William Brotherton, Indian Mascots, and a Backstory

Members of the Turners Falls High School community were able to hear from William Brotherton, a lawyer and Native American who advocates for schools to keep Indian mascots. Brotherton, who is from Texas but is a member of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in Vermont, was in the area and stopped in Montague Wednesday night to answer questions and discuss the Turners Falls High School situation at Hubie’s Tavern.

The Gill-Montague Regional School Committee voted in February to discontinue use of the Indian as a nickname and logo for the high school sports teams. The vote came to the disappointment of some members of the community who said they felt unheard in the decision-making process. Brotherton said there is a larger, cultural issue of political correctness in America, where people no longer feel comfortable discussing difficult issues.

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

*****

Another side of the story:

Yesterday I met William Brotherton in person for the first time. He’s a friendly, self-assured guy, and has been pro-active with me in opening up personal and intra-tribal communications. We had spoken on the phone and emailed a couple times; that afternoon, we both joined a tour of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (VY) in Vernon, Vermont and were able to get to know each other a little. The tour was offered to participants in VT Public Service Board (PSB, now known as the Vermont  Public Utility Commission, PUC) Docket #8880. This is the State review process for the proposed sale of VY by owner Entergy Corp. to NorthStar Group Services, for purposes of decommissioning and site restoration. I had filed in May for intervenor status on behalf of Elnu Abenaki, with the backing of the Nulhegan and Koasek bands. Brotherton, who serves on the Tribal Council  for the St. Francis Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, followed suit for their group shortly thereafter. The PUC process is now getting well underway with dozens of discovery and response documents going back and forth. By way of helping to inform the parties involved, the petitioners (Entergy and NorthStar) coordinated this tour within the plant’s security zone for an inside look at the scope of the project.

While on the tour of  the strongly-secured and highly industrialized site (we’re talking guards with machine guns), I asked many questions of our hosts regarding ground disturbance and oversight protocol. While I didn’t get many direct answers, Scott State (CEO of NorthStar) assured me that he understood and respected tribal concerns about cultural heritage and and wanted to be sensitive to them.  I believe he has become much more aware of these aspects than was the case previously, and while we must take any such proclamation with a grain of salt, I am guardedly optimistic that there may be some constructive dialogue going forward.

I noted that William Brotherton did not ask any questions about cultural resources. At one point, I gestured across the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River), to the eastern bank in New Hampshire, and mentioned to him about a fortified Sokoki village site there. It had been attacked in December 1663 by a  large force of Mohawk, Oneida, and Seneca warriors and successfully defended, although with a great loss of life; the land here holds many spirits, many at rest but others disquiet, whether from war or forced displacement or simply blatant disregard by modern development. William expressed surprise at what I had said. I began to understand the degree to which he was unfamiliar, indeed almost completely separated, from nearly all cultural understanding of Sokwakik. I am not sure that he knows what “Sokoki” signifies, much less represents  – if I am wrong, I welcome the conversation.

Afterward, we went down the river a half-mile and sat on a cottonwood log below the Vernon Dam, built in 1909 atop an ancient fishing site there at Great Bend. We spoke together for over an hour. I wanted to use the opportunity to talk with him about the significance of the landscape here to its people, past and present, and why we had filed as intervenors in PUC Docket #8880. I wanted to understand what he, on behalf of Missisquoi, had in mind as well. He didn’t really have an answer. I also wanted to talk to him about his endorsement, as a Tribal Council member, of the Indians team mascot/logo in Turners Falls, where he was going immediately afterward to speak to a group of supporters. I knew where he was coming from, ideologically, since I have read his articles and perused his CV.

I started by saying that I (and others) fully endorse the incorporation of a regular curriculum segment devoted to indigenous culture and the effects of colonization, not only in Turners Falls High School but all educational forums. This would probably be the best thing coming out of the entire mascot controversy, because it will help to displace the ignorance – the “not-knowing” – that brought us to this juncture and the benightedness – the “not-caring” – which follows. I pointed out to him that the contemporary indigenous people in the immediate area, Nipmuk and Abenaki, had clearly expressed their opposition to the continued use of the Indians mascot, and why this was the case. I don’t think he heard, or grasped the significance, what I was saying.

To borrow his own words, from Miranda Davis’s Recorder article: “Brotherton said there is a larger, cultural issue of political correctness in America, where people no longer feel comfortable discussing difficult issues,” this is exactly the case here. This initiative is not an erasure of history or a sanitizing campaign. Yes, this is very uncomfortable situation. It is hard to take a clear look at what has brought us all to this challenging place, recognizing that we can do much better and that everyone in the community will benefit. To NOT do so is continuing the illusion of propriety and the normalizing of disenfranchisement. This IS that difficult discussion which we are having, and to which Brotherton alludes. But first of all we need to know what we are talking about. I hope I can continue this exploration with William – I told him that as we parted on Wednesday afternoon. And I hope we can share this story with many others, in hopes for a healthier, more inclusive life for all in this beautiful place.

