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.

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William Brotherton, Indian Mascots, and a Backstory

Members of the Turners Falls High School community were able to hear from William Brotherton, a lawyer and Native American who advocates for schools to keep Indian mascots. Brotherton, who is from Texas but is a member of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in Vermont, was in the area and stopped in Montague Wednesday night to answer questions and discuss the Turners Falls High School situation at Hubie’s Tavern.

The Gill-Montague Regional School Committee voted in February to discontinue use of the Indian as a nickname and logo for the high school sports teams. The vote came to the disappointment of some members of the community who said they felt unheard in the decision-making process. Brotherton said there is a larger, cultural issue of political correctness in America, where people no longer feel comfortable discussing difficult issues.

Read the full story by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

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Another side of the story:

Yesterday I met William Brotherton in person for the first time. He’s a friendly, self-assured guy, and has been pro-active with me in opening up personal and intra-tribal communications. We had spoken on the phone and emailed a couple times; that afternoon, we both joined a tour of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (VY) in Vernon, Vermont and were able to get to know each other a little. The tour was offered to participants in VT Public Service Board (PSB, now known as the Vermont  Public Utility Commission, PUC) Docket #8880. This is the State review process for the proposed sale of VY by owner Entergy Corp. to NorthStar Group Services, for purposes of decommissioning and site restoration. I had filed in May for intervenor status on behalf of Elnu Abenaki, with the backing of the Nulhegan and Koasek bands. Brotherton, who serves on the Tribal Council  for the St. Francis Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, followed suit for their group shortly thereafter. The PUC process is now getting well underway with dozens of discovery and response documents going back and forth. By way of helping to inform the parties involved, the petitioners (Entergy and NorthStar) coordinated this tour within the plant’s security zone for an inside look at the scope of the project.

While on the tour of  the strongly-secured and highly industrialized site (we’re talking guards with machine guns), I asked many questions of our hosts regarding ground disturbance and oversight protocol. While I didn’t get many direct answers, Scott State (CEO of NorthStar) assured me that he understood and respected tribal concerns about cultural heritage and and wanted to be sensitive to them.  I believe he has become much more aware of these aspects than was the case previously, and while we must take any such proclamation with a grain of salt, I am guardedly optimistic that there may be some constructive dialogue going forward.

I noted that William Brotherton did not ask any questions about cultural resources. At one point, I gestured across the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River), to the eastern bank in New Hampshire, and mentioned to him about a fortified Sokoki village site there. It had been attacked in December 1663 by a  large force of Mohawk, Oneida, and Seneca warriors and successfully defended, although with a great loss of life; the land here holds many spirits, many at rest but others disquiet, whether from war or forced displacement or simply blatant disregard by modern development. William expressed surprise at what I had said. I began to understand the degree to which he was unfamiliar, indeed almost completely separated, from nearly all cultural understanding of Sokwakik. I am not sure that he knows what “Sokoki” signifies, much less represents  – if I am wrong, I welcome the conversation.

Afterward, we went down the river a half-mile and sat on a cottonwood log below the Vernon Dam, built in 1909 atop an ancient fishing site there at Great Bend. We spoke together for over an hour. I wanted to use the opportunity to talk with him about the significance of the landscape here to its people, past and present, and why we had filed as intervenors in PUC Docket #8880. I wanted to understand what he, on behalf of Missisquoi, had in mind as well. He didn’t really have an answer. I also wanted to talk to him about his endorsement, as a Tribal Council member, of the Indians team mascot/logo in Turners Falls, where he was going immediately afterward to speak to a group of supporters. I knew where he was coming from, ideologically, since I have read his articles and perused his CV.

I started by saying that I (and others) fully endorse the incorporation of a regular curriculum segment devoted to indigenous culture and the effects of colonization, not only in Turners Falls High School but all educational forums. This would probably be the best thing coming out of the entire mascot controversy, because it will help to displace the ignorance – the “not-knowing” – that brought us to this juncture and the benightedness – the “not-caring” – which follows. I pointed out to him that the contemporary indigenous people in the immediate area, Nipmuk and Abenaki, had clearly expressed their opposition to the continued use of the Indians mascot, and why this was the case. I don’t think he heard, or grasped the significance, what I was saying.

To borrow his own words, from Miranda Davis’s Recorder article: “Brotherton said there is a larger, cultural issue of political correctness in America, where people no longer feel comfortable discussing difficult issues,” this is exactly the case here. This initiative is not an erasure of history or a sanitizing campaign. Yes, this is very uncomfortable situation. It is hard to take a clear look at what has brought us all to this challenging place, recognizing that we can do much better and that everyone in the community will benefit. To NOT do so is continuing the illusion of propriety and the normalizing of disenfranchisement. This IS that difficult discussion which we are having, and to which Brotherton alludes. But first of all we need to know what we are talking about. I hope I can continue this exploration with William – I told him that as we parted on Wednesday afternoon. And I hope we can share this story with many others, in hopes for a healthier, more inclusive life for all in this beautiful place.

 

 

VT Public Service Department Backs Sale of 13 TransCanada Hydro Dams

TransCanada Bellows Falls Station Randy Holhut

key state agency has signed off on the sale of 13 hydroelectric stations to a Boston company. The Vermont Department of Public Service – whose job is to represent the public interest in energy matters – has approved a deal pledging to support Great River Hydro’s proposed purchase of TransCanada’s dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers.

