If I were speaking to you in person, I would honor you and my ancestors by introducing myself in the traditional way of my people, the Anishinaabe, or Ojibwe. I would tell you my Anishinaabemowin name, my clan, and where my people come from. We do this out of respect of those who came before us and to identify which territory we come from. I continue this practice to honor my relations that have passed and never were able to practice this way of sharing. I want to say miigwetch (Thank You), first and foremost, for having the space to honor the first people of this continent. Without their strength, knowledge, traditions, resilience, and unwavering belief in our way of life, I would not be here today.
Why is it important to acknowledge today and the first people of Turtle Island? There are many reasons, and I hope today you can read several different perspectives from several different Indigenous people. We are all vastly different yet connected to each other. We each have different languages, traditions, ceremonies, and ways of moving through the world. We also share the same history as being the first peoples to this land and we are still here! It is also very important to acknowledge that this includes our relations to the North and South. Before contact, there were no such things as boarders. We were just people living in various regions. Vermont is a beautiful place, and we are all blessed to live here. This is home to many different tribal peoples, from Abenaki and Wabanaki to Lakota, Athabaskan, Choctaw, Anishinaabe, Mohawk, Cherokee, and so many more. It’s important to recognize how many nations are here. We are your neighbors, colleagues, nurses, and educators. Social Workers, chefs, and artists. We are thriving and not living in the shadows. Not anymore. Never again.
I want to reflect on the personal piece of Indigenous Peoples Day. I grew up on the periphery of my culture in Southern California. Attending powwows here and there, but I was very much a city kid that was disconnected. I didn’t attend ceremony until I was 19, and now I am 50. I’ve spent many years learning my language and traditions and will continue to learn for the rest of my life. One of the ways I have tried to make change for our community, has been by working as a Vermont State Commissioner on Native American Affairs alongside other Indigenous commissioners, state politicians, and other community members to make the Indigenous people of Vermont, visible. Having this day become an “Official” day of recognition, is something we are all proud of. My main motivator was for my kids and other Indigenous children in Vermont.
When my kids started school here in Montpelier some years ago, they were called liars by some school mates. The kids said to them that they couldn’t possibly be Native because “all the Indians are dead”. My kids were so confused. First because we never refer to ourselves as “Indians”, and second because they attend ceremony. They are learning their languages and are very proud of their culture. When I heard this, it made me realize I had an opportunity to make things different for them, and other Indigenous children in Vermont. Making Indigenous Peoples Day happen here, has given my children an opportunity to honor their ancestors publicly. They are also being acknowledged publicly. They have a gift of being seen in the world as Anishinaabe and Choctaw people, where myself, my sibling, my parents, and grandparents were either in hiding, or shamed into silence. My kids can proudly state where they are from, hear their languages spoken in public, practice their ceremonies, and feel a sense of comfort knowing that where we come from is very special and nothing to be ashamed of. I hope that my ancestors are proud of this up-and-coming generation, I know that I am.
I hope that you all remember this land that we share together is a gift. I ask that you just take a moment today to acknowledge the things that keep us alive. The water, the air, the land. You don’t have to be Indigenous to understand why these things are gifts and how powerful that is. If you can, spend some time today in the quiet spaces, and say thank you to the first people of this continent as well as your own ancestors that made it so that you are here today.
-Jennifer Morton-Dow, Anishinaabe Montpelier City Councilor