VTDigger: Abenaki Tribal Statement on Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Melody Walker Brook and Mike Plante on behalf of the Elnu, Nulhegan and Koasek Bands of the Abenaki.

In many people’s minds, the blessings of a bountiful life in a place like the United States of America were made possible by the exploration and colonization ushered in by Christopher Columbus. However, this view is only one story of many. This continent was filled with hundreds of unique civilizations — sovereign nations comprised of millions of indigenous peoples, the original inhabitants of these lands. Those millions were forced to accept devastation as the price for someone else’s dream.

The European conquerors brought with them virulent diseases, ideological warfare and the seeds of manifest destiny. As Robin Wall Kimmerer so eloquently stated in “Braiding Sweetgrass,” “And then they met – the offspring of Skywoman and the children of Eve – and the land around us bears the scars of that meeting, the echoes of our stories.” To understand how a land was won, equity mandates that one also recognize that for someone else, it was lost. When the values that necessitated struggle rather than cooperation met with might, suffering was left in its wake and for this reason Columbus Day has always been a day of mourning for indigenous people. As human beings, we all have frailties and fears, but we also have the ability to recognize them and aspire to a higher standard.

The original inhabitants are the ultimate conscience of this continent and the modern nation state has yet to look at those faces and come to terms with its past. Christopher Columbus not only launched European dominance in the Americas but also held values that today can be considered abhorrent — from the claiming of slaves and women’s bodies to the very idea that he could not recognize them as fellow human beings. While we can understand that these practices were common “in their time,” we can also recognize that they were, and certainly still are, wrong. How can a country heal and move past the injustices of history when a person with these values is honored in today’s society and the deleterious effects are still being felt? It is a willful abrogation of awareness and acknowledgement. The Elnu, Koasek and Nulhegan Bands of Abenaki people would like to formally state that these are not our values and we wish to encourage a more complete understanding. The proclamation of Vermont Gov. Phil Scott recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2017, reaffirming the previous year’s action by Gov. Peter Shumlin, is a strong affirmation of movement in a better direction.

During the centuries of colonization that followed Columbus’ arrival, indigenous people have experienced the scourges of virgin-soil epidemics, chattel slavery, missionization and cultural genocide, outright extermination, “righteous” warfare, reservations, the boarding schools, eugenics programs, termination policies, the imposition of blood quantum rules, and continuous attacks on sovereignty, religious freedom, and the pursuit of happiness. This onslaught continues. Environmental destruction that others have refused to accept continues to be imposed on their lands, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline, with other compromising energy infrastructure projects planned even here in the Northeast. The image of dogs attacking indigenous people at Standing Rock, juxtaposed with the use of dogs during the era of Columbus as described by Bartolome de Las Casas, begs the question: When does it end? Sacred places are still destroyed to turn a profit. When religion is not found in a book but in a place and those places are destroyed or sites are rendered inaccessible, is there religious freedom for all? Indigenous people continue to exist in their Eden, yet experience an ongoing onslaught from those thrown out of their own. The effects are long-lasting and continue to surface across indigenous country in the form of alcoholism, substance abuse, poverty, missing and murdered indigenous women, extremely high suicide rates, and a host of other issues. Racialized mascots continue to exist – stereotyped caricatures that are not reflective of real human beings – a projected idea of a people rather than who they are in actuality. Where can spirit exist in all of this? Is it possible to move forward from the degradation of the past into a place that restores and reinforces our spirits?

The “gift” of civilization, as posited by the European arrivals and forced upon indigenous people throughout the era of colonization, we would like to formally decline. Rather, we invite you this year and going forward to put on your Abenaki glasses and see the world from a different perspective. Removal of a day to honor Columbus is a major step toward recognizing indigenous humanity and the validity of our cultures. Perhaps if mainstream Americans can begin to see the beauty of original peoples, our cultures and our unique ways of looking at the world, we can we move into a place of healing and community building — together. The replacement of Columbus Day is not rewriting history – what has happened has happened – it is an acknowledgement of the cost this “progress” has had on the indigenous populations. This is a day to affirm indigenous peoples and a day to mourn those people, human and non-human, that suffered.

Therefore, the Nulhegan Band, Koasek Band and Elnu Band see Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a time to reflect upon what has been lost but also as a formal exclamation to the world that we are still here. We have value and resilience. Much can be learned from the more than 500 nations that continue to exist on this continent. One of Columbus’ first acts as he landed in someone else’s homeland was to lay claim through right of discovery and to rename as a form of ownership. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an acknowledgement that he failed. We still remember the names of these places and our relations and we have not forgotten our own name. For those outside of our memory, the mission remains to bring them home. This is still our homeland and the bones of our ancestors speak to us.

In conclusion, one of the legacies of Columbus is what NOT to do. When meeting new people, friendship is possible when you recognize their humanity; imagine a place where all can express their identity in a way that celebrates different ways of knowing! The governor’s proclamation for Indigenous Peoples’ Day has given us more of a voice and we as Abenakis invite people to seek out tribally sponsored events and have a conversation with us. This is a new world for everyone and moving forward let us all recognize that it can be created with understanding, cooperation, and reciprocity. There is a more beautiful world that is possible, let us shape it together.

*****

Nialach! May it be so.

Published at vtdigger.org here.

pdf here: abenaki tribal statement indigenous peoples day

Advertisements

Wabanaki Confederacy 2017 at Kejimkujik Mi’kmaki

hugh akagi paasamaquoddy wabananaki confederacy 2017

Hugh Akagi thought about the future of the Wabanaki Confederacy while the partial eclipse was happening Monday afternoon.

