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.

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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.

 

 

Afternoon Encampment Teaches Pre-Colonial History

bryan blanchette northfield history day

Residents of Northfield and the surrounding area spent Sunday afternoon at the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center, learning more about pre-colonial and Native American traditions and customs from the Connecticut River Valley.

Those who attended the afternoon encampment listened to songs and stories while browsing crafts. It was an interactive event where Elnu Abenaki tribal leaders presented to the group, told stories, and answered questions about pre-colonial times in the Pioneer Valley. The event was hosted by the Northfield Historical Commission.

Elnu Abenaki Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan and Bryan Blanchette both presented during the event, which ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and about 50 [ed. note: closer to 100] people attended on Sunday.

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

roger longtoe sheehan elnu northfield history day

Gill Montague School Committee Faces Questions After Mascot Vote

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Members of the Gill-Montague School Committee faced more questions and complaints about the mascot vote from parents and students this week. The board had agreed to take a two meeting break from the issue after the committee voted to change the mascot from the Indians, but the public can bring any issue to the public comment portion of school board meetings.

So, several parents raised concerns about how the vote was taken, because the School Committee had voted to suspend its planned process to vote on the mascot issue. Marisa Dalmaso-Rode, a parent who is part of a group that operates a Facebook page about saving the mascot, said there are still a lot of unanswered questions from the School Committee surrounding the choice to not bring in a pro-Indian mascot Native American group to speak to students. She said the committee should release more information about the vote or the town will not be able to heal.

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

Gill Riverside Historic District Awaits State Decision

gill riverside historic district

After about two years of work by local residents and the Gill Historical Commission, the fate of a possible National Historic District in the Riverside area of town is in the hands of the state. The commission, with support from town government and area residents, recently submitted its nomination to the state Historical Commission. If the state panel approves, the nomination advances to the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., for final approval.

Town officials held a public hearing about a historic district in conjunction with the state Historical Society on Tuesday night at the Riverside Municipal Building.

The district encompass much of the Riverside neighborhood, with Riverview Drive, Oak Street, Walnut Street, Myrtle Street, Pine Street and Grove Street included within the boundaries as well as some properties on the other side of French King Highway.

See the full article by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

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This area at the southern edge of Sokwakik is highly significant for Native heritage and among other things is a subject of the ongoing Falls Fight Battlefield Study Grant. This incredibly productive fishing location drew indigenous people from many different communities for thousands of years. Here and nearby, they would harvest and process the anadromous fish that paused to surmount the falls of Peskeompskut, traded and celebrated, met and married, and shared the Kwanitekw’s gifts in peace. This place still has great power and strong spirit, despite the ravages of industrial exploitation and the ongoing genocidal mindset of settler colonialism. Any action to recognize and support this reality is a welcome beginning.

Gill-Montague Board Votes 6-3 to Remove Turners Falls Indian Mascot

jasmine-goodspeed-turners-falls-mascot-vote

The Gill-Montague Regional School Committee has voted to change the Turners Falls High School mascot from the “Indians” in a 6-3 vote on Tuesday night.

About 70 were in the crowd of the auditorium as the five-month debate came to an unanticipated close when the School Committee voted to change after an hour of discussion on the issue.

The School Committee was partially through a process to review the mascot that they discontinued last meeting. Those who advocated for the vote said it was because the process had become overwhelmingly divisive in the towns and schools.

Read the full report by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder!

Video coverage of the School Committee meeting from Montague Community Television:

More coverage (some duplicate wire services):

http://www.westernmassnews.com/story/34506389/turners-falls-vote-to-change-high-schools-indian-mascot

School committee voted to remove Turners Falls High School ‘Indians’ mascot

http://www.dailyprogress.com/massachusetts-school-board-dumps-native-american-mascot/article_675ca1ec-b904-5666-acf9-da02b690c20e.html

http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/02/turners_falls_high_school_to_s.html

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_coverage/2017/02/massachusetts_school_board_dumps_native_american_mascot

https://www.boston.com/news/local-news/2017/02/15/massachusetts-school-board-dumps-native-american-mascot

 

Mascot Pro-change Residents Hold Press Conference

change-group-press-conference-peskeomskut-park

Members of a group calling for a change in the Turners Falls High School mascot held a press conference on Monday afternoon announcing their opposition to the nonbinding referendum approved by the Montague Selectboard last week. About 15 people gathered to share the statement. Ferd Wulkan, Edite Cunha and Elyssa Serrilli read the statement.

“We call on the voters of Montague to join us in supporting the Gill-Montague Regional School Committee, as they have dedicated much time and energy in their thorough and thoughtful process on this issue,” the statement said. “This work has been done in a planned and announced process by a democratically elected body. We think that body should be allowed to complete its work and render a timely decision.”

Read the full story by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder

 

More on MA Senate Bill to Ban Native American Mascots

not-your-mascots-org-logo

Yesterday, Miranda Davis at the Greenfield Recorder picked up the story of Massachusetts bill SD.1119, An Act to Prohibit the Use of Native American Mascots by Public Schools in the Commonwealth. The introduction of this bill directly impacts the local debate in Turners Falls about the effects of continued use of the “Indians” mascot/logo.

Excerpt: The bill, introduced Thursday, was filed “by request” by Sen. Barbara L’Italian, a Democrat representing the 2nd Essex and Middlesex district. According to L’Italian’s spokeswoman Emma Friend, the bill was requested by a resident of Tewksbury, where the high school’s mascot is the Redmen. If passed, the bill would affect the ongoing debate in Montague over whether Turners Falls High School should keep its current mascot, the Indians.

Another story on the same topic was published by NECN, an NBC affiliate out of Boston, MA.

Excerpt:  The Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness said change is long overdue. “Mascots keep us trapped in a false narrative and don’t show context or how we have evolved over 500 years,” said Claudia Fox Tree. “The problem is that we aren’t able to share our own story in our own voices.”

CBS local affiliate WBZ Channel 4 in Boston also carried the announcement. From that report:

A Tewksbury resident wants state lawmakers to ban the use of Native American symbols and logos at public schools. After losing a battle to change Tewksbury High School’s mascot from the Redmen, Linda Thomas is now hoping legislators will vote to get rid of Native American logos at all public schools for good. Last year, the Tewksbury School Committee voted 4-1 to keep their mascot, which some say pays tribute to the town’s Native American heritage. “This is really not a town issue, this is a state issue,” Thomas said.