Letter: The Abenaki are still here - talk to us

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Editor of the Reformer:

A response to May 9th's feature "Native American Talks Hemp Regulation and Genocide" is in order. In the article, reporter Harmony Birch quotes visiting Lakota Alex White Plume stating ""On the East Coast here there's no more natural Indians. They were wiped out because they have 511 years [of colonization] we've only had 200 years of contact so we're still real," he said of the Lakota. "Our language is real, our ceremonies are real. We're still alive; we still remember." White Plume was in town as an invited speaker, along with scholar Norman Finkelstein, at an event organized by Brattleboro Common Sense, a local organization. The event was an exploration "about the similarities between the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and Native Americans."

Common Sense recently debuted a campaign to ask for reparations for local indigenous groups. Director Kurt Daims explained they want to raise $1 million to distribute among local Native American groups. Of the oversight council's membership, Daims said: "... he wanted to include diverse voices. He wasn't aware of committee members' ancestry before asking them to join the council, but many of the people he approached happened to be of Abenaki descent ... he spoke to one local Abenaki leader who said he didn't think people were ready for reparations."

There is a direct connection, beyond the event itself, to these two statements, one by a Native man and the other by a well-intentioned resident. It is a fundamental aspect of the situation of indigenous people who are still here in n'dakinna, their traditional homelands, and reflects the ongoing destruction and oppression of colonization. Whether the bias is explicit or implicit, both statements deny the free agency of the indigenous people of this place, who are actively seeking to address the marginalization and dismissal of place-based Native voices.

In the case of White Plume, this is known as lateral violence. In the case of Daims, this is known as privilege. If one's intent is to work toward understanding and alliance, one must consult with the people whom you propose to support. This is Allyship 101. The direction and methodologies must come from the people; anything else is a continuing imposition of assumptions and values over indigenous self-determination. As Denise Desiderio, policy director of the National Congress of American Indians, says "Trust the Indians to know about the Indians." Healthy alliances aren't created by embracing a community; they begin by being embraced by the community itself. Avi Salloway stated this clearly in Seven Days (12/1/16) upon his return from Standing Rock: "Learn about the indigenous people in your region meet those people. Learn about who they are and how you can support them." There is no need to import opinions or formulate one's own. Askwa n'daoldibna iodali - we are still here. Talk to us.

Rich Holschuh

Brattleboro (Wantastegok, Sokwakik), June 8

TALK TO US

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