Jim Porter, director of the department’s Public Advocacy Division, said the agreement came after a thorough review of the sale and after negotiation with Great River. “We did conclude the sale facilitated the general good of the state,” Porter said. “The sale will not affect Vermont jobs, and Great River Hydro demonstrated it is capable of managing these assets.”

Read the full story by Mike Faher at VTDigger.org.

Elnu Abenaki Tribe Files to Intervene in VT Yankee Sale Review by VT PSB

Vermont-Yankee-aerial-kristopher-radder

Two articles today, from VTDigger and the Rutland Herald.

A Native American tribe is seeking a role in the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee, citing the importance of the land that hosts the shut-down nuclear plant. The Windham County-based Elnu Abenaki Tribe has filed a motion to intervene in the state Public Service Board’s review of the plant’s purchase by NorthStar Group Services, a New York-based decommissioning company.

Full article by Make Faher at VTDigger.org.

The Elnu Abenaki tribe has filed for intervenor status with the Public Service Board over the proposed sale, decommissioning and cleanup of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon. A spokesman for the Elnu, which are based in the southeastern part of the state, said Wednesday the Vermont Yankee site was of cultural significance to the Abenaki. He said significant archaeological Abenaki sites are nearby, near the Vernon hydroelectric dam, which is owned by TransCanada, as well as in neighboring Hinsdale, New Hampshire.

Full article by Susan Smallheer at the Rutland Herald.

Aerial photo by Kristopher Radder of the Brattleboro Reformer.

Edit: March 9, 2017 The Brattleboro Reformer picked up Mike Faher’s story also.

Edit: March 15, 2017 The Greenfield Recorder picked up Susan Smallheer’s story.

The Vernon Dam Part 2 from BHS and BAMS: Flooding Wantastegok

This is Part 2 of a two-part story, within the podcast series from Brattleboro Historical Society, produced by Joe Rivers and his BAMS history students. You can check out Part 1 here. It gives additional background to the subsuming of critical areas in Sokwakik, and particularly the flooding of  the Retreat Meadows, by the completion of the Vernon, Vermont hydroelectric dam in 1909. Prior to this date, the now-flooded meadows – known as mskodak in Aln8baiwi – were prime farmland for the Sokwakiak who dwelt here, and subsequently the European settlers that arrived in the mid-1700’s. There are multiple newspaper reports of native burials being exhumed within this alluvial bowl, just west of the mouth of the Wantastekw (I will be documenting them here over time). Sokoki Abenaki heritage and interests were ignored and ravaged, a situation which remains ongoing and challenging.

In the Name of Enlightenment and Progress: Dark Days in Sokwakik

The latest podcast from Brattleboro Historical Society, with Joe Rivers and his BAMS history students. It gives some good background to the subsuming of critical areas in Sokwakik, and the mid-Kwanitekw valley in general, by the construction of the Vernon, Vermont hydroelectric dam early in the last century. Many acres of riverside land were condemned to be flooded in the name of progress, the first project of its kind in the region, with many more to follow. This was a for-profit venture by a group of both local and regional businessmen, to generate power for distant markets at the expense of everything else. Sokoki Abenaki heritage and interests, being a riverine-centric culture, were ignored and ravaged, a situation which remains ongoing and challenging. The resulting impoundment was later accessed and the land further degraded by the construction of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant immediately upstream of the dam itself.

FirstLight’s River Erosion Study for FERC Relicensure Contested

ct-river-turners-falls-northfield-impoundment

The Franklin Regional Planning Board and the Connecticut River Streambank Erosion Committee have responded formally to a study that largely clears Northfield Mountain pumped storage project of blame for river bank erosion. The response to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about FirstLight’s operation of the hydroelectric project criticizes the methodology used and arguments made in the study, which was submitted in September. The study is part of a relicensing application for hydroelectric plants along the river.

That study concludes that the hydroelectric facility is responsible for only 4 percent of the erosion caused along the banks in the 20-mile river segment between the Turners Falls and Vernon, Vt. dams. “Despite this extensive scientific literature, FirstLight claims that most of the erosion in the Turners Falls Impoundment (TFI) is due to the ‘natural’ erosion that happens during high flows in an undammed, unregulated river. FirstLight goes so far as to draw comparisons between the erosion in the TFI and erosion seen in ‘natural alluvial’ rivers in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.”

Full story by Richie Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

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Observations: The combined operational impacts of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage and the Turners Falls Hydroelectric Projects, utilizing what is known as the Turners Falls Impoundment (TFI) on the Kwanitekw/Connecticut River, contributes to the accelerated erosion of the banks for 20 miles. Effects upon this entire stretch of the river are highly sensitive for the Sokwakiak Abenaki people and their ancestors; it is the heart of the lower Sokoki homelands, today’s Northfield, MA being the derivative of the Native settlement known to the British settlers as Squakheag. Both sides of the Kwanitekw – from the site of the Vernon dam south to the corresponding Turners Falls structure – were occupied for millennia before the arrival of the Europeans (as well as areas further north, above the TFI). The landscape remains sacred to the People, a part of the collective cultural consciousness, with sacred sites, stone structures, burials, and long-established relationships embodied within the land and water. The constant raising and lowering of the river’s surface level due to daily operations of the Projects, unlike a natural alluvial river system, is accelerating the destruction and loss of this ancient homeland, and compromising the relationships necessary for the community’s vitality.