Abbie Isaacs of MyNBC5 – carried by WPTZ out of Plattsburgh, NY and Burlington, VT – ran a story last night on the reaction of some Vermonters to the news of President Donald Trump’s move to reactivate the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines. On Tuesday (1/24/17) he signed a presidential memorandum to move the projects ahead, against longstanding and – to this point – successful opposition. Native people have increasingly stood up as Protectors for the land and water, and have found allies in this increasingly contentious struggle against exploitation and disregard for basic rights. Variations on this theme are occurring everywhere, including here in N’dakinna.
At the regular meeting of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, held in Montpelier on January 11, 2017, the Commission adopted a Proclamation in support of the actions of the water protectors at and near the Standing Rock, North Dakota community, opposing disruption, destruction, and degradation of the the natural and sacred landscape. The proclamation was written by Commissioner Joelen Mulvaney and adopted by consensus of all in attendance. pdf here: vcnaa-standing-rock-proclamation. Full text below:
Proclamation of Support for Lakota, Dakota and Nakota at Standing Rock, North Dakota by the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs
Whereas the Commission is charged by law to recognize the historic and cultural contributions of Native Americans in Vermont, to protect and strengthen Native American heritage, and to address needs in state policy, programs, and actions.
Whereas the Commission develops policies and programs to benefit Vermont’s Native American Indian population.
Whereas the Commission is committed to protecting and preserving sacred, culturally sensitive and historical sites crucial to strengthening Native American heritage and promoting understanding of indigenous conservation efforts since time immemorial.
Whereas the natural environment, grandfather mountains and ridges, forests and wetlands, lakes, rivers and streams and birds, animals and fish are integral to Abenaki culture, history, tradition, heritage and spirituality.
Whereas indigenous people who have been protecting and preserving sacred and historical sites and natural resources around the world and in Vermont are under siege by the pressures of industrial energy production.
Whereas the Commission recognizes the collective struggle of indigenous people to bring recognition to their cultural contributions and heritage, including the natural environment on Turtle Island, from Ndakinna to Kanaka Oiwi; from the northeast woodlands of Vermont to the islands of Hawaii.
And whereas sites such as Rocky Ridge in Missisquoi (Swanton), the Kwanitekw (Connecticut River) watershed, the Green Mountain National Forest in Searsberg and Botambakw (Lake Champlain) are places where industrial energy development threatens the preservation of historic, sacred and culturally sensitive sites.
The Commission proclaims support for those protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota who are resisting destruction of sites sacred to Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people, disruption of traditional ways and potential environmental contamination from crude oil pipe line construction and use.
Recently, some 40 Vermonters and New Englanders, many affiliated with the local grassroots environmental advocacy organization 350 Vermont, traveled to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to join the ongoing protests there against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The Vermont contingent to Standing Rock arrived on November 20 and spent six days at Oceti Sakowin. Among these was musician and Burlington expat Avi Salloway. He’s a University of Vermont graduate and formerly one half of noted local folk duo Avi & Celia — later reimagined as the Boston rock band Hey Mama. More recently, Salloway has toured with Tuareg guitarist Bombino, and worked as an ambassador with Heartbeat, a nonprofit organization that works to bridge cultural divides in Israel and Palestine through music.
Seven Days recently spoke with Salloway by phone from his home in Cambridge, Mass. We asked him about his experience at Standing Rock, what life is like at the camp and how those who can’t travel there can get involved.
The Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi stands with Standing Rock. Their flag waved in North Dakota, representing their solidarity, as the parent advisory committee for Title VII Indian Education spent Wednesday afternoon packing boxes full of donated winter clothing, medical supplies and non-perishable foods to ship to protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline.
The $3.7 billion pipeline has drawn opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and environmental activists who say it could pollute water supplies and destroy sacred tribal burial sites. Protesters are demanding the U.S. government halt or reroute the Dakota Access pipeline while companies behind the project ask for permission from the courts to complete it.
Looking at the stacks and stacks of donations on the table, Brenda Gagne, the president of the parent advisory committee, was in tears over the level of support and response from the community as she and other committee members organized the goods into boxes.
Polimana Joshevama, 19, was one of about 75 people standing in the light rain on the Dartmouth Green, listening to songs and speeches about the ongoing battle between the Standing Rock Sioux and the company building the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. The event, as well as a smaller action taken outside Bank of America on Hanover’s Main Street earlier in the day, were part of a nationwide “show of solidarity” with Sioux protesters, and also provided an opportunity for left-leaning activists to talk about how Donald Trump’s presidency might affect their future political actions.
