Video: Brattleboro Selectboard Avoids Indigenous People’s Day 10.04.2016

Discussion of the proposed resolution before the Brattleboro Selectboard for a change from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day begins at 2:02:15 into the video transcript.

Indigenous People’s Day Evaded by Brattleboro Selectboard


At last night’s regular meeting of the Brattleboro Selectboard, Item 10G on the agenda (submitted by this author) asked for a resolution to change the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Several people came out in support (and spoke to the topic), but the end result was a defeat (3-2 vote) of any type of support for the initiative. Rather than repeat the entire story of the evening’s exchange, I will quote the able commentary of Chris Grotke, of iBrattleboro, from his posting here. At the end of the quoted story, I have added my inline comment.

“Rich Holschuh submitted a request to the selectboard to formally act on a non-binding resolution passed at Representative Town Meeting in March of 2016. The action would proclaim the second Monday of each October as “Indigenous People’s Day,” rather than Columbus Day.

Board members were given the first opportunity to speak on the issue, and the majority were against approving it.

David Gartenstein questioned whether the original decision at Representative Town Meeting even had a quorum in the first place. (Note: They did have a quorum.) He felt signatures should be gathered to petition to put the issue before the voting public, and that the entire population should decide rather than the Selectboard.

Dick DeGray said the issue of not having a quorum raised questions.  “I don’t feel we can vote on this,” he said.

Kate O’Connor agreed that it should be a town wide decision. “It’s a big thing to change a day, and making a decision on behalf of the entire town.”

“I concur with Kate,“ said John Allen.

David Schoales was the only member to disagree. “I’d like to see us do this. We can go around, but it is simple and straightforward to make a statement on this.” He suggested approving it now, and putting it up for a general vote later.

DeGray cautioned that if it were a town-wide ballot vote, it would be non-binding. He suggested it be sent to Representative Town Meeting instead.

At that point, someone named William in the audience asked a simple question. “Why do they want to change the day?” Since it hadn’t been discussed, David Gartenstein read the text provided.

The resolution read:

“Whereas, Indigenous People’s Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native Nations to the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas; and

Whereas, a growing number of cities and towns in the United States have recognized the second Monday of October as “Indigenous People’s Day,” reimagining Columbus Day as an opportunity to celebrate indigenous heritage and resiliency; and

Whereas, the Town of Brattleboro recognizes the historic, cultural, and contemporary significance of the Indigenous People’s of the lands that later became known as the Americas, including Vermont and Brattleboro, and values the many contributions of these peoples; and

Whereas, the Town of Brattleboro recognizes that it was chartered and is built upon lands first inhabited by the Indigenous Peoples of this region, the Sokwakiak Abenaki and their ancestors, and wishes to acknowledge and honor these members of the community, past and present.

Now, therefore, the Selectboard of the Town of Brattleboro does hereby proclaim the second Monday of October to be “Indigenous People’s Day and strongly encourages public institutions, businesses, organizations, and citizens to recognize and support this designation, affirming the Town’s commitment to demonstrate appreciation for this land’s First Peoples.”

Rich Holschuh, the requester, introduced himself by saying he lived in the south part of town and served on the Vermont Commission for Native American Affairs, “We still have native people here.”

He said he likes to be both positive and progressive, and that “charity begins at home, with small steps.” He felt the board could approve the motion. “We’re not sticking our neck out, and are not alone.” He said it was part of a movement growing across the nation. And while neighbors Amherst and Northampton have passed similar resolutions, no Vermont town has done this yet “not even the people’s republic of Burlington,” he joked. “We could do it tonight.”

Ralph Meima agreed and felt taking tis action would allow word to get out “rather than lose another year.” He felt it urgent that Brattleboro act now to put ourselves first.

Other agreed. Sherry Stewart said it was “long overdue” and would put us on the right side of history. “It’s a matter of respect and honor.”

William said he felt it should go to a town-wide vote.

Joe Rivers said it was “time for our elected representatives to stand,” and that “this should be an easy vote.” He encouraged the board to make the statement of truth that Europeans took land and resources from the Abenaki.

Sensing little shift in the view of the board, Meima offered a compromise. “Would it be possible to proclaim just this Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day,” he asked, then later have it voted as a proclamation to be perpetuated?

