Bringing Together Two Sides of Vermont

don stevens drum flynn center vaaa

A preview of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, performing traditional and contemporary Abenaki music, storytelling, and drumming in FlynnSpace on November 14 at 7:30 pm. By KieraHufford, contributor to @flynncenter Tumblr.

The Abenaki people, like many Native Americans, have been living in America since before European settlers arrived. However, the tribes only received state recognition five years ago, in 2012. The Flynn welcomes the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA), giving them a space to share parts of their culture with the public—a performance that would have felt entirely different had it taken place in 2010.

When Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki spoke with Vermont Public Radio (VPR) back in 2016, he talked about the importance of state recognition. “Before we had state recognition, whenever we made something—a pipe, a wampum bracelet, whatever—and we sold it, we had to say that we were of ‘Abenaki descent.’ We couldn’t say that we were Abenaki from such-and-such a tribe. That’s a federal law. You could get hit with a $250,000 fine per item.”

It made it difficult for Abenaki people to share their heritage. They couldn’t label their creations as being made by members of the Abenaki tribes, even though that’s who they are. And even now, they have to carry a native card proving that they’re members of the tribes; however, who they are, their culture, and where they come from is in their blood. It’s their identity, and a card shouldn’t be needed to prove that.

One of the biggest problems, according to the Abenaki, is that the Vermont Agency of Education doesn’t have a mandated curriculum surround the Abenaki people and their culture, so many students go through school and never really learn about their history or existence. The Abenaki are hoping to change that in the coming years.

“If we were going to sum up the state of where things are with the Abenaki right now, I would say change,” Eugene Rich, co-chair of the Missisquoi Abenaki Tribal Council, told VPR. “I think we’re trying to change our public persona.”

According to their website, the VAAA “embodies the history, culture, and art of the Abenaki people. While most of our artists and performers preserve and pass on the traditional art of our ancestors, others create contemporary artistic expressions that are informed by tradition.” Their mission is to promote Vermont’s Indigenous arts/artists while providing a place to share ideas and develop professionally as entrepreneurs.

The VAAA wants the Vermont public to be able to find and engage artists like Chief Don Stevens, of the Nulhegan band of the Coosuk Abenaki; Nulhegan Abenaki Drum, who combine traditional Northeastern music with the sound of the big powwow drumming; and Bryan Blanchette, who began singing at powwows 20 years ago and is currently writing/performing new Abenaki language songs, who will be performing at the Flynn.

The Abenaki have a place of belonging in Vermont, a place that should be recognized and unquestioned by the state’s residents. Not every Native American appears the same, but that doesn’t mean they have to prove their culture. The best way to combat this thinking is by learning, by understanding the Abenaki culture and how it, too, has adapted as the years have gone by.

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VT Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel: VT NDCAP Mtg 10/26/17

Brattleboro Community TV (BCTV) has again archived the proceedings at the monthly Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (VT NDCAP) meeting held at Brattleboro Area Middle School (BAMS) on Oct. 26, 2017. At previous meetings, primary focus has been on the Docket #8880 Petitioners – Entergy and Northstar – along with state regulators; on this evening, several of the Intervenors had been asked to briefly present their interests to the Panel and public, and to answer questions if needed. The author, representing Elnu Abenaki with Nulhegan and Koasek, adds his remarks at 1:33:08, with other comments and questions 1:54:25 through 2:05:05.

Vermont Yankee Buyer Assures Tribe It Will Hire Cultural Adviser

Rich Holschuh VY Sale Mike Faher

If NorthStar Group Services gets a chance to decommission Vermont Yankee, the company will have a hired cultural expert watching over its work.

In a nod to Native American concerns about the Vernon site’s historical importance, NorthStar CEO Scott State is committing to enlisting a consultant on matters such as archaeology, anthropology and history.

The costs of that expert, State pledged, “will not impact the Nuclear Decommissioning Trust or the Site Restoration Trust, and instead will be borne solely by NorthStar.”

