Their countless daily acts of kindness and compassion are the foundation for what the Abenakis would call “making peace.”

Link to the original commentary in the Rutland Herald 

 

Elizabeth Mariani in VT Digger: In Support of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

am a third-generation Italian-American. My family comes from the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy and arrived in the U.S. and Canada about 100 years ago. I support the removal of Columbus Day with the direct intention of replacing it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in Vermont. I support bills H.488 (in the Vermont House) and S.83 (in the Vermont Senate). I support the creation of another day commemorating the important legacy of Italian-Americans. Perhaps we should have a day recognizing the sacrifices and strength of Italian-American women on the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire on March 25.

Celebrating Columbus harms indigenous peoples. All violence against indigenous peoples must end immediately. We should respect indigenous people and listen to what they are asking of us from protecting the water to removing Columbus Day and replacing it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We, as settlers, have an authentic opportunity to embark upon a trajectory which could lead to an overdue healing and further assist decolonization. This decolonization could lead to reconciliation.

Read her full commentary here.

Cassidy for VPR on Abenaki Artifacts at Brooks

vpr logo

When Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro announced an exhibit of local Native American artifacts, I made a special trip to the library, but then walked right by the small, anonymous bits of clay and stone in the local history section and had to ask a librarian for directions to the display.

A printed guide said that in 2004 Gordon Crandall, a local “avocational archeologist,” discovered a projectile point and a flake of flint in a test pit on a point of land near where the West River joins the Connecticut. Crandall engaged some young students to help him look for more artifacts a few feet below the surface of the earth. A casual observer might not even have noticed most of the objects, and fragments of objects, which are up to 3,500 years old. They include arrowheads chipped from flint, “projectile stones” that hunters threw at animals they were hunting, and the oldest pottery shards ever found in Vermont, which look like crudely flattened pieces of brick. All are humble, everyday objects, serving everyday needs.

[Full commentary on VPR]