State recognizes official Indigenous Peoples Day for the second year
STOWE, Vt. (WCAX) - This is the second year Vermont is recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day as an official holiday.
The Green Mountain State was originally inhabited by the Abenaki Nation before settlers forced them to leave their homeland.
Saturday, Abenaki descendants called on the community to acknowledge those injustices and commit to being better allies.
“I mean, we celebrate who we are every day, but it’s nice that the public can come out and see what our culture looks like and enjoy some of the events,” said Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Bank of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation.
Stowe’s second annual Indigenous Peoples Day Rocks Celebration is a time to listen and learn.
“I think it’s important that we expose our kids to all kinds of cultures especially the Native American cultures, especially since the Abenaki are from the area, it’s important for them to know the heritage,” said Michele Parker of Underhill.
Jesse Bowman Brushac is an Abenaki language keeper. He says he’s only one of about a dozen folks in the area who speak the language fluently.
“We’re all spread out. The Abenaki community comes from all over New England, not just Vermont -- up into Quebec. I’m from New York State, so it’s important we have people to teach in as many places as possible,” said Brushac.
Sharing personal experiences and reflecting on the past are important aspects of Saturday’s event.
Tribal Council member Dan Coutu says information about Native Americans has been hidden from the general population due to centuries of persecution.
“Abenakis have been undesirables throughout the United States, not just here, but it’s slowly turning around,” said Coutu.
“It’s an opportunity to kind of hold ourselves accountable for what we created as a nation and hopefully reverse that and re-educate ourselves and our children on who our Native people are,” said Aimee Green of Stowe Vibrancy.
Folks there spent time engaging with the craft vendors, preparing for the evening’s rock concert, and immersing themselves in Abenaki history.
“It’s really opened my eyes, this deep fascination about who people are, I suppose, and their backgrounds and what stories do they have to tell me that maybe I haven’t heard before,” said Zack Munsell from Stowe, who attended the event.
“It’s a time to come out and celebrate who we are and get together with our relatives and friends, but it also allows the public to come out and interact with us and learn about our culture,” said Chief Stevens.
At Stowe’s Indigenous Peoples Day Rocks celebration, a vaccine tent was pitched among the craft vendors.
Only 30% of Native American, Indigenous or First Nation Vermonters are vaccinated.
That’s about 658 people according to the Health Department.
Officials say Chief Don Stevens invited officials to host a clinic at the event in an attempt to boost these numbers.
“This event is particularly important because we know there’s a particularly low uptake, low rates of vaccination among our indigenous populations, and we’re not entirely sure why,” said Public Health Communication Officer Ruth Baldasty at the Vermont Health Department. “We figure the more often we show up and begin to chat with people and learn from them and establish some relationships, we can figure out how to best offer a connection.”
“With the past laws that were restrictive, the sterilization laws, that has contributed to the disconnection and mistrust in the community, and so we believe it’s a very important step to take to show that we’re committed to building bridges,” said Heidi Klein, director of planning at the Vermont Department of Health.
The clinic administered five Pfizer booster shots Saturday as well as three Johnson & Johnson doses for those interested.
Officials say they wanted to provide an opportunity for all Vermonters who might be hesitant to get the vaccine, as part of a strategy to make COVID-19 protection accessible to all.
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