Indigenous Peoples Day: “It’s up to non-Indigenous people to decide what they want to celebrate”

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Sherry Gould, tribal genealogist for the Nulhegan Cultural and Historical Preservation Department of the Abenaki Tribe receives a hug from the first indigenous peoples of Warner ?? Day at the Kearsarge Mountain Indian Museum on Monday, October 11, 2021.


Indigenous Peoples Day is not for celebrating Native Americans.

That’s what Chief Don Stevens told a crowd of around 100 on Monday afternoon, who gathered at the Powwow Field outside the Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner.

Stevens’ tribe, the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, already celebrates itself and its culture, every day. Rather, he said the second Monday in October was reserved for non-natives – to let them know that the natives were still there.

“We’re here on this Indigenous Day not to celebrate ourselves because we celebrate our people all the time, it’s to educate,” Stevens said. “It’s to be there for the public so they can see us. People are afraid of what they don’t understand, and when they don’t understand it sometimes hatred comes from there.

The town of Warner, where the Indian Museum is located on 12.5 acres of land, officially changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples‘ Day last fall. Because the celebrations were called off in the midst of the pandemic, the museum hosted its first event for the holidays this year, titled “Indigenous Peoples Day – Erasure and Recovery”.

“There is no one right way to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. I think it’s a process, ”said museum director Andy Bullock. “It’s all these little things that we do at our own individual level that I think will end up being a very meaningful movement. I’m just delighted that we have so many different voices to join us today.

Representatives from the Nulhegan Band, the New England Quakers, and the towns of Warner and Hopkinton spoke about past and ongoing efforts to support Indigenous people before answering questions from the audience.

Don Stevens, chief of the Abenaki Nulhegan tribe speaks at Warner Indigenous Peoples ?? Day at the Kearsarge Mountain Indian Museum on Monday, October 11, 2021. Photo / Geoff Forester

Afterwards, participants were invited to have refreshments, talk with the panelists, drumming with Chef Stevens and dancing.

“Part of being here today is educating people about (our) historical trauma,” Stevens said. “We have been here for thousands of years, we are still here and we will be here in the future, but we have to make it safe for our children. We have to make it safe, so it’s good to be Native American and to be Abenaki, and to be what they are.

Stevens said his grandmother was targeted under the Vermont Eugenics Act of 1931, which led to the surgical sterilization of Native Americans, French Canadians and others. She changed her name from Lilian to Pauline when she married and died as Delia.

“This is how important our identity is to us. It was life or death, ”Stevens said.

Sherry Gould, the tribal genealogist of the Nulhegan Abenaki group, said her family was also targeted and therefore went into hiding as traveling basket makers.

Darryl Peasley of the Abenaki Trails Project and part of the Abenaki Nation Coosucks Band and Sherry Gould, Tribal Genealogist for the Nulhegan Cultural and Historical Preservation Department of the Abenaki Tribe, listen to their gratitude on Indigenous Peoples Day of Warner at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum on Monday, October 11, 2021. Photo / Geoff Forester

For those looking to support the goals of local Indigenous peoples, Gould and Lynn Clark – Executive Director of the Warner Historical Society – shared actions with the crowd at the end of Monday’s event.

Clark said land surveys were not enough.

“It’s so easy for us white liberal middle class to feel good about ourselves and say, ‘We’re going to tick that box. I recognize that this land is stolen. But have we really changed anything? she said. “A good step is to think about how you can give Aboriginal people access to the resources that have always been theirs. If you have land and you know you have food and medicine resources, talk to the people about the Abenaki Trails Project and start thinking about it.

Hopkinton changed Indigenous Peoples Day to 2019. Both cities hoisted the Abenaki flag of Nulhegan in their town halls on Monday.

“It was the first step. This is not the end, we do not solve all the problems, but it is a good first step to take in recognizing this day and the indigenous cultures and contributions, ”said Sara Persechino, moderator of the town of Hopkinton.

Bear Wolf, a native of New Hampshire and a member of the Abenaki and registered with the Blackfoot Nation, listens to speakers on Warner Indigenous Peoples Day at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum on Monday, October 11, 2021. Photo / Geoff Forester

A former member of the selection, Persechino had been advocating for the holiday’s name change for three years before it materialized.

“All of us who try to be good ancestors and good allies, take the time to have conversations and help guide people who want to do the right thing and set a good example for our children and our communities. is really important, “she said.

Other New Hampshire municipalities that have officially changed the name of the holiday include Dover, Durham, Exeter, and Nashua. Concord city council will hold a public hearing on November 11 to discuss a proposal to change the name of the October holiday.

Legislation that would formalize the change in New Hampshire has not been passed by the State House of Representatives three years in a row: 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Gould said that rather than pushing for statewide recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day, the strategy she supports is to go city-by-city for those who are motivated to make change in their own community.

“For us, it’s up to non-natives to decide what they want to celebrate. They have a choice, ”Gould said. “We celebrate the fact that we are indigenous every day. I think if it’s from the community and it’s organic, it’s a lot more meaningful. “

Maine and Vermont officially replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in 2019. The two states join more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia in recognizing the day, either through ‘legislation or executive proclamations.

President Joe Biden released the very first presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day on Friday to observe October 11, as well as Columbus Day.

The director of the Bullock Museum shared the following excerpt from the proclamation with the crowd on Monday.

“The federal government has a solemn obligation to rise up and invest in the future of indigenous peoples and to empower tribal nations to govern their own communities and make their own decisions,” the proclamation reads. “We must never forget the age-old campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation and terror against indigenous communities and tribal nations across our country. Today, we recognize the significant sacrifices made by Indigenous peoples to this country and recognize their many continuing contributions to our nation.


These articles are being shared by The Granite State News Collaborative partners as part of our Race and Fairness Project. For more information visit collaborationnh.org.


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