Brattleboro Reformer Letter: Erasure, Celebration, Respect

My letter to the Editor at the Brattleboro Reformer, under the headline “Letter: Do not erase, but do not celebrate or emulate either”, posted 2:36 pm on May 1, 2017 and ran today, May 2, 2017.

Editor of the Reformer:

Last week, following a unanimous vote by the members of Brattleboro’s Representative Town Meeting, the Select Board officially adopted a resolution to make a change in observance from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I’d like to offer a short explanation toward understanding why this is both appropriate and timely, and partly in response to Mr. Nickerson’s countering letter this week.

The process of adopting this change has been straightforward, thorough, and widely supported, and I am grateful for that public validation. Following direction from the Board last year, a petition was utilized to gather the requisite 5 percent of the Town’s registered voters’ signatures. With help from several friends, about 450 names were collected in short order, and presented to the Town Clerk, who vetted them and certified the threshold had been met. The petition was presented to the Select Board, who ultimately placed it on the Warning for the 2017 RTM. In the time that I was personally collecting signatures last autumn (on the sidewalk), only one person voiced their disagreement.

Why take this action? While we are all simply human beings, the basic meaning of “indigenous people” are those that are the earliest inhabitants of a place, usually over a very long period of time. It is roughly synonymous with the terms aboriginal and autochthonous. Indigenous people have maintained longstanding relationships with nearly all land masses on Mother Earth. Most indigenous groups have been exploited and/or displaced by later arrivals, usually through the ongoing process known as colonization, and they continue to deal with the drastic impacts of that dominant structure. The introduction of that system to the Western Hemisphere was marked by the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Yes, it was an epochal event and, yes, it is an ongoing reality.

History is not simply a set of facts. It is a story told by an individual, or group of individuals, to give voice to a worldview, of which there are many. People are, if anything, complex, and many stories have been told, often with an intent to assure a shared set of values and assuage fears of others that may be different. We know where those fears have led, and continue to lead, humanity. With a move toward understanding and mutual respect, we can make a little progress toward a better life for all — by this I mean all, human and other-than-human. We can recognize that Columbus was a person whose actions were significant, and lasting, such that they cannot be erased, but he and his legacy are no longer to be celebrated or emulated. Rather, the people who have been most deeply affected by his (symbolic) arrival are worthy of recognition, respect, and restoration for who they are and what they contribute.

Rich Holschuh,

Brattleboro, April 26

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Deb Reger and the Mocassin Tracks Radio Show

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One woman discovered the power of community radio in 2009, when the indigenous people of Vermont were still not recognized at a state level. Some tribes of the Abenaki nation, the people native to the region now known as Vermont, achieved state recognition as late as 2012, according to the state website.

Deb Reger, host of Moccasin Tracks on 90.1 WRUV, felt conversations about these people were held exclusively at state and professional levels. “As a non-native person, I felt like I needed to know the truth,” she said. “I wanted to hear the truth from the people themselves, not be told by privileged white people.”

Reger created Moccasin Tracks to voice the stories and perspectives of Native Americans.

Read the article by Maddy Pimental about Deb and the Show in UVM’s Vermont Cynic online paper.

Ed Gregory: Turner’s Falls Massacre Was Revenge

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Read Ed Gregory’s full column in the Greenfield Recorder.

As of late there’s been quite a stir about the Turners Falls High School “mascot.”

Recent Recorder letters have alluded to the Capt. Turner raid on the Indian gathering at Riverside (not the Turners Falls side of the Connecticut River), mentioning that Turner indiscriminately killed the Indians that were there at the time of the foray.

As a historical fact, Turner and his men did kill a sizeable number of the Indians encamped there. For those folks who believe Turner had nothing better to do than kill Indians, let’s briefly examine why this took place.

Before King Philip’s War, concerted Indian attacks were waged upon the English settlers in Massachusetts and elsewhere. The Indians, stole crops and cattle, burned buildings and, in some instances, kidnapped and killed settlers. These attacks went on for a number of years. There came a point in time when the settlers had to make an attempt to put these assaults to rest.

