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

Goodbye, Columbus. Hello, Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

commons indigenous peoples day brattleboro

The [Brattleboro] Selectboard unanimously voted to approve a resolution proclaiming the second Monday in October of each year be named “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

During Representative Town Meeting in March, the body unanimously voted to recommend the Selectboard approve the proclamation.

At the April 18 regular Selectboard meeting, Board Chair Kate O’Connor read the document — written by Town Attorney Bob Fisher with edits by Rich Holschuh — into the record.

In addition to setting the date of the day, the proclamation says the Selectboard “heeds said advice and desires to recognize the Indigenous People of Wantastegok in Sokwakik — the immediate area now known as Brattleboro, Vermont — dwelling here prior to and during the colonization begun by Christopher Columbus in the Western Hemisphere[.]”

Read the full article by Wendy Levy in The Commons.

Full Text of Brattleboro’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day Resolution

RESOLUTION FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ DAY

WHEREAS, at the Town of Brattleboro 2017 Annual Representative Town Meeting, the Town unanimously approved a petitioned article to advise the Selectboard to proclaim the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day; and

WHEREAS, the Town of Brattleboro Selectboard heeds said advice and desires to recognize the Indigenous People of Wantastegok in Sokwakik – the immediate area now known as Brattleboro, Vermont – dwelling here prior to and during the colonization begun by Christopher Columbus in the Western Hemisphere; and

WHEREAS, there is ample local evidence, including petroglyphs at the West River, demonstrating this area has been inhabited for millennia, long before Europeans began to settle along the Connecticut River and its tributaries, notably at Fort Dummer in Brattleboro in 1724; and

WHEREAS, the Town of Brattleboro recognizes that this area comprises in part the homelands of Indigenous Peoples including the Abenaki, their allies, and ancestors; and

WHEREAS, Indigenous Peoples’ Day will provide an opportunity for our community to recognize and celebrate the Indigenous Peoples of our region, in concert with similar celebrations elsewhere; and

WHEREAS, the Town of Brattleboro encourages schools, other educational institutions, businesses, and other institutions to recognize and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day,

NOW, THEREFORE, the Brattleboro Selectboard hereby resolves and proclaims that the second Monday in October of each year shall be Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Town of Brattleboro.

Dated this 18th day of April, 2017.

Brattleboro Selectboard:

____________________________________

Kate O’Connor, Chair

____________________________________

Brandie Starr, Vice-Chair

____________________________________

Tim Wessel, Clerk

____________________________________

John Allen

____________________________________

Dave Schoales

Link to pdf: BrattleboroIndigenousPeoplesDayResolutionFinalText

 

A Small Thing But Highly Symbolic: Brattleboro to Observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Holschuh-Selectboard-IPD

It’s official.

The town will now recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October in place of Columbus Day.

“It’s a small thing but it’s highly symbolic for Brattleboro to make this move forward,” said Rich Holschuh, a resident of the town who’s a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. “I hope we can take it statewide eventually. Brattleboro is the beginning of colonization in this state at Fort Dummer.”

Holschuh said he is looking forward to exploring how to observe and celebrate the holiday. He had secured enough signatures on a petition to signal a vote via an article at annual Representative Town Meeting last month.

Read the full article by Chris Mays at the Brattleboro Reformer here.

Windmill Hill Pinnacle Association Annual Meeting

roger-longtoe-sheehan-portrait

Sunday, April 30, 2017: From 4 to 6 PM, as part of the Pinnacle Association’s Annual Meeting, there will be a Feature Program entitled  “We Are Still Here – Abenaki Culture and Contemporary Issues.”  Speakers are Rich Holschuh and Roger Longtoe Sheehan.  Holschuh, who serves on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs and traces his heritage to the Mi’kmaq/Penobscot – fellow Nations with the Abenaki, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy in the Wabanaki Confederacy – will discuss the Abenaki Heritage in Vermont, the indigenous people’s relation to the land, their interactions with the European settlers, and their efforts to reclaim their culture.  Roger Longtoe Sheehan – Abenaki artist, native musician, educator, and Chief of the El-Nu Abenaki Tribe – is a talented, self-taught artist who is a well-known creator of soapstone pipes and Native arts and tools. He enjoys sharing his knowledge and talents at Abenaki Living History events.

The meeting and program will take place upstairs at Main Street Arts, 35 Main Street in Saxtons River.  Members and the public are encouraged to attend to learn about Vermont’s Native Americans and about plans the Pinnacle Association has for the coming year, WHPA elections, and its Volunteer of the Year Award.  Refreshments will be served, and maps will be on display before the meeting and program.  Of special interest will be a map of the Pinnacle Association’s ridgeline properties that will include the new 50-acre Radford land gift.  A new trail planned for that section will enhance WHPA’s 25-mile trail system whose main section runs from Putney Mountain to Grafton.

For further information, contact Rick Cowan or whpa@sover.net.

See the full web announcement here.

See a related announcement article in the Commons here.

rich-holschuh-head-shot

GMMT Discusses Abenaki Participation in VT PSB VY Sale

Chris Lenois of WKVT’s Green Mountain Mornings and Mike Faher of VTdigger.org and the Brattleboro Reformer discuss the granting of party status in VT PSB Docket 8880 to two Abenaki tribal groups, Elnu and Missisquoi. BCTV footage begins at 1:55.

Reformer article here.

Guided Walk in Vernon’s Black Gum Swamps

vernon vt black gum swamp

A trio of experts will lead a guided walk to visit one or more of the Black Gum Swamps in Vernon’s J. Maynard Miller Town Forest on Friday, April 28 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

This is an opportunity for people who may never have visited the Black Gum Swamps to see them, and for anyone interested to gain a better understanding of their ecological uniqueness and their value to the town.

Leading this excursion will be:

  • William C. “Bill” Guenther, Windham County Forester with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation
  • Laura Lapierre, Wetlands Program Director, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Eric Sorenson, Natural Community Ecologist, Wildlife Division, Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

Together, these three experts form an amazing team to tell us about this relatively unknown treasure in our town. Some of the black gum trees (Nyssa sylvatica) are more than 400 years old. This is the only place in Vermont this species of tree can be found. Typically the black gum is found south of the Mason-Dixon line, where it is known as the tupelo or black tupelo. One black gum tree in the Vernon forest was measured, some years ago, to be 435 years old. At another location in southern New Hampshire, a black gum was found to be 562 years old. These trees are not only among the oldest trees in New England, but they may be the oldest broadleaf deciduous trees in North America. Read more about the Town Forest and Black Gum Swamps here.

Because of the presence of these trees, the DEC has proposed to designate the swamps as Class I wetlands (they are now Class II) in order to provide greater protection to these natural areas. There have been some questions and concerns in the town about how this may affect the use of the town forest.

Laura Lapierre of the DEC (see above) plans to schedule a public meeting about the proposed reclassification in Vernon in early May (date, time and place to be announced), as an opportunity to learn more about what Class I status entails and to address concerns and questions the town may have.

If you are interested in the swamps, or in the reclassification process, please mark your calendar and join this tour so you can get a first-hand view, and most importantly, first-hand information from the experts who will lead the tour.

Directions: from Pond Road, turn up Huckle Hill Road, then right onto Basin Road. At the end of Basin Road, park in the roundabout; the tour will depart from there. The nearest swamp is about a quarter mile away and entails a climb of about 175 feet over that distance. The tour may proceed to other swamps but it would be possible to head back from the first one, which is known as the “High” swamp. Bring appropriate footgear and a bottle of water.

Going, or interested? Sign up on the Facebook Event page for the hike.

For additional information contact Martin Langeveld, email or 802-380-0226.