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.
Mike Faher was interviewed by Jane Lindholm today, on Vermont Edition, discussing his ongoing coverage of the proposed VY sale under consideration by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC Docket No. 8880). Among other updates, they discussed the Elnu Abenaki testimony regarding their concerns at the site in the heart of Sokwakik and how that might be handled in the process.
Article and podcast here. Go to 18:40 in.
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.
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.
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.
On May 25, 2017, the Vermont Nuclear Decommissioning Citizens Advisory Panel (VTNDCAP) hosted members of the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at Brattleboro Area Middle School’s (BAMS) multipurpose room. On the agneda were presentations and a public comment period for the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee (VY) by Entergy to Northstar Group Services (Vermont Public Service Board Docket # 8880). This author, representing Elnu Abenaki, with the Nulhegan and Koasek Abenaki, offered testimony in support of our participation in the procedure.
Video thanks to Brattleboro Community Television.
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.
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.