The chief of the Passamaquoddy people in Canada had travelled from his home in St. Andrews, N.B. to Kejimkujik National Park near Maitland Bridge, N.S., to take part in the Wabanaki Confederacy’s four-day annual summer gathering.

Akagi and 40 other Indigenous people gathered at the national park Monday afternoon to take part in a traditional ceremony to light the sacred fire to start the confederacy’s event. They all watched as several people spent nearly an hour trying to light the fire with a single flint during the partial eclipse.

“I’m thinking the fire needs to come to life, the confederacy needs to come back to life,” Akagi explained following the ceremony.

“The confederacy has gone through some pretty dark years, pretty rough times as every individual tribe, every Native person has,” he said.

“How do we rekindle that fire, how to bring it to life? How do we bring back the songs?” he asked.

Read the full story from kukukwes.com.

TF School Board Creates Task Force for Mascot Decision

gill-montague-school-committee-meeting

The decision on a new mascot for Turners Falls High School will be made with the help of a community task force created by the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee.

The School Committee discussed the mascot selection process for about an hour and a half during its Tuesday night meeting, where it landed on the creation of an advisory task force that would be a mix of students, high school staff and community members — without district administration or School Committee members.

The task force will include up to eight students, four staff members and six community members: three from Montague, two from Gill and one from Erving.

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

Festival Goers Celebrate Native American Culture

gavin alden pocumtuck homelands festival recorder

As 64-year-old Lenny Novak of Wakefield, N.H. tended his booth at the Pocumtuck Homelands Festival Saturday, he reconnected with old friends and shared stories with new acquaintances.

For Novak and his girlfriend Kelly Mowers, the festival is rather like an Old Home Day for Native Americans and for those who share an interest in their culture. “It’s like a family,” he said. “Everybody’s like-minded here. They appreciate the native ways.”

Novak, a member of the Abenaki tribe, and Mowers, of the Micmac tribe, were two of the vendors operating a booth along Unity Park’s waterfront Saturday, immersing passersby in Native American culture, art, music, food and history.

See the full article by Shelby Ashline in the Greenfield Recorder.

Photography by Matt Burkhartt (that’s my son Gavin with his buddy Alden!).

Passamaquoddy Tribe Named Project Developer of the Year

Maine North Woods Passamaquoddy

In exchange for maintaining a healthy forest, the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Maine is being rewarded by environmental polluters more than 3,000 miles away. Confused? Don’t be. The tribe earned national recognition and is developing new economic opportunities while preserving its environmental legacy by participating in an innovative carbon offset program in California.

On April 20, the Passamaquoddy Tribe received an award at the Navigating the American Carbon World Conference in San Francisco for registering the most offset credits with the Climate Action Reserve during 2016. The Project Developer of the Year award recognizes one of the largest tribally owned cap-and-trade projects in the United States. The tribe has registered the removal of 3.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through measured tree growth over a 98,000-acre project area on tribal land in Maine.

Read the full article at Indian Country Today.

Workshop on Maine and Native People: Understanding Our Relationship

Maine-Wabanaki REACH will present a free workshop on April 29 from 9:30-4 in Brewer. This workshop has been well received across the state, with over 600 Mainers participating.

Maine and Wabanaki people are at an historical juncture in their long relationship; this workshop is an opportunity for non-Native people to reflect on our history in relation to Native people and our opportunities for the future. It includes a very brief history of US government relationships with Native people; awareness of white privilege; and an exploration of the concept of decolonization.

Maine-Wabanaki REACH is a cross cultural collaborative organization offering programming in Wabanaki and Maine communities. This workshop is co-sponsored by the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine.

Link to listing at Bangor Daily News.

Amherst College Hosts a Healing Fire for Survivors of Sexual Violence

amherst college healing fire gedakina

The Healing Fire Initiative for Survivors of Sexual Violence, their friends, families and allies. Sponsored in part by Gedakina.org.

Opening Ceremony 1:00 pm on April 13th

Fire will burn until 1:00pm on April 14th

People who come to the healing fire are welcome to make offerings to the fire.  Wooden shims and sharpies will be provided and you are welcome to bring letters and pictures of your own.  Amherst College is honored to partner with Gedakina Inc. in an effort to provide a space for healing with our campus community.  In 2002 Gedakina cofounded the Healing Fire Initiative for Survivors of Sexual Violence. The purpose of the Healing Fire Initiative is to offer survivors of sexual violence a welcoming and comforting place to break the isolation they may feel, build community with other survivors, advocates, and supporters, and begin or continue their healing process. This program is now a regional initiative with organizations and colleges/universities across the United States adopting this award-winning program.  The Healing Fire will begin with an opening ceremony at 1:00 pm onThursday April 13th, on the Freshman Quad (directly across from the Frost Library entrance.  The fire will be burning until 1:00pm on April 14th and will staffed by faculty, staff and crisis support center staff throughout the 24 hour period.  Please feel free to stay for any amount of time that feels right for you.  In respect for attendees we ask that no photography or social media include faces of people unless you have explicit permission.

“When I sit in the light of the Healing Fire, there are no voices that tell me I am to blame, that I am the only one, or that I deserve to be assaulted.  When I sit in the light of the Healing Fire, I see the many kind faces before me.  I hear their stories and feel the warmth and wisdom that we share.  There is a power hear tonight,  As this fire symbolizes the strength of survivors, it also symbolizes our passion, our righteous anger, our commitment and hope for a future where our children will be free  of abuse and violence.” – A quote from a Survivor who attended a Healing Fire in Burlington, Vermont