BRATTLEBORO — Indigenous Peoples Day has been recognized in Brattleboro for years, and a celebration at Retreat Farm holds even more meaning.
“This makes it real,” said Rich Holschuh, director of the Atowi Project based at the farm. “People are face to face learning from each other. It’s more than symbolic. It’s lived.”
Holschuh petitioned Brattleboro and then-Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2016 to rename Columbus Day. Shumlin did so via an executive proclamation and at Representative Town Meeting the following year, Brattleboro started observing Indigenous Peoples Day permanently, although Marlboro beat the town to it earlier in the month.
In 2019, Gov. Phil Scott signed a bill put forth by the Vermont Legislature to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day in perpetuity. Holschuh said Scott signed executive proclamations for two years before.
Joe Biden became the first American president to issue a similar proclamation, making Monday Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the U.S. this year.
“The contributions that Indigenous peoples have made throughout history — in public service, entrepreneurship, scholarship, the arts, and countless other fields — are integral to our Nation, our culture, and our society,” Biden wrote in the proclamation Friday, according to CNN. “Today, we acknowledge the significant sacrifices made by Native peoples to this country — and recognize their many ongoing contributions to our Nation.”
Holschuh is now leading the Atowi Project, an outreach effort based at Retreat Farm to share stories of Indigenous Peoples and raise awareness about the Indigenous community. At the farm Monday, he welcomed people to Wantastegok, the traditional name for Brattleboro which was displayed on a sign in front of Retreat Meadows as part of the project.
“It has been Wantastegok for a really long time and it still is,” he said. “That didn’t go away. The people didn’t go away.”
Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe led a greeting song and a “calling-in song.” About 50 attendees listened before starting to sample traditional dishes.
Three Sisters Soup was made up of squash, beans and corn. Satamzikwtal featured blueberry corn mush, cornmeal, water, walnut milk, maple syrup and dried blueberries. Pegikedawasawa Psanjagha had wild rice, turkey, parsnip, onion, cranberries, hazelnuts and salt pork served in a roasted stuffed pumpkin. Salmon and bread also were offered.
Sheehan showed how feast bowls are prepared for grandmothers, grandfathers or others who are no longer with the tribe. He said a meal is kept at the end of a table or next to a tree, depending on the tribe’s tradition.
The Elnu are one of four tribes recognized by the state and in Canada but not federally, Holschuh said. He noted the Abenaki people have lived in the area for 13,000 to 14,000 years.