Valley Post: Comments on Northern Hydro

From a contribution to a column by Eesha Williams (Editor) in the Valley Post, linked here.

Native Americans are trying to stop a plan to send hydro-power from Canada to Massachusetts. They have a web site at www.NorthEastMegaDamResistance.org.

Rich Holschuh lives in Brattleboro and, with seven other people, [serves on] …the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. That’s part of the state government. In an April 30 interview with the Valley Post, he said, “Indigenous people worldwide share the common experience of colonization. Colonization is the process of appropriating a place for one’s own use, exercising control by force for the benefit of the newcomer…. The original inhabitants of a place consider themselves to be a single entity: the people and the land are the same. It is a network of sustained, interdependent relationships overlapping with others in a balanced, self-supporting continuum. This balance is disrupted and harmed when those relationships are disregarded, by manipulation and appropriation for externalized profit. Colonization is not a historical event; it is an ongoing system, with lasting damage to the subjects while continuing to accrue benefit to the takers.”

Holschuh continued, “What is happening in the northeastern reaches of this continent, with massive hydroelectric development and export of energy to markets elsewhere, much of it in New England, derives from the same mindset that created the antecedent hydro facilities here on the Kwenitekw (Connecticut) river, and across the continent in the realization of so-called Manifest Destiny. The natural abundance of earth — the gift of Creation — has been coerced, privatized, commodified, extracted, and sold, without due regard for the lasting effects of that interruption of the sustaining cycles. The indigenous people of these places are implicated equally, left outside of consideration, with the network of relationships that constitutes their existence grievously harmed.”

Holschuh said, “The northern mega-dams may seem out-of-sight, and thus out-of-mind, not important or impactful to lives proceeding apace to the south in New England. Vermont, in its claims to cleaner, greener policy, derives a significant portion of its electrical energy demand from facilities such as those of Hydro-Quebec. This is projected to increase as the state adjusts its goals away from less-desirable sources through the Comprehensive Energy Plan. The issue has been raised with Lt. Governor Zuckerman’s Vermont 2050 Planning Group — it’s a very real exacerbation of an existing policy flaw. A reliance on imported energy, and its associated human and environmental costs, has been a contested issue in the past, and it should/will be again soon. This is not a problem in somebody else’s backyard. It is a problem of our own making and it is a repetition of what has and is happening right here in the homelands of the Abenaki and their kin. If we are being honest, this connection and the dynamics that effect it are easily recognized. What happens to one, happens to us all. And so, I recognize All My Relations and ask that together we seek balance and exercise compassion, seeing that there is a better way.”

Justin Smith Morrill and the Land Grant College Act

ustin Smith Morrill Mathew Brady

Justin Smith Morrill is often called the father of America’s land grant college and university system, which at first blush can seem a little odd. As a U.S. representative from Vermont, Morrill didn’t come up with the idea or actually write the Land Grant College Act. But like some of his congressional colleagues, Morrill got credit for the achievement. In fact, the act establishing the system was named the Morrill Act.

His bill called for the federal government to grant land to each of the states to establish public colleges that would teach courses in fields like agriculture and engineering as an alternative to the classical curriculum offered by the existing church-affiliated schools. The bill gave states the option of either building the school on the land or selling the land and using the proceeds to finance a new school elsewhere.

Read the full article by Mark Bushnell at VTDigger.org.

Brief commentary:

The Land Grant University system (with 76 institutions) was created by the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890,  and – somewhat ironically – expanded with 29 (now 32) tribal educational institutions in 1994. The University of Vermont (known as UVM, founded in 1791) became the state’s sole land grant school in 1865, when the university merged with Vermont Agricultural College (itself chartered in November 22, 1864, after the passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act), emerging as the University of Vermont and State Agricultural College.

Originally, “each eligible state received a total of 30,000 acres (120 km2) of federal land, either within or contiguous to its boundaries, for each member of congress the state had as of the census of 1860. This land, or the proceeds from its sale, was to be used toward establishing and funding the educational institutions described above.” As revised, “If the federal land within a state was insufficient to meet that state’s land grant, the state was issued “scrip” which authorized the state to select federal lands in other states to fund its institution. For example, New York carefully selected valuable timber land in Wisconsin to fund Cornell University.” (Wikipedia)

Vermont, having no qualifying Federal land within its own borders, and with five members in Congress at the time (2 senators and 3 representatives, one of whom was Morrill himself), was granted nearly 150,000 acres elsewhere in scrip, to use according to the purposes of the Morrill Act of 1862. This gets tricky when one stops to consider where this self-styled Federal Land was originating: it was mostly confiscated “Indian Land” – acquired through removal, war, subterfuge, intrusion, and broken treaties. In other words, another chapter in a long story of cultural genocide in the name of Manifest Destiny. Most remote land grants of this immediate period were located in Minnesota and Wisconsin, a result of, among others, the Dakota and Black Hawk Wars. President Abraham Lincoln, who signed the Morrill Act of 1862, served in the Black Hawk War and presided over the Dakota Wars. Vermont’s allotments were probably among these taken lands. Exactly where, and whose lands they rightfully were, is a matter for further research in the National Archives. The 149,920 acres were sold for $122,626 and the proceeds used to fund the newly combined “University of Vermont and the State Agricultural College.” It seems likely this was blood money.

More to come.

 

 

Where Are the Indigenous Voices in the Thanksgiving Story?

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe-1914

From The Point (11/22/2016) in the Bangor Daily News (link here), by Sarah Shear, first published in The Conversation. This is worth printing in its entirety…

Thanksgiving is an important time, when schools teach the story of who we are and where we come from as a nation. My own students have told me about the Thanksgiving story they learned in school, which focused solely on the survival of the Pilgrims and the friendly meal shared with “Indians.”