Holschuh like that idea, and the idea of putting it up for a vote. “It will pass.”

None of these arguments swayed the board. Gartenstein talked of core town operations and staying out of issues like this, O’Connor wanted everyone to be able to to weigh in, and Allen felt it was a personal issue for people. “There are lots of different ways to look at this,” he said.

Schoales pressed for a motion to, at least, skip the petition process and put the issue before Representative Town Meeting. “We make value judgements. All issues aren’t equal. I can’t see any reason to wait. We’re here because things like this come up.”

DeGray reiterated his concern about the lack of a quorum, and wanted the town to vote on it. He also said the media never covered it and no one knew about the last minute decision made by Town Meeting representatives. He supported Schoales in trying to get it on the Representative Town meeting agenda, but in the end the motion failed 3-2.


Here’s our coverage of RTM 2016, noting the quorum for the non-binding decision on Indigenous Peoples Day at the end of the meeting.

Here’s another story done after announcing it specifically and more widely to the public. Over 820 reads, too, as I write this.

End quote. Thank you Chris.

My comment:

Where is the vision?

Thank you Chris for your coverage – accurately and succinctly reported. There will be immediate followup to this graphic example of abrogation of leadership responsibility. This type of action is exactly appropriate for an elected official: to demonstrate an awareness and sensitivity to the progress of society, and lead by example. This is demonstrated at all levels of community – well, it can and should be.

As Dick DeGray alluded toward the end of the discussion, every item under consideration stands on its own merits and must pass muster; although initially opposed, he swung his vote to affirmative (too little, too late) despite Chair David Gartenstein’s wariness of precedent and taking a position on an “issue.” It was pointed out that the Board votes on “issues” constantly, and that this was a paper argument. As a matter of fact, although it became apparent that there was a consensus toward appreciating the sentiment of the resolution for change – in other words, tacit approval, other than Gartenstein who remained equivocal and aloof. But no one, other than David Schoales, would back that up with action. It was quite amazing to witness the wiggling and excuses.

Two board members stated that this was a matter of personal conviction and should be decided by the voters. This is completely valid. However, it is also a matter of public policy, governance, and social responsibility. The topic of discussion is a civic holiday, on the public payroll, and codified into our cultural mores. This is exactly what elected leaders deal with, on a regular basis. It’s their job. When Ralph Meima offered a balanced solution, to make the proclamation by the Board, and then place it on the Warning for ratification or comment at RTM next spring, it seemed to offer a safe compromise. But, no, they couldn’t even do that.

The final form of the motion, made by Schoales, was to ask the Board to simply place it on the Warning for consideration by the Town Meeting Reps. This would allow for a small gesture of leadership by recognizing the validity of the request, and at the same time, enabling the full will of the people (already amply demonstrated by last year’s non-binding approval) to make the change in a clear and democratic fashion. This too failed, by a 2-3 vote. It was a pathetic and shameful moment. I am so sorry.



Brave Little State: the Resiliency of the Abenaki People


I met Angela Evancie of Vermont Public Radio in Brattleboro’s Locust Ridge cemetery this morning for an hour-long interview (it’ll probably be closer to three minutes after editing). We were putting together material for a Brave Little State episode on the resiliency and resurgence of the Aln8bak – the Abenaki people – in what we now call Vermont. Angela’s editorial idea (brilliant) was to chat next to the grave of Col. John Sergeant, “the first person born in the state of Vermont.”

We covered a lot of territory (all good – it is n’dakinna after all) and I enjoyed the time spent exploring the state of things. And Angela is a wonderful, kind person. I believe this is going to be a good episode; it will be airing in November. I’ll post coverage here on Sokoki Sojourn of course.

Kik8mkwak: the Garden Fish

kik8mkwak white suckers garden fish

Look in the mid-ground of this photo, taken at noon in mid-September above the shallows of the Kwanitekw/ Connecticut River at the confluence of Kitad8gan Sibo/Whetstone Brook. A squadron of suckers, kik8mkwak, maybe 50 or 60 of them, are all hovering there in the warming sun, facing west and waiting for the next big thing to wash down from the hills. The name “kik8mkwa” in Western Abenaki literally means “field or garden fish,” from their use in traditional planting as fertilizer, specifically kik8n = improved land or garden plus -akw = fish. White suckers will move upstream in May to spawn, traveling in great numbers from their usual haunts in lakes and rivers into the smaller tributary brooks and streams. Rather than using the more valuable anadromous shad, salmon, alewives, and herring for planting, the less desirable and easily procured suckers fit the bill quite well.

