Vermont to Observe Indigenous People’s Day: the Back Story

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Vermont is joining other states and towns around the United States in recognizing the second Monday of October as Indigenous People’s Day and “re-imagining Columbus Day as an opportunity to celebrate indigenous heritage and resiliency,” according to the proclamation.

The possibility of the town of Brattleboro adopting a similar proclamation came up at Tuesday’s Select Board meeting. In a 2-3 vote, the board decided not to put the question on the annual Representative Town Meeting warning without a petition coming forward. The Town Charter requires signatures from 5 percent of registered voters in Brattleboro in order for an article to get warned.

Rich Holschuh plans on getting that many signatures — approximately 400 signatures — in time for the next board meeting on Oct. 18. The Brattleboro resident is a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs.

How did that come about? Read Chris Mays’ story in the Brattleboro Reformer.

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VPR Coverage for Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Vermont

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A full story was assembled after an interview by Vermont Public Radio reporter Howard Weiss-Tisman on Friday, Oct. 7, the day after Gov. Peter Shumlin issued the Proclamation for Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day. The story was posted today, Oct. 8th (audio to follow). Read it here.

Several other media stories have been released following the Oct. 6, 2016 action by Vermont Gov. Shumlin. WPTZ-NBC TV Channel 5 in Burlington rolled in the ongoing exploration of similar action in Hartford, VT.

Clink link for full report:

WPTZ – NBC

NPR

 

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin Proclaims Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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On October 6, 2016, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin proclaimed the second Monday of October, Oct. 10, 2016, to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day, “re-imagining Columbus Day as an opportunity to celebrate indigenous heritage and resiliency.”

In particular, this phrase stands out to me:

the State of Vermont recognizes that it was founded and is built upon lands first inhabited by the Indigenous Peoples of this region – the Abenaki and their ancestors and allies – and acknowledges and honors these members of the community, both past and present.

The archived proclamation can be found on the Governor’s website here.

Video: Brattleboro Selectboard Avoids Indigenous People’s Day 10.04.2016

Discussion of the proposed resolution before the Brattleboro Selectboard for a change from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day begins at 2:02:15 into the video transcript.

Indigenous People’s Day Evaded by Brattleboro Selectboard

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At last night’s regular meeting of the Brattleboro Selectboard, Item 10G on the agenda (submitted by this author) asked for a resolution to change the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Several people came out in support (and spoke to the topic), but the end result was a defeat (3-2 vote) of any type of support for the initiative. Rather than repeat the entire story of the evening’s exchange, I will quote the able commentary of Chris Grotke, of iBrattleboro, from his posting here. At the end of the quoted story, I have added my inline comment.

“Rich Holschuh submitted a request to the selectboard to formally act on a non-binding resolution passed at Representative Town Meeting in March of 2016. The action would proclaim the second Monday of each October as “Indigenous People’s Day,” rather than Columbus Day.

Board members were given the first opportunity to speak on the issue, and the majority were against approving it.

David Gartenstein questioned whether the original decision at Representative Town Meeting even had a quorum in the first place. (Note: They did have a quorum.) He felt signatures should be gathered to petition to put the issue before the voting public, and that the entire population should decide rather than the Selectboard.

Dick DeGray said the issue of not having a quorum raised questions.  “I don’t feel we can vote on this,” he said.

Kate O’Connor agreed that it should be a town wide decision. “It’s a big thing to change a day, and making a decision on behalf of the entire town.”

“I concur with Kate,“ said John Allen.

David Schoales was the only member to disagree. “I’d like to see us do this. We can go around, but it is simple and straightforward to make a statement on this.” He suggested approving it now, and putting it up for a general vote later.

DeGray cautioned that if it were a town-wide ballot vote, it would be non-binding. He suggested it be sent to Representative Town Meeting instead.

At that point, someone named William in the audience asked a simple question. “Why do they want to change the day?” Since it hadn’t been discussed, David Gartenstein read the text provided.

The resolution read:

“Whereas, Indigenous People’s Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native Nations to the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas; and

Whereas, a growing number of cities and towns in the United States have recognized the second Monday of October as “Indigenous People’s Day,” reimagining Columbus Day as an opportunity to celebrate indigenous heritage and resiliency; and

Whereas, the Town of Brattleboro recognizes the historic, cultural, and contemporary significance of the Indigenous People’s of the lands that later became known as the Americas, including Vermont and Brattleboro, and values the many contributions of these peoples; and

Whereas, the Town of Brattleboro recognizes that it was chartered and is built upon lands first inhabited by the Indigenous Peoples of this region, the Sokwakiak Abenaki and their ancestors, and wishes to acknowledge and honor these members of the community, past and present.

Now, therefore, the Selectboard of the Town of Brattleboro does hereby proclaim the second Monday of October to be “Indigenous People’s Day and strongly encourages public institutions, businesses, organizations, and citizens to recognize and support this designation, affirming the Town’s commitment to demonstrate appreciation for this land’s First Peoples.”

Rich Holschuh, the requester, introduced himself by saying he lived in the south part of town and served on the Vermont Commission for Native American Affairs, “We still have native people here.”