 

 

Advertisements

Vermont PSB Grants Abenaki Tribes Role in Vermont Yankee Sale Review

VERMONT YANKEE VPR

Howard Weiss-Tismann on VPR filed this story (excerpt below):

The Public Service Board says the Missisquoi Abenaki Tribe can take part in the regulatory hearings for the proposed sale of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

There are four state-recognized Abenaki tribes in Vermont, and the Public Service Board on Friday said the Missisquoi Tribe can take part in the hearings for the proposed sale to the industrial demolition company NorthStar Holdings. The board has already agreed to allow the Elnu Tribe, from southern Vermont, to intervene in the state hearings.

William Brotherton is a member of the Missisquoi Abenaki Tribal Council, and he says the northern tribe has a stake in the restoration of the Vernon site. “We have been diligent in making sure that our sites up north are protected and preserved, and so we wanted to be part of this process,” Brotherton said.

Mike Faher of VTDigger filed this story (excerpt below):

Two Native American tribes have won the right to be involved in the state’s review of the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee. The Vermont Public Service Board has ruled that both the Elnu Abenaki and Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi can act as “intervenors” in the state’s consideration of the plant’s purchase by NorthStar Group Services, a New York decommissioning company.

Both NorthStar and current owner Entergy had objected to the Missisquoi Abenaki’s intervention. But the Public Service Board sided with the tribe, saying its concerns about future use of the power plant site are relevant to the matter at hand.

In its request for intervenor status, the Swanton-based Missisquoi nation had summed up its concerns this way: “Our tribe wishes to participate in the process that will determine how the former nuclear power plant site is utilized in the future in order that we safeguard the heritage of our past.”

Mike’s story has also been picked up by the Brattleboro Reformer.

*****

Note: Elnu Abenaki, in keeping with its prior intra-Tribal agreements, will be standing in all of these proceedings as proxy for Nulhegan and Koasek Abenaki Tribes as well. We have agreed to keep tribal leadership in open communication and conference as we address mutual concerns.

Sokoki Sojourn and the Turners Falls Indians Debate

connecticut-river-sokwakik-map-brooks

The mid-Connecticut River valley, showing the traditional homelands of the Sokwakiak Abenaki (the Sokoki), known as Sokwakik (labelled in the center), south below Koasek to Peskeompskut (today’s Turners Falls). Map from Lisa Brooks’ The Common Pot: the Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast (2008).

Why would Sokoki Sojourn concern itself with the current discussion around the implications of maintaining or changing the Turners Falls Indians athletic mascot? As the social, cultural, ethical, and historical implications will be examined thoroughly in the ongoing media coverage (archived here), I would simply like to make the connection, geographically and personally, with several simple observations.

To the immediate north of what is now called Turners Falls, named after British colonial Captain William Turner, but known beforehand as Peskeompskut, lies the homeland of the Western Abenaki. Gill, Northfield, Bernardston, Vernon, Hinsdale, Brattleboro, and many other nearby towns, heading northward, lie upon this ancestral landscape and, due to their continuing presence, within the selfhood of the indigenous people.  The people of this land were and are called the Sokwakiak (today’s Sokoki), meaning “the people who were set apart or who separated.” The linguistic and historical connection  can be seen and heard clearly in the early European settler’s name for Northfield: Squakheag. This is an Anglicized derivation from the Abenaki name for the region, Sokwakik.

The people of this land were most certainly present at Capt. Turner’s dawn raid upon the sleeping fishing village on May 19, 1676. They were the de facto hosts at this peacefully neutral encampment, receiving their Algonquian cousins and political allies in Metacom’s Uprising (King Philip’s War): the Wampanoag, the Narragansett, the Nipmuck, the Pocumtuck, and no doubt members of other similarly disenfranchised Tribes. Hundreds died that day – primarily children, women, and elders – and the lives of the communities were never the same again. Which, really, brings us up to today: this is why Sokoki Sojourn has taken up the mantle. The story continues and there can be no peace without justice, no honor without truth.

Confluence

The February sun sets over the low terrace where Fort Hinsdale once stood, on the north point above the meeting of the Connecticut and Ash Swamp Brook.

Confluence means ‘a flowing together.’ In a literal sense, it is about rivers. But it’s often used to talk about the coming together of ideas or cultures as well. Swirls, eddies, currents, cycles, transitions… Nothing changes, yet everything changes. It is said one can never step in the same river twice. Perhaps the message is not that all things are changing so that we cannot encounter them twice, but something much more subtle and profound: it is that some things stay the same only by changing. A river is a river because it is moving and shifting. Here constancy and change are not opposed but inextricably connected.

On seeing: The boundaries and labels we encounter on our modern-day maps are relatively recent political and historical constructs springing from a Western worldview. It can be difficult to view the land clearly with this tangled overlay of demarcations, polities, and hierarchies. If one can see beyond the arbitrary notions that this is Vermont, and that is New Hampshire, for example, and begin to think in terms of watersheds, and in terms of hundreds, if not thousands of years, then the true face of the country begins to appear. This is the Dawnland: N’dakinna. A land from before time, a land that begins anew each day. The same water that flows here  now has coursed down the valley of the Kwanitekw for thousands of years, to the ocean and back, in towering clouds with crashing thunder and twisting, silvery rivulets wending down the mountainsides to return to the gathering valley below.