A small thing, but highly symbolic: Brattleboro to observe Indigenous Peoples' Day

Rich Holschuh says he looks forward to exploring how to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day.

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BRATTLEBORO — It's official.

The town will now recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day on the second Monday in October in place of Columbus Day.

"It's a small thing but it's highly symbolic for Brattleboro to make this move forward," said Rich Holschuh, a resident of the town who's a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. "I hope we can take it statewide eventually. Brattleboro is the beginning of colonization in this state at Fort Dummer."

Holschuh said he is looking forward to exploring how to observe and celebrate the holiday. He had secured enough signatures on a petition to signal a vote via an article at annual Representative Town Meeting last month.

After getting unanimous support from Town Meeting members, a resolution was read by Select Board Chairwoman Kate O'Connor on Tuesday:

"Whereas, the town of Brattleboro Select Board heeds said advice and desires to recognize Indigenous People of Wantastegok in Sokwakik — the immediate area now known as Brattleboro, Vermont — dwelling here prior to and during the colonization begun by Christopher Columbus in the Western Hemisphere and whereas, there is ample local evidence, including petroglyphs at the West River, demonstrating this area has been inhabited for millennia, long before Europeans began to settle along the Connecticut River and its tributaries, notably at Fort Dummer in Brattleboro in 1724; and whereas, the town of Brattleboro recognizes that this area comprises in part the homelands of Indigenous Peoples including the Abenaki, their allies and ancestors; and whereas, Indigenous Peoples' Day will provide an opportunity for our community to recognize and celebrate the Indigenous Peoples of our region, in concert with similar celebrations elsewhere; and whereas, the town of Brattleboro encourages schools, other educational institutions, businesses and other institutions to recognize and celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day."

The three Select Board members present at Tuesday's meeting all voted in favor of honoring Town Meeting members' request that they make the change.

"I would love to make the motion," Select Board Vice Chairwoman Brandie Starr said. "I make that motion quite happily."

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Holschuh thanked town staff, town attorney Bob Fisher, and past and present Select Board members.

"Thank you for allowing me to make some edits," he said of the resolution. "It turned out great. It's been an honor and pleasure."

The room erupted in applause after Holschuh made one more statement.

"We think of this as a caring town," he said. "We're walking the walk."

About 10 minutes later, when the board was being given the town's monthly financial report, resident Pete Nickerson wondered whether the name of the holiday should have stayed the way it was.

"I'm a rebel up from Virginia 50 years, 16 years in Florida," he said. "I'm in another culture here. This isn't southern culture, where we do respect western civilization and we don't like seeing dates and anniversaries and historical things that the western man has done being deleted. It's like deleting history. I feel very sorry for what we have done to the American Indian and we're still doing it to many other species, but we should keep our history intact."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.