He said he likes to be both positive and progressive, and that “charity begins at home, with small steps.” He felt the board could approve the motion. “We’re not sticking our neck out, and are not alone.” He said it was part of a movement growing across the nation. And while neighbors Amherst and Northampton have passed similar resolutions, no Vermont town has done this yet “not even the people’s republic of Burlington,” he joked. “We could do it tonight.”

Ralph Meima agreed and felt taking tis action would allow word to get out “rather than lose another year.” He felt it urgent that Brattleboro act now to put ourselves first.

Other agreed. Sherry Stewart said it was “long overdue” and would put us on the right side of history. “It’s a matter of respect and honor.”

William said he felt it should go to a town-wide vote.

Joe Rivers said it was “time for our elected representatives to stand,” and that “this should be an easy vote.” He encouraged the board to make the statement of truth that Europeans took land and resources from the Abenaki.

Sensing little shift in the view of the board, Meima offered a compromise. “Would it be possible to proclaim just this Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day,” he asked, then later have it voted as a proclamation to be perpetuated?

Holschuh like that idea, and the idea of putting it up for a vote. “It will pass.”

None of these arguments swayed the board. Gartenstein talked of core town operations and staying out of issues like this, O’Connor wanted everyone to be able to to weigh in, and Allen felt it was a personal issue for people. “There are lots of different ways to look at this,” he said.

Schoales pressed for a motion to, at least, skip the petition process and put the issue before Representative Town Meeting. “We make value judgements. All issues aren’t equal. I can’t see any reason to wait. We’re here because things like this come up.”

DeGray reiterated his concern about the lack of a quorum, and wanted the town to vote on it. He also said the media never covered it and no one knew about the last minute decision made by Town Meeting representatives. He supported Schoales in trying to get it on the Representative Town meeting agenda, but in the end the motion failed 3-2.

Postscript:

Here’s our coverage of RTM 2016, noting the quorum for the non-binding decision on Indigenous Peoples Day at the end of the meeting.

Here’s another story done after announcing it specifically and more widely to the public. Over 820 reads, too, as I write this.

End quote. Thank you Chris.

My comment:

Where is the vision?

Thank you Chris for your coverage – accurately and succinctly reported. There will be immediate followup to this graphic example of abrogation of leadership responsibility. This type of action is exactly appropriate for an elected official: to demonstrate an awareness and sensitivity to the progress of society, and lead by example. This is demonstrated at all levels of community – well, it can and should be.

As Dick DeGray alluded toward the end of the discussion, every item under consideration stands on its own merits and must pass muster; although initially opposed, he swung his vote to affirmative (too little, too late) despite Chair David Gartenstein’s wariness of precedent and taking a position on an “issue.” It was pointed out that the Board votes on “issues” constantly, and that this was a paper argument. As a matter of fact, although it became apparent that there was a consensus toward appreciating the sentiment of the resolution for change – in other words, tacit approval, other than Gartenstein who remained equivocal and aloof. But no one, other than David Schoales, would back that up with action. It was quite amazing to witness the wiggling and excuses.

Two board members stated that this was a matter of personal conviction and should be decided by the voters. This is completely valid. However, it is also a matter of public policy, governance, and social responsibility. The topic of discussion is a civic holiday, on the public payroll, and codified into our cultural mores. This is exactly what elected leaders deal with, on a regular basis. It’s their job. When Ralph Meima offered a balanced solution, to make the proclamation by the Board, and then place it on the Warning for ratification or comment at RTM next spring, it seemed to offer a safe compromise. But, no, they couldn’t even do that.

The final form of the motion, made by Schoales, was to ask the Board to simply place it on the Warning for consideration by the Town Meeting Reps. This would allow for a small gesture of leadership by recognizing the validity of the request, and at the same time, enabling the full will of the people (already amply demonstrated by last year’s non-binding approval) to make the change in a clear and democratic fashion. This too failed, by a 2-3 vote. It was a pathetic and shameful moment. I am so sorry.

 

 

Brattleboro Considers Indigenous People’s Day

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The Selectboard of the Town of Brattleboro, Vermont has placed a noteworthy matter on the agenda for their upcoming October 4, 2016 regular meeting. Under New Business, Item G is a “Proposal to Proclaim the Second Monday in October as ‘Indigenous People’s Day’.” Link to the agenda online here. I submitted a draft resolution with a request that it be considered and am happy to see that it has been added to the evening’s business.

Please come out to support this action and encourage the Board to approve this long-overdue change.

Missisquoi Abenaki Renew Hope for Federal Recognition

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Chief Lawrence “Moose” Lampman hopes to do what other chiefs before him, including his father, failed to do. He wants to obtain federal recognition for the Missisquoi band of Abenaki Indians, his tribe of over 2,200 individuals. The political fight will be expensive and arduous, but he is prepared to maneuver legislative red tape despite an ongoing battle with lung cancer.

Lampman, 63, sat in his office in the tribal council building on Grand Avenue in early August. To his right hung a weathered photo of his great-grandmother, an Abenaki like him. “I want to see federal recognition, and I want to see this building bustling with people and life,” Lampman said. That day, it was just him and his sister in their respective offices. The large main space inside the front door, decorated with artifacts and an Abenaki flag, was empty.

Read the full story in the Burlington Free Press.