Valley Post: Comments on Northern Hydro

From a contribution to a column by Eesha Williams (Editor) in the Valley Post, linked here.

Native Americans are trying to stop a plan to send hydro-power from Canada to Massachusetts. They have a web site at www.NorthEastMegaDamResistance.org.

Rich Holschuh lives in Brattleboro and, with seven other people, [serves on] …the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. That’s part of the state government. In an April 30 interview with the Valley Post, he said, “Indigenous people worldwide share the common experience of colonization. Colonization is the process of appropriating a place for one’s own use, exercising control by force for the benefit of the newcomer…. The original inhabitants of a place consider themselves to be a single entity: the people and the land are the same. It is a network of sustained, interdependent relationships overlapping with others in a balanced, self-supporting continuum. This balance is disrupted and harmed when those relationships are disregarded, by manipulation and appropriation for externalized profit. Colonization is not a historical event; it is an ongoing system, with lasting damage to the subjects while continuing to accrue benefit to the takers.”

Holschuh continued, “What is happening in the northeastern reaches of this continent, with massive hydroelectric development and export of energy to markets elsewhere, much of it in New England, derives from the same mindset that created the antecedent hydro facilities here on the Kwenitekw (Connecticut) river, and across the continent in the realization of so-called Manifest Destiny. The natural abundance of earth — the gift of Creation — has been coerced, privatized, commodified, extracted, and sold, without due regard for the lasting effects of that interruption of the sustaining cycles. The indigenous people of these places are implicated equally, left outside of consideration, with the network of relationships that constitutes their existence grievously harmed.”

Holschuh said, “The northern mega-dams may seem out-of-sight, and thus out-of-mind, not important or impactful to lives proceeding apace to the south in New England. Vermont, in its claims to cleaner, greener policy, derives a significant portion of its electrical energy demand from facilities such as those of Hydro-Quebec. This is projected to increase as the state adjusts its goals away from less-desirable sources through the Comprehensive Energy Plan. The issue has been raised with Lt. Governor Zuckerman’s Vermont 2050 Planning Group — it’s a very real exacerbation of an existing policy flaw. A reliance on imported energy, and its associated human and environmental costs, has been a contested issue in the past, and it should/will be again soon. This is not a problem in somebody else’s backyard. It is a problem of our own making and it is a repetition of what has and is happening right here in the homelands of the Abenaki and their kin. If we are being honest, this connection and the dynamics that effect it are easily recognized. What happens to one, happens to us all. And so, I recognize All My Relations and ask that together we seek balance and exercise compassion, seeing that there is a better way.”

Mark Bushnell at VTDigger: Uncovering Vermont’s Stone Carvings

Bellows Falls Petroglyphs 1866

Note: Mark Bushnell is a Vermont journalist and historian. He is the author of “Hidden History of Vermont” and “It Happened in Vermont.” Mark called me for comments as he was putting this VTDigger column together.

When Rev. David McClure of Dartmouth College ventured down the Connecticut River to Bellows Falls in 1789, he was on a scientific mission. As a natural philosopher – what we might today call a scientist – McClure was interested in stone carvings he had heard about from a local man. The carvings, cut into an outcropping on the Vermont side of the river, depicted a series of faces.

“The figures have the appearance of great antiquity,” McClure wrote, noting that the British colonists who first settled the area a half-century earlier had observed them. The faces were life-sized images consisting of a simple oval with markings for eyes, nose, mouth and perhaps ears, McClure wrote. Some had lines sticking out of their heads that various observers have taken to be feathers, horns or rays.

McClure’s was apparently the first written account of the carved rocks, which have been described as the oldest pieces of art in Vermont. How old? Though experts agree the carvings were made by Native Americans, they are unwilling to ascribe a specific date, or even era, to the petroglyphs, which literally means “stone carvings.” They could be anywhere from 300 to 3,000 years old.

The written observations of McClure and subsequent visitors during the 19th and early 20th centuries are invaluable because they offer a snapshot of these artifacts, which have been changing over time. If descriptions of the petroglyphs have varied since McClure’s visit, so too have the interpretations of their meaning.

Read the full article in VTDigger here.

Written Testimony Before Committee for H.119 and S.68, Indigenous Peoples’ Day

On February 27, 2019, I was invited to present testimony in support of H.119 (VT House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs) and S.68 (VT Senate Committee on Government Operations). Both similarly worded bills are entitled “An Act Relating to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”  The testimony text is below. It is also downloadable here: Written Testimony Rich Holschuh Feb 27 2019, and at the respective Committee online archives (House H.119, Senate S.68).

An overview of Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day in the State of Vermont

H.119 “An Act relating to Indigenous Peoples’ Day” and S.68, of the same title, are currently being considered in their respective Chamber’s Committees for the 2019-2020 Session; the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs and the Senate Committee on Government Operations. The language in each is essentially identical, laying out the reasoning behind the proposed action and its implementation. The language also follows the consecutive Executive Proclamations made in by Vermont’s sitting Governor in 2016 (by Gov. Peter Shumlin), 2017, and 2018 (both by Gov. Philip Scott). I made those requests and submitted the suggested language.

