BRATTLEBORO — In May 2019, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed into law a bill officially recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in place of Columbus Day. At a celebration of the occasion Monday, Oct. 12 in Brattleboro, members of the Elnu Abenaki community were happy to announce the launch of the Atowi Project, a long-term collaboration with Retreat Farm, which hosted the gathering.
Centered upon the West River’s “Meadows” — known traditionally to the Abenaki as Wantastegok — the project will enable a place-based opportunity for Native voices to engage with the broader community, while enhancing capacity and creating awareness for the future. Elnu Sôgmô (Chief) Roger Longtoe Sheehan welcomed those attending the celebration with traditional song and greetings, and invited them to learn more about the Original People and their connections to their homelands. “We’ve been here a very long time,” he said “and we’re still here, despite what you’ve been told.”
Retreat Farm recognizes that the landscape holds and is shaped by a multitude of stories, although many of these narratives have been ignored, or suppressed, with a resultant loss of diversity, vitality, justice, and equity. Affirming the Abenaki experience through its cultural values will aid in addressing this lack of inclusion, in all of its complexity, and bring benefit both to the Indigenous and broader communities. Rich Holschuh, who will help guide the undertaking, explains “Atowi is a Western Abenaki word meaning ‘together, in space and time.’ Through diverse programming, the Atowi Project will affirm Native relationships to the Land and its inhabitants, restoring these vital perspectives to the conversations now underway.” Retreat Farm Executive Director Buzz Schmidt said, “These initiatives align well with the Farm’s commitment to foster the reconnection of people with the land that sustains us, while supporting the communities that have been excluded from those benefits.”
Toward the goal of re-establishing an integral Abenaki perspective within Wantastegok — a traditionally significant setting — members of the Native community will implement and lead multiple opportunities for engagement. Examples of planned programming are: an Abenaki-lensed interpretive trail looping around the natural abundance of the “Meadows,” adjacent to the farm; a series of workshops to broaden understanding and awareness; classes and presentations for traditional skills; celebrations and social gatherings; a demonstration garden in support of Indigenous food sovereignty; Abenaki language lessons; living history demonstrations; and cultural enrichment opportunities with speakers, film, and exhibits. For information and resources, go to atowi.org, now under development and being updated regularly.