Abenaki-inspired poster to emphasize respect for land
VERMONT — Advocates for racial justice in Vermont hope that a recently created poster will soon be seen in schools, libraries, town offices and small businesses all over the state. The poster reads: “Please respect and protect N’Dakinna (our land) while you are here. This is the homeland of the Western Abenaki People.”
The wording and imagery on the poster was chosen with great care by Don Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, who worked with Quebec based Nulhegan