Rich Holschuh, a Native American activist representing the Elnu Abenaki tribe in Vermont Yankee proceedings, applauded NorthStar’s commitment but expects to stay closely involved in decommissioning issues. “I see this as the first conversation in an ongoing dialogue,” Holschuh said.

Read the full story by Mike Faher in vtdigger.org here.

The same Mike Faher story in the Brattleboro Reformer here.

And a version in The Commons here.

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

To Keep Native Medicinal Knowledge Alive, Leaders Organize Plant Walks

tom-beck-vpr-masterson-20170813

A positive piece on VPR yesterday, talking and walking with Tom Beck of Nulhegan Abenaki, getting to know #allourrelations. Audio from the podcast is included.

“To prevent their collective cultural knowledge about medicinal plants from disappearing, some Vermont tribal nations are sharing their expertise with those outside the native communities.

On a recent sunny morning, a small group of 10 or so people gathered in the parking lot at the entrance to Vermont state land for a educational plant walk through the forest.

Before making it out of the parking lot, Tom Beck, one of the instructors, pointed out the first medicinal plant to the group. “Right here, this is a piece of sweet grass, it’s actually pretty long, and it’s quite nice,” says Beck. He’s a spiritual leader of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, a state-recognized tribe in Vermont.

Beck has picked up a wide blade of green grass about two feet long, and he’s holding it delicately between his weathered fingers.  “When you take this and you braid it together, it’s your mind, your body and your spirit working together,” says Beck. “It’s a self-diagnostic tool.”

Beck says the sweet grass braids are burned in a ceremony, and how evenly the three strands burn is an indicator of how your mind, body and spirit are working together. It can be a reminder to attend to that balance. “If it burns straight across, you know your mind, your body and your spirit is working together equally,” Beck says.

See the full article with Kathleen Masterson on VPR News here.

Abenaki Concerns About Nuclear Site’s Future Gaining Attention

Rich Holschuh VY Sale Mike Faher

For Rich Holschuh, the Vermont Yankee property is rife with contradictions. On one hand, it’s an idled, contaminated nuclear plant in need of the biggest environmental cleanup project Vermont has ever seen.

On the other, it’s part of the ancestral homeland of the Elnu Abenaki, the Native American tribe Holschuh is representing in the state’s regulatory review of Vermont Yankee’s proposed sale to a New York cleanup company.

Now, those two versions of the site may be edging a little closer together. The plant’s potential buyer, NorthStar Group Services, has agreed to talks with the Abenaki in an effort to address the tribe’s worries about excavation, cleanup and site restoration.

“We want to meet with them,” NorthStar Chief Executive Officer Scott State said. “We want to understand their concerns, and we want to come to an understanding as to how we can meet their concerns.”

It’s not clear what the outcome of those talks will be, but Holschuh said the fact they’re occurring is a victory of sorts. “We’re trying to establish our voice – just be acknowledged for being here and caring,” Holschuh said. “We want to be involved, and we actually see this as a responsibility.”

Read the full story by Mike Faher in VTDigger.org. Photo by Mike Faher also.

This story also ran in the Brattleboro Reformer this past weekend, 9/8/17.

And in The Commons 9/13/17.

The First Inhabitants: Before Barre Was Barre

Missisquoi Abenaki Flag

With the Barre Heritage Festival around the corner, it’s a good time to look back and celebrate Barre’s history. For many people, that means looking back over 200 years to when the town was officially founded. How about looking back over 10,000 years?

The people native to the area, the Abenaki, are a community that has lived in the central Vermont area ever since their ancestors first migrated here several thousands of years ago.

Thirty people, give or take, are “American Indian and Alaska Native alone” in Barre (City and Town) taken together according to the Vermont Census. More Abenaki people might identify as being of “two or more races,” and they aren’t included in that number.

Read the full article by Will Kyle in the Montpelier Bridge.