A story from Dr. Fred Wiseman illustrates the practice well: “Former Koasek Chief Nancy Millette says that when she was a child, she and her little friends went to the Connecticut River and its tributaries in the spring to catch the sucker fish that ran in huge schools so thick “that your could almost walk upon them.” She says the fish were not for eating, but for the gardens. This was a revelation to me, because I had known that the Abenaki word for sucker fish was “kikômkwa,” and the first syllable was hauntingly similar to “kikôn,” the Abenaki word for field. I had dismissed the connection, but after Chief Nancy’s information sunk in, I discovered from 18th-century Abenaki dictionaries that the word originally meant “the garden fish.” So linguistics from years ago explains an obscure cultural connection between spring fish runs and the gardens that were being prepared at the same time. Today, it is traditional to insert one or more fish or parts of fish “about the size of your open hand” 8 to 18 inches deep in the mound.”


Notes on a Lost Flute, Kerry Hardy, 2009.

Sun Dance Season: An Abenaki Summer, Fred Wiseman, 2015.

The First Person Born in the State of Vermont

john sergeant grave marker locust ridge

“Sacred to the memory of Colo. John Sergeant Who departed this life July 30th 1798 in the sixty sixth year of his age. Who now lies in the same town he was born & was the first person born in the state of Vermont.”
This grave marker stands in the Locust Ridge Cemetery,  in the north end of Brattleboro, Vermont. Once known as the Sergeant Cemetery, it is near the former farms of the Sergeant brothers, John and Thomas. This was land that their father Lt. John (Sr.), who was part of the garrison at Fort Dummer, was granted following his petition in 1738, long before it was considered “safe” to settle – it was described as all of the land between the West and Connecticut Rivers north to the Dummerston line. This area of town was known, quite literally, as “West River.” Son John was born within the walls of Fort Dummer in 1732, when that northernmost British outpost on the Connecticut River had been standing 8 years. Brother Thomas followed about 1734. Many descendants of these Sergeant siblings (also Sargent/Sergent/ Sargeant) lived on the farms and nearby afterward.
Col. John Sergeant has often been cited as being the “first person” (read white or Anglo-Saxon) born in what later became the State of Vermont and this is the claim made by his epitaph. However, other information shows clearly that the first British child born (at Fort Dummer) was Major Timothy Dwight in 1726, son of the commander, Lt. Timothy Dwight, and father of a third Timothy Dwight, who became President of Yale University.
The point being: all of this is to ignore, and dismiss, the thousand generations of indigenous Abenakiak and their ancestors, who have been in and of this land for millennia. They were here when the new people appeared and they are still here.
Askwa n’daoldibna iodali – we are still here. #ReclaimingWantastegok #3

Let the Light Flow

brook ledge opening stoned up

Hidden behind a mountain high above Wantastegok, a small brook drains a forgotten swamp lush with high-bush cranberry, chickadees, and sphagnum moss. Secreted beyond the forested ridgeline, hemmed with mountain laurel and hemlocks, the clear amber water seeps through the roots and fallen leaves, and gathers into a narrow crease as it seeks a way to the Kwanitekw below. Dikes of schist ledge rise in its downward path, nudging it here and there, slow and now fast, as the pull of gravity leads it toward the great river in the valley. One such ledge offered an opportune notch toward the goal of confluence, but someone, long ago, saw a better moment nearby. Stones were laid into the gap, diverting the flow a few feet further south toward another opening, where a vein of pure white quartz crossed the bedrock.

brook white quartz flow

The water coursed over the bright light of the stone, continuing on its journey, the same flow but now infused with caring and energy. Still it moves down the mountain, many hundreds of lives later, following its destiny and carrying the intentions of an ancient heart and sharing the gift with all of its relations.

#ReclaimingWantastegok #2