In my research and experience as a teacher educator, I have found social studies curricular materials — textbooks and state standards — routinely place indigenous peoples in a troubling narrative that promotes “ Manifest Destiny” — the belief that the creation of the United States and the dominance of white American culture were destined and that the costs to others, especially to indigenous peoples, were justified.

As we consider history and its place in our schools, it is important to ask: how do state-mandated history standards represent indigenous peoples in social studies education? And, in this season of “Thanksgiving,” should we revise our curriculum to be more accurate and culturally relevant?

Placing indigenous peoples in the shadows of the past

From late 2011 through early 2013, social studies scholars Ryan Knowles, Greg Soden, Antonio Castro and I conducted a thorough study of state-mandated K-12 history standards across all 50 states and Washington, D.C. We analyzed the standards in two ways: the percentage of standards that included content about indigenous peoples pre-1900 versus post-1900, and how the standards presented the story of indigenous peoples in U.S. history.

We found 87 percent of the standards placed indigenous peoples in a pre-1900 context. In other words, these standards confined indigenous peoples to a distant past. This pre-1900 timestamp is significant because the turn of the 20th century saw increased American military conquests of indigenous lands and peoples as the country expanded west toward the Pacific Ocean. But the standards rarely, if ever, present these events and the loss of life and land from the perspective of indigenous peoples.

Other scholars have written about similar findings in their research. For example, University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s Wayne Journell found that 10 states — California, Georgia, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — conclude their coverage of indigenous cultures and histories around the “removal policies” of the 1830s.

Removal policies, led in large part by President Andrew Jackson, forcibly moved indigenous peoples off their lands. These policies, legalized under the Indian Removal Act, opened territories to American settlers traveling west. Our research on curriculum standards also found that while most states included the Indian Removal Act, many excluded any consideration of the consequences to indigenous peoples related to their forced removal.

Prentice Chandler, who researches race and racism in social studies education at the University of Cincinnati, articulates the problem of placing indigenous peoples in the distant past, in the following way: “The treatment of American Indians in history texts pushes them to the fringes of the story: Native Americans are seen as having cordial relations with whites, being obstacles for Manifest Destiny, and eventually succumbing to white progress, never to be discussed again, as though they never existed.”

Perpetuation of stereotypes

Along with controlling when indigenous peoples are included, standards and textbooks also dictate how their experiences are told. Historians Clifford Trafzer and Michelle Lorimer found that California social studies textbooks failed to include critical content about the kidnapping, rape, enslavement and murder of indigenous peoples during the Gold Rush era of the mid- to late-1800s. The texts instead focused on the exciting lives of American pioneers who traveled West in search of wealth.

In yet another examination of textbooks published between 1991 and 2004, social studies scholar Tony Sanchez found that although the quantity of content related to indigenous peoples increased over time, the quality — in terms of how accurately cultures and histories are represented — is lacking. For example, Sanchez found most descriptions of indigenous people’s clothing were stereotypical. Instead of including a variety of examples of cultural dress, the texts used generalizations, such as showing indigenous peoples wearing feathers and breechcloth.

Boarding school experiences

There are many other such glaring omissions. My own research looked at how textbooks published between 2011 and 2013 wrote about the “ boarding school era” — the period after the Civil War and into the 1900s during which the federal government used legal means to remove indigenous children from their homes. Six of the eight textbooks I studied wrote that these education policies were peaceful reforms.

These texts presented, above all, the perspectives of white American reformers. These reformers believed boarding schools should be used to Christianize and educate indigenous children in the white American way of life. The perspectives of indigenous peoples affected by this education policy were largely ignored. The textbooks did not include the stories of indigenous parents’ efforts to fight the removal of their children. Very few of the texts featured testimonies from indigenous children themselves — either positive or negative. There was little discussion of the lasting effects of these policies today. Even when indigenous peoples were included in the textbooks, it was only as short, simplified sidebars or at the end of chapters.

Bringing this to Thanksgiving

Francis Rains, a scholar of Native American studies and history at Evergreen State College, and Karen Swisher, an education scholar and former president of Haskell Indian Nations University, have asked teachers to consider the following when teaching about indigenous peoples: “We believe that we should be asking what should be taught, when it should be taught, and how it should be taught. Perhaps most importantly, we should be asking, Why are we teaching about ‘Indians’ or ‘Native Americans’?”

My students, all education majors, regularly talk about how they learned Thanksgiving as children. We discuss how the story many of us grew up learning in school neglects the voices and experiences of the indigenous nations whose lands were invaded by Europeans, including the Pilgrims.

The late Michael Dorris, first chair of Native American Studies at Dartmouth, articulated the problem with Thanksgiving in this way: “If there was really a Plymouth Thanksgiving dinner, with Native Americans in attendance as either guests or hosts, then the event was rare indeed. Pilgrims generally considered Indians to be devils in disguise, and treated them as such.”

This Thanksgiving, let us hear and learn the story of indigenous peoples — their past, present and future — through their voices and not through the voice of Manifest Destiny.

“In social studies we have an opportunity to invite students to rethink things, to offer alternatives, even of past events, as a means of learning,” Rains reflected. “As citizens of a country that prides itself on justice and democracy, we have an opportunity to help students understand the consequences of when justice and/or democracy fails.”

Sarah Shear is an assistant professor of social studies education at Pennsylvania State University. This piece was originally published on TheConversation.com.

The Conversation