Vermont, often a national leader for social equity, is not alone is considering this change and the recognition that comes with it. Over 60 cities and towns nationwide have already taken this step forward, beginning with Berkeley, CA in 1992, and including Santa Cruz and Los Angeles CA; Minneapolis, MN; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; and Nashville, TN. Here in New England, Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October has been declared on a permanent basis (among others) in Bangor, Orono, and Portland, ME; Cambridge, Amherst, Northampton, and Pittsfield, MA; Durham, NH; and Bridgeport and West Hartford, CT. Three towns in Vermont have already implemented this change: Marlboro, Brattleboro, and Hartford.

While several other states (Oregon, North Carolina, Iowa) have also had annual Governor’s Proclamations issued, I will make the case that no one state has yet completed this exact step of making the change from a recognition of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October. Bills to this effect are under consideration right now in the legislatures of New Mexico, Montana, and Maine. Alaska, which does observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day on that day, never did observe Columbus Day, similar to Hawaii, which observes Discoverers’ Day (referring to the original Polynesian voyagers) on the same day, although it is not an official state holiday. South Dakota recognizes Native Americans’ Day. Vermont has the ability to be the first state to make this decisive recognition.

We do need to look at the story behind Columbus Day, currently an official state holiday here in Vermont and about half of the rest of the states. The anniversary of Columbus’s landing in the Bahamas on Oct. 12, 1492 was observed at first as an unofficial patriotic holiday, similar to the Fourth of July, with the icon of Columbia standing in for the country itself. The first official Columbus Day per se was declared in Colorado in 1907. Several other states followed suit. After intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal organization, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Congress made it a Federal holiday in 1937. It was moved in 1971 in a standardizing effort with other observances to a Monday for a 3-day weekend in 1971.

I do not support the idea of removing from our histories those events or persons that we, with hindsight, now find less palatable or honorable. We need to know these things. This is the value of “learning the lessons of history.” By exploring a more complete narrative, with the inclusion of all the voices involved, we can listen, understand, and resolve to do better. Columbus is very much a part of these stories, but we know now he was not the idealistic, magnanimous, inspirational figure we were told years ago. He is not the one to be set on a pedestal and honored for his great, and often fictional, accomplishments. The heroic myth was created in service to a set of divisive ideologies of separation and entitlement, which left those outside its walls denied, dispossessed, and/or dead. Not to be ignored is the fact that a version of these attitudes has played out all over the planet, with the indigenous people of each place at the receiving end of exploitation, disenfranchisement, and dismissal, often paying the ultimate price. This is the more complete story that we should learn, and understand. And then work to honor and celebrate the resilience of the human spirit, its creativity, persistence, and adaptability. There is much to be done – and undone – in order to provide for the future generations and the world they will inherit. This is our mutual responsibility and I take this very seriously – to do better for our communities, as we know better. I offer that it is specifically the charge of our elected legislators as well. Your consideration and support is appreciated.

Kchi wliwni – with great thanks, Rich Holschuh

Wantastegok wji Sokwakik/Brattleboro, VT

Action to Support H.119, an Act for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Link to bill description page

The bill as introduced this session by principal sponsors Reps. Brian Cina and James Masland has 28 co-sponsors. It was introduced on Jan. 30, 2019 and sent to the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs. Thank you Brian and Jim! From Rep. Cina last Wednesday:

“Just wanted to let you know that the Indigenous Peoples Day bill has been introduced! It is time to mobilize our networks and communities to email members of the House General, Housing, and Military Affairs Committee! We need to ask them to take the bill off the wall, to gather testimony, and to finally pass this bill so that we do not have to rely on a proclamation from the Governor any more.”

*****
Bills in Committee are said to be “on the wall” – quite literally tacked to the bulletin board. To proceed, they have to be taken up by the Committee, testimony solicited, amendments offered (if any), and voted out to the full House Chamber. This is then repeated in the House, then the bill is sent to the Senate. I am told that Chair Thomas Stevens is favorably inclined, so that’s a good start. As Brian said, we need to contact the GHMA Committee and express support for taking action on H.119. Names and emails are below:

This is the page for the House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs.

Chair Thomas Stevens tstevens@leg.state.vt.us

Vice-Chair Joseph “Chip” Troiano ctroiano@leg.state.vt.us

Ranking Member Diana Gonzalez dgonzalez@leg.state.vt.us

Matthew Birong Jr. mbirong@leg.state.vt.us

Marianna Gamache mgamache@leg.state.vt.us

Clerk Mary E. Howard MHoward@leg.state.vt.us

John Killacky jkillacky@leg.state.vt.us

Emily Long elong@leg.state.vt.us

Randall Szott rszott@leg.state.vt.us

Tommy Walz twalz@leg.state.vt.us

Here’s all the email addresses together if you want to send a group email (copy and paste all at once). Simply express your positive support for taking up H.119 in Committee.

tstevens@leg.state.vt.us

ctroiano@leg.state.vt.us

dgonzalez@leg.state.vt.us

mbirong@leg.state.vt.us

mgamache@leg.state.vt.us

MHoward@leg.state.vt.us

jkillacky@leg.state.vt.us

elong@leg.state.vt.us

rszott@leg.state.vt.us

twalz@leg.state.vt.us

 

Thank you for your help with this! I will keep you posted as the bill progresses.