A contingent of settlers approached the then-governing body of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to plead their case.

Hearing and understanding the concerns of the settlers, the officials were aware of a person that was jailed in Boston for being a religious dissident. This person they knew had a military background, and as an enticement for him to form a group of a few military men and settlers, commuted his sentence and allowed him to formulate plans for the encounter at Riverside. This person was Capt. William Turner.

The raid took place in the dark hours of the morning of May 19, 1676. Turner had little knowledge of the size of, or the number of, Indians gathered there. It turns out that most of the Indian braves were away hunting, and the gathering was made up of mostly women and children.

The rest should be familiar to those so interested in the Turner incident.

Now here’s the rub. Indians are not as innocent as some would believe. Native American advocates never mention the aggressiveness and vicious intent of the various Indian tribes in and about the New England area at that time. In some instances, that aggression was duly wrought.

Turner’s raid was sanctioned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. I say again: sanctioned by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. With its blessing, the encounter at Riverside now resides in the annals of New England and Indian history.

Concerning this truncated historical account, and the knowledge that the Massachusetts Bay Colony officials endorsed Turner’s actions, some of those who wish to change the Turners Falls High School “mascot” (name and logo) are now advocating changing the name of the village of Turners Falls to whatever.

They may also want to consider changing the name of Massachusetts. After all, the Massachusetts Bay Colony officials would be the leading contributer to the entire Riverside episode. I would think that this would be far more offensive than an “Indian” moniker or head-dressed brave … the rather mundane but proud T.F.H.S. “mascot.”

I would encourage those so inclined to sympathize with the Indian culture and tradition to expand their historical understanding in regard to this: the Falls Fight of King Philip’s War (also known as Metacom’s Rebellion). One will also learn that the Falls Fight would be the leading contributor to ending the 1675 to 1676 King Philip’s War.

Numerous historical accounts of King Philip’s War and the Falls Fight are available via the internet and local libraries.

Learn the rest of the story before making judgment.

Ed Gregory is a historian of the town of Montague and village of Turners Falls. Born and raised in Turners Falls, he resides in Greenfield.

Brattleboro: Indigenous Peoples’ Day Petitions Presented 11.22.2016

At the Brattleboro Selectboard’s meeting at Town Hall on November 22, 2016, we returned to follow up on the actions of the Oct. 4th meeting (only six weeks later). With the committed help of friends and allies, we were able to present petitions for a Representative Town Meeting (RTM) Warning article to recommend a permanent change in Brattleboro from the observance of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October. Five percent of the registered voters signatures (about 440) are required for this step in the process; we gathered about 540. Following ratification of the signatures by the Town Clerk, the Selectboard will add the article to the Warning agenda, for action by the annual RTM members on March 25, 2017.

Footage begins at about 1:15. Video courtesy of Brattleboro Community TV (original source here).

Where Are the Indigenous Voices in the Thanksgiving Story?

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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

 

 

 

The Status Of The Abenaki In Vermont Today

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Vermont Public Radio‘s new listener-sourced investigative journalism show “Brave Little State” released its latest episode, in response to the question:

What Is The Status Of The Abenaki Native Americans In Vermont Today?

Produced by VPR staffer Angela Evancie, the story examines the resurgence of today’s Abenaki, Vermont’s indigenous people, from a long, dark, and often-hidden past. The truth is being retold and affirmed, and today’s descendants want to share the fact that they are still here, after thousands of years, and they have a story to share. I was able to play a part in this episode and it makes my heart sing to know that our Native community is well on its way to a restoration of acknowledgement and respect.

Read and hear the full story on Brave Little State here!

Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Reclaiming Wantastegok on WKVT

An interview of this author by Chris Lenois on his Green Mountain Mornings show, a program of WKVT Radio at 100.3 FM and 1490 AM in Wantastegok/Brattleboro, VT. The live show aired from 8-9 am on October 10, 2016, Vermont’s first Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Enjoy this day!