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.
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.
Members of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association serve as faculty for this one-day professional development seminar at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM), designed to provide teachers and homeschool educators with new resources and techniques to help elementary students learn about the Abenaki tribe. This program is supported by a grant from the Vermont Humanities Council.
Abenaki culture and history that spans 11,000 years in the Champlain Valley will be introduced by culture bearers with a deep understanding of how this vibrant regional culture continues into the 21st century. Some of the topics include: history and stereotypes; new resources being developed for use in classrooms; age-appropriate activities; and learning how you can better support Abenaki and other Native students while presenting American history. The program includes a gallery talk and tour of the traveling exhibition Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage that explores Abenaki identity and continuity through the lens of the clothing we make and wear to express our identity.
When: Wednesday, August 2, 2017 from 9:30 am – 4 pm
Where: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 4472 Basin Harbor Rd., Vergennes, VT
Cost: $15 registration fee includes lunch and program materials.
Melody Walker Brook is an Adjunct Professor at Champlain College and has taught The Abenakis and Their Neighbors and Abenaki Spirituality at Johnson State College. She serves on the Vermont Commission of Native American Affairs and is a traditional beadworker and finger weaver.
Liz Charlebois, Abenaki culture bearer, is a powwow dancer, traditional bead worker, ash basket maker, and bitten birch bark artist. She cultivates a traditional garden and has organized a seed bank of heirloom seeds grown by the Indigenous people of the Northeast. Liz has served on the New Hampshire Commission of Native American Affairs and as Education Specialist at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner, NH.
Lina Longtoe is certified Project WILD instructor for the Growing Up WILD, Aquatic WILD and Project WILD K – 12 programs, which are sponsored by the EPA, US Fish and Wildlife, and the National Wildlife Federation. Her area of study is environmental science with a concentration in sustainability. She is Tribal Documentarian for the Elnu Abenaki Tribe and maintains a YouTube channel to help preserve Abenaki culture.
Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, has a background in Museum Studies and Native American Studies. She has been designing and implementing educational programs with museums, schools and historic sites for over twenty-five years. Her art is focused on traditional clothing and twined woven plant fiber bags.
For more information, please contact:
Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucy Cannon-Neel travels all over the Green Mountain State to teach Abenaki history and culture to elementary school students. But on Wednesday, she found herself co-leading an Abenaki drumming workshop to a much older audience at Champlain College.
The workshop was the last in a series of events organized by Melody Brook, operations manager of residential life and adjunct professor with the Division of Education and Human Studies at Champlain College, to commemorate Native and Indigenous Heritage Month. Cannon-Neel, a registered nurse, is the chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. Brook is the commission’s vice-chair.
Read the full story at Seven Days.