 

Jeanne Brink to be Honored at Middlebury College

jeanne brink abenaki basketmaker

From the Feb. 22, 2018 article in VTDigger.org.

Middlebury… will honor four other distinguished men and women with honorary degrees this year:

Jeanne A. Brink is an Abenaki artist and activist. She conducts workshops and programs on Western Abenaki storytelling, history, language, culture, basket making, oral tradition, dance, games, and current issues throughout Vermont and New England. Tracing her Abenaki heritage back to the early 1700s, she continues the tradition of Western Abenaki ash splint and sweetgrass fancy basketry as a master basket maker. Brink has served on the Vermont Commission for Native American Affairs, the Lake Champlain Basin Program Cultural Heritage and Recreation Advisory Committee, and many other local organizations. She is the author of several books about Abenaki art and language.

The Middlebury College Commencement ceremony will take place on the main quadrangle at 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 27. More than 5,000 family members and friends are expected to attend.

Abenaki Educational Outreach: Lucy Neel at Northfield VT Jr. High School

lucy cannon neel northfield jr high school vt

Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs Chair Lucy Cannon Neel shared this photo from two weeks ago at Northfield (VT) Jr. High, taken during part of their Bridge Program. The course included drumming and Abenaki heritage in four parts: pre-contact, contact, Abenaki people today, and storytelling.

VCNAA Support for Standing Rock Brings It Home

standing-rock-elnu-roger-rich

The Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs approved a proclamation in support of North Dakota tribes, 14 days before the new president announced he would resume two controversial pipeline projects.

“We approve everything unanimously because that’s the native way,” said Rich Holschuh, a Brattleboro resident on the commission. “As a commission, we work with the native people within what is now the state of Vermont. We also recognize that borders are political constructs, so we try to support similar people with similar interests and this is one way we can do that.”

The commission “proclaims support for those protectors at Standing Rock, N.D., who are resisting destruction of sites sacred to Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people, disruption of traditional ways and potential environmental contamination from crude oil pipeline construction and use.” The entire document can be found here.

Commissioner Joelen Mulvaney drafted the document, which was discussed and approved during the commission’s Jan. 11 meeting.

Read the full article by Chris Mays in the Brattleboro Reformer. Photo by Kristopher Radder of the Brattleboro Reformer.

west-river-roger-rich-vcnaa-proclamation

VCNAA Proclaims Support for Standing Rock #NoDAPL

At the regular meeting of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, held in Montpelier on January 11, 2017, the Commission adopted a Proclamation in support of the actions of the water protectors at and near the Standing Rock, North Dakota community, opposing disruption, destruction, and degradation of the the natural and sacred landscape.  The proclamation was written by Commissioner Joelen Mulvaney and adopted by consensus of all in attendance. pdf here: vcnaa-standing-rock-proclamation. Full text below:

Proclamation of Support for Lakota, Dakota and Nakota at Standing Rock, North Dakota by the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs

Whereas the Commission is charged by law to recognize the historic and cultural contributions of Native Americans in Vermont, to protect and strengthen Native American heritage, and to address needs in state policy, programs, and actions.

Whereas the Commission develops policies and programs to benefit Vermont’s Native American Indian population.

Whereas the Commission is committed to protecting and preserving sacred, culturally sensitive and historical sites crucial to strengthening Native American heritage and promoting understanding of indigenous conservation efforts since time immemorial.

Whereas the natural environment, grandfather mountains and ridges, forests and wetlands, lakes, rivers and streams and birds, animals and fish are integral to Abenaki culture, history, tradition, heritage and spirituality.

Whereas indigenous people who have been protecting and preserving sacred and historical sites and natural resources around the world and in Vermont are under siege by the pressures of industrial energy production.

Whereas the Commission recognizes the collective struggle of indigenous people to bring recognition to their cultural contributions and heritage, including the natural environment on Turtle Island, from Ndakinna to Kanaka Oiwi; from the northeast woodlands of Vermont to the islands of Hawaii.

And whereas sites such as Rocky Ridge in Missisquoi (Swanton), the Kwanitekw (Connecticut River) watershed, the Green Mountain National Forest in Searsberg and Botambakw (Lake Champlain) are places where industrial energy development threatens the preservation of historic, sacred and culturally sensitive sites.

The Commission proclaims support for those protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota who are resisting destruction of sites sacred to Dakota, Lakota and Nakota people, disruption of traditional ways and potential environmental contamination from crude oil pipe line construction and use.