The Light Behind Our Eyes: Abenaki Perspectives on Personhood

light behind our eyes melody walker brook abenaki personhood poster

Melody Walker Brook is an educator, activist and artist, currently an adjunct professor at Champlain College. She was previously an adjunct professor at Johnson State College where she taught “Native American Worldview and Spirituality”; “Native American History and Culture”; and “Abenakis and Their Neighbors”.  She gives lectures on a variety of topics, including Abenaki history, women’s issues, and Abenaki political history. She has done ground breaking research on Abenaki Spirituality and is heavily involved in the Abenaki cultural revitalization movement.  She works with museums, lectures in both the K-12 and collegiate level classroom on topics relating to the Eastern Woodlands and indigenous history.

Come early to get one more chance to win one of the beautiful raffle items donated by the wonderful Pocumtuck Homelands Festival vendors last August. Doors open at 12:30 p.m.

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Jean O’Brien on “Firsting and Lasting” at CT Historical Society Nov. 15

Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England

An evening with author and professor of history, Jean M. O’Brien, Ph.D.
Wednesday, November 15 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm

Connecticut Historical Society, Hartford, CT

Please join us and the members of the Mohegan Tribe for a special presentation by Professor Jean M. O’Brien (University of Minnesota). Dr. O’Brien will present on her  book, Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England (University of Minnesota Press, 2010).  Drawing on more than six hundred local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, Dr. O’Brien explores how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness. Firsting and Lasting argues that local histories became a primary means by which European Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples.

This event is free, but please RSVP to let us know you will attend at (860) 236-5621 x238 or rsvp@chs.org.

Jean M. O’Brien (White Earth Ojibwe) is professor of history at the University of Minnesota, where she is also affiliated with American Indian studies and American studies. She is the author of Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650–1790.

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

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s Executive Proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2017

State of Vermont

Executive Department

A Proclamation

WHEREAS, Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native Nations to the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas; and

WHEREAS, a growing number of cities and towns in the United States have recognized the second Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”, re-imagining Columbus Day as an opportunity to celebrate indigenous heritage and resiliency; and

WHEREAS, Vermont recognizes the historic, cultural, and contemporary significance of Indigenous Peoples of the lands that also became known as the Americas; and

WHEREAS, Vermont recognizes it was founded and built upon lands first inhabited by Indigenous Peoples of this region – the Abenaki, their ancestors and allies – and acknowledges and honors these members of the community.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Philip B. Scott, Governor, do hereby proclaim October 9, 2017 as INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ DAY in Vermont. Given under my hand and the Great Seal of the State of Vermont on this 23rd day of August, A.D. 2017.

Philip B. Scott, Governor

Brittney L. Wilson, Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs

Officially posted (at last!) here.

VT Scott Indigenous Peoples Day.

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.

Reformer: Schools to Observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Chris Mays’ story in the Brattleboro Reformer (09/20/2017) on the recent affirmation by the Brattleboro Town School Board. Link here.

Following the town’s lead, Brattleboro public elementary schools will now be recognizing the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day.

Brattleboro Town School Board Chairwoman Jill Stahl Tyler said the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union Board meets on Wednesday. The change, if approved there, could come to several school districts including Dummerston, Guilford, Putney and Vernon.

“It will be an interesting discussion of the supervisory union,” said Stahl Tyler. She was speaking at the Sept. 20 meeting where a resolution had been approved by the Brattleboro Town School Board. The document states:

Whereas, at the Town of Brattleboro 2017 annual Representative Town Meeting, the Town unanimously approved a petitioned article to advise the Select Board to proclaim the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day and the Town of Brattleboro Select Board has heeded said advice by adopting a resolution to that effect on April 18, 2017, and

Whereas the Brattleboro Town School Board likewise desires to recognize the Indigenous People of Wantastegok in Sokwakik — the immediate area now known as Brattleboro, Vermont — dwelling here prior to and during the colonization begun by Christopher Columbus in the Western Hemisphere; and

Whereas, there is ample local evidence, including petroglyphs at the West River, demonstrating this area has been inhabited for millennia, long before Europeans began to settle along the Connecticut River and its tributaries, notably at Fort Dummer in Brattleboro in 1724; and

Whereas, the Town of Brattleboro recognizes that this area comprises in part the homelands of Indigenous Peoples including the Abenaki, their allies, and ancestors; and whereas Indigenous Peoples’ Day will provide an opportunity for our community to recognize and celebrate the Indigenous Peoples of our region, in concert with similar celebrations elsewhere; and

Whereas, the Brattleboro Town School Board encourages our public schools, associated educational institutions, businesses, and other institutions to recognize and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and now, therefore, the Brattleboro Town School Board hereby resolves and proclaims that the second Monday in October of each year shall be Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the public elementary schools of Brattleboro.