Hartford resident Donna Moody, a tribal elder in the Abenaki Nation and Director of the Winter Center for Indigenous Traditions, was one of a handful of speakers. “The very real risk of increased environmental degradation now exists when faced with a president elect and majority political party that deny the existence of global warming, that deny the existence of dangers of fracking, drilling and pipeline leaks,” she told the crowd. “That risk becomes more of a reality when those who make public policy support and invest in pursuing the mining, selling and transportation of fossil fuels.”
Read the full story in the Valley News. Photo by Valley News.
“The Indians mascot debases 500 Nations by treating us as all the same”
The Greenfield Recorder has just featured a column in their My Turn section, with Melody Walker Brook’s (Elnu Abenaki) perspective on the Turners Falls mascot/logo debate. A slightly different version of her thoughts appeared in the Montague Reporter recently and can be found in this post. I have reprinted the column in its entirety below; the Recorder’s original can be found here.
As I tried to formulate my response to a sports team that continues to hold on to a caricature of an indigenous person as their mascot, I stepped back in order to understand the whole picture.
I looked up statistics surrounding missing and murdered indigenous women.
I looked up suicide rates.
I looked up statistics of heart disease and diabetes.
I looked up incarceration rates.
My Facebook feed this morning was full of images of the Dakota Pipeline Water Protectors and protests in Mi’kmaq territory surrounding natural gas storage sites, both of which are absent on mainstream media sources.
There was even a photo of football players in their Redskins uniforms raising their fists in support of Black Lives Matter and wearing a jersey that proves how others, even other marginalized groups, see indigenous people.
What does this have to do with a mascot in Turners Falls?
These seemingly unrelated issues are connected to a theme of invisibility and a lack of empathy for indigenous people, one of the most marginalized populations on Turtle Island. The issues that plague Indian country are symptoms of a much broader problem that perpetuate them.
A mascot that debases more than 500 Nations into a single (and incorrect) stereotype represents more than 400 years of colonialism and is the symbol for a world that has never cared about their suffering.
The people advocating for the mascot do not see the faces of the indigenous children shipped to boarding schools.
They do not see the societies confined to reservations, outside of the public eye, struggling with substance abuse and health issues.
They do not see the constant attack to indigenous values or the bodies of all of those killed creating a country that people are proud to call home.
They see a caricature of an Indian with a headdress, the stereotypical Plains warrior of legend, doomed to fall. The warriors of the past long gone.
They may even think it is honoring them, but, to at least some indigenous people, this is a further affront to countless individuals and groups, shredding every last ounce of their souls to reclaim their past and secure a better future, one filled with pride and the possibility that every other American thinks they have — the pursuit of happiness. Most importantly, people are struggling just to be seen as human beings.
The Turners Falls mascot is a generic “Indian” with the Plains style headdress — in the Northeast. What does that message convey? It has nothing to do with the history of the area.
As a citizen of a local tribe, this mascot does not represent me. It certainly does not honor me. I am hard-pressed to come up with an example in the Northeast of a headdress style similar to the Plains region. It does not fit.
The generic “Indian” mascot, in essence, wipes out the identity of more than 500 Nations, because placing that image in a locale that has nothing to do with the Plains smacks of the message that it does not matter whether they depict local groups or Plains groups: They are all the same.
The regional piece is lost, and all Indians once again are painted in the typical vein of ambiguity and the fake image of the noble savage or the mystical warrior.
When we as a society marginalize and shape human beings into caricatures, we are complicit in the violence against them, metaphorically and literally.
What happens when people are reduced from personhood, and they are no longer seen as human beings? What happens when real human beings are left out of the media or ignored by most people in dominant society? Society can continue to treat them as they always have, while symptoms of what was broken remain in their communities.
Mascots could be a visible reminder of people often forgotten, and yet you do not see their real faces. The mask of what you want Indians to be shields you from the realities of indigenous life.
Misrepresentation is a dishonor. It is more than that. It is a travesty and it is no wonder that in this world, indigenous women are stolen and attacked at higher rates than other populations.
It is no wonder that indigenous people have little to no media coverage of efforts just to be able to have clean drinking water or to safeguard their sacred sites from those looking to turn a profit. Apathy begins when people are young and is perpetuated by those who do not place value on all walks of life.
All “Indians” are just generic warriors or a dying race of people without identity. To mainstream society, they are not people.
We can do better. Change the mascot and teach students how to be responsible citizens in a world desperately in need of them.
Melody Walker Brook is a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe and is an educator, activist and artisan. She has served on several state level committees, including two terms as the vice chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs and as a member of the Waolwozi N.H. Minority Board of Health Steering Committee. She earned a master’s degree from the University of Vermont in history and currently teaches and works at Champlain College.
In the Rewrite, Lawrence O’Donnell explains why a protest by Native Americans in North Dakota reminds us of the history American always tries to forget. One of the most candid and powerful statements made in a long, long time.