Tribe Seeks Voice in Nuclear Plant Cleanup, Land Restoration

lisa rathke elnu abenaki vermont yankee decommissioning

Two Native American tribes want a say in the cleanup of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and the future use of the land in an area that was once the site of settlements and fishing grounds for the groups’ ancestors.

Last month, the Elnu Abenaki tribe, based in southern Vermont, filed testimony with the Public Utilities Commission. The tribe said it wants any activities that disturb the earth in this area to be overseen by qualified people and it wants to be involved in helping to determine the standards for how the land on the Connecticut River is restored. “Our concern is for the earth, the soil of our homeland, that of our ancestors, and all of our relations,” the testimony said.

The Missisquoi Abenaki, based in Swanton, Vermont, is also taking part in the state’s review of the proposed sale, which must be approved by state and federal regulators.

Paleo-Indians first moved to what is now Vermont 12,900 years ago, and native communities have continued to live in the state since, according to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs.

After the land is restored, the tribe would like to see it “lie at rest and allow it to heal as much as possible,” said Rich Holschuh, a public liaison for the Elnu Abenaki. “It should be a place where everyone can remember, and listen and learn, and dream, and offer hope of a better way for the next generations to be in this place,” he said

The Vermont Yankee plant shut down in 2014. Its owner, Entergy Nuclear, is seeking to sell it to demolition company NorthStar Group Services, which has promised to demolish the reactor and restore the site by 2030.

NorthStar has agreed to meet with the Elnu Abenaki next week. “NorthStar is sensitive to the concerns expressed by the representatives of Elnu Abenaki … and would like to begin a dialogue,” said CEO Scott State.

“A lot of this is about establishing a voice,” said Holschuh. “The presence of the indigenous people has not been acknowledged in the past. It’s kind of a glaring omission if you look at Vermont’s history.”

Article and photography by Lisa Rathke for the Associated Press.

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Durham to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day

The town is the first in New Hampshire to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to be celebrated on Columbus Day, after town councilors approved the idea on Monday. Town Administrator Todd Selig said Tuesday the federal Columbus Day holiday, this year on Oct. 9 cannot be replaced because it is a federal holiday.

Town councilors thought it appropriate to recognize hardships that befell indigenous peoples because of European exploration, and voted to establish the new observance.

The council was considering a resolution put forth by the town’s human rights commission that would add The Age of Exploration and Indigenous Peoples’ Day to the local holiday calendar, but “The Age of Exploration” was dropped during an hour-long council discussion, Selig said.

“Not only is it appropriate to our local history, but also to recognize and value indigenous people everywhere,” Selig said in a statement. “The designation will encourage people to learn more about the legacy of Christopher Columbus and the ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ while also recognizing the devastating effects of colonialism on indigenous peoples.”

Read the full article in the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Bangor to Designate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day

Bangor City Hall

The Bangor City Council on Monday night voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of every October — a day the federal government has designated to honor Christopher Columbus.

Bangor follows a growing number of cities and states that have decided to shift the focus from Columbus to the people who lived here before the arrival of European explorers and colonists.

Belfast was the first Maine city to take that step in 2015.

The city council’s resolve, which was approved in a unanimous vote, came at the request from members of the Penobscot Nation, whose Tribal Council member Maulian Dana Smith led the effort. She worked with Councilor Sarah Nichols, who brought it forward to the full council.

See the complete article in the Bangor Daily News.

Portland Designates Second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Maine’s largest city will no longer celebrate Columbus Day as a municipal holiday. The Portland City Council voted unanimously Monday to designate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The vote came after nearly an hour of public comment.

Portland became the latest municipality in Maine to recognize indigenous people instead of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who arrived in the New World on Oct. 12, 1492. Belfast was the first to make the switch in 2015, Bangor did so last month and Orono followed suit last week. Later Monday night, the Brunswick Town Council voted 8-1 to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Read the full article in the Portland Press-Herald. 

*****

That’s five towns/cities in Maine now. Durham, NH was the first in that state, just this week. Brattleboro adds its Town School Board in the ‘change” column. The time has come to recognize the rest of the story…

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.

Text of VT Gov. Phil Scott’s Proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2017

VT Indigenous Peoples' Day proclamation

This will be archived as a pdf on the Governor’s Office Proclamation webpage soon – I will post the link when it appears (along with a press release).

Vermont Gov. Scott Declares Indigenous Peoples’ Day for 2017

indigenous-vpr-weiss-tisman-20170903

Another very happy day. Vermont Public Radio southern Vermont bureau reporter Howard Weiss-Tismann announced the news in a story filed last night, shortly after interviewing Elnu Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan and myself in Wantastegok/Brattleboro. Photo by Weiss-Tismann. More to follow…

Full story here.