Abenaki Storytellers at Brattleboro’s Retreat Farm

retreat-farm-open-barn-photo

As part of  this year’s Brattleboro Winter Carnival celebration, the newly-minted non-profit Retreat Farm‘s Open Barn schedule includes two sessions with Abenaki storytellers. Stop in to join Willow Greene on Friday and Roger Longtoe Sheehan on Saturday for the winter tradition of storytelling, along with other opportunities hosted by the Farm.

Friday, February 24
Noon – 4:00
Open Barn Preview
Bonfire (with food!*)
Children’s activities & animals
2:00 Abenaki storyteller Willow Greene

Saturday, February 25
Noon – 4:00
Open Barn Preview
Bonfire (with food!*)
Children’s activities & familiar animals
2:00 Abenaki storyteller Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief of the ELNU Abenaki tribe

VCNAA Support for Standing Rock Brings It Home

standing-rock-elnu-roger-rich

The Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs approved a proclamation in support of North Dakota tribes, 14 days before the new president announced he would resume two controversial pipeline projects.

“We approve everything unanimously because that’s the native way,” said Rich Holschuh, a Brattleboro resident on the commission. “As a commission, we work with the native people within what is now the state of Vermont. We also recognize that borders are political constructs, so we try to support similar people with similar interests and this is one way we can do that.”

The commission “proclaims support for those protectors at Standing Rock, N.D., who are resisting destruction of sites sacred to Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people, disruption of traditional ways and potential environmental contamination from crude oil pipeline construction and use.” The entire document can be found here.

Commissioner Joelen Mulvaney drafted the document, which was discussed and approved during the commission’s Jan. 11 meeting.

Read the full article by Chris Mays in the Brattleboro Reformer. Photo by Kristopher Radder of the Brattleboro Reformer.

west-river-roger-rich-vcnaa-proclamation

Abenaki Citizen Visits Heartworks Preschool

melody-brook-heartworks-school-stowe

Melody Walker Brook, a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, visited the children in the four- and five-year old classrooms at the Heartworks Preschool in Stowe on Oct. 28. She shared stories, music and traditional items like clothing, games, baskets, beads, and musical instruments. Brook’s presentation was part of the school-wide theme of Native Americans that students in Heartworks will explore during November. Brook, an activist and artist, is an adjunct professor at Champlain College (story correction) where she teaches Native American Worldview and Spirituality, Native American History and Culture, and Abenakis and Their Neighbors. She is a member of the Vermont Abenaki Artist Association, which works to promote Vermont’s indigenous arts and artists.

See the original story in the Stowe Reporter at StoweToday.com.

Recorder Op-Ed: Melody Walker Brook

melody-walker-brook

“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.

Quote:

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?

Everything.

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.

The Status Of The Abenaki In Vermont Today

vermont-abenaki-brave-little-state-vpr-evancie

Vermont Public Radio‘s new listener-sourced investigative journalism show “Brave Little State” released its latest episode, in response to the question:

What Is The Status Of The Abenaki Native Americans In Vermont Today?

Produced by VPR staffer Angela Evancie, the story examines the resurgence of today’s Abenaki, Vermont’s indigenous people, from a long, dark, and often-hidden past. The truth is being retold and affirmed, and today’s descendants want to share the fact that they are still here, after thousands of years, and they have a story to share. I was able to play a part in this episode and it makes my heart sing to know that our Native community is well on its way to a restoration of acknowledgement and respect.

Read and hear the full story on Brave Little State here!

Alton Gas: Elnu Abenaki Support for Sipekne’katik, Mi’kmaki

elnu-letter-sipeknekatik-mikmaki

Elnu Tribe of Abenaki has confirmed its support for the Mi’maki community at Sipekne’katik on the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia, as they stand in solidarity against the Alton Gas salt cavern storage project. A letter has been sent to the Grandmothers expressing unity and understanding, and upholding the shared responsibilities of the Wabanakiak in their homelands, N’dakinna.

See this post for more background.

Elnu Abenaki Member Position Statement on Native Mascots

Following is the full text of a guest editorial that appeared in the Sept. 29, 2016 issue of the Montague Reporter. Melody Brook, the author, is an educator at Champlain College in Burlington, VT and a member of the Elnu Abenaki.

*****
As a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, I was asked my opinion about an issue within our traditional territory. This morning, 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. They don’t.
What does this have to do with a mascot in Turners Falls?
Everything.
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. I have seen my friends on Facebook argue about Halloween costumes, and the right of the Redskins to maintain their traditions. 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.
They do not see the faces of the indigenous children shipped to boarding schools. They do not see the smallpox scars. 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. To them, it may be beautiful or 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, secure a better future, and 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.
Change takes place every time someone makes a conscious choice to be better. 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 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 they do not see their real faces. The mask of what they want Indians to be shields them from the realities of indigenous life.
Misrepresentation is a dishonor, but it is also 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 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. They are not people to mainstream society.
With so many real issues that need to be addressed in indigenous society, we can do better. Change the mascot and teach students how to be responsible citizens in a world desperately in need of them.
In conclusion, as a person with a vested interest in this mascot debate, this mascot does not represent me. It does not honor me. It is an affront to our people.
This is not just a mascot. It is about what the mascot represents. I read an article in Indian Country Today last year chronicling the experience of indigenous students attending high schools with an Indian mascot. They become targets, and it also becomes their role to have to explain what indigenous people really stand for, and what they actually look like. With every new jersey, you send a message to them that their existence is a stereotype and in some cases students have received negative attention.
For a community already struggling with many issues – including, as I can attest personally, self-identity – any school with such a mascot will potentially harm not only the student, but our community as a whole.
It is a school’s job to prepare students for the world, and by doing so, create citizens that will make it a better place. If a mascot can potentially harm any student’s self-identity, why would you continue to keep it? If even one student is sent back with a broken spirit, the community at large failed, because we can all seek to change injustice.
We need role models in our societies, and we need students that feel empowered to take on a world that often does not support them. Turners Falls, I challenge you to do better. Redskins, I challenge you to do better.
Everyone that promotes and that actively perpetuates a broken system, I challenge you to do better.

Melody Walker Brook, a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, is an educator, activist, and artisan. Melody has served on several state-level committees, including a term as the vice chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs as well as a member of the Waolwozi NH Minority Board of Health Steering Committee. She holds a master’s degree in history from the University of Vermont, and currently teaches and works at Champlain College.

 

*****

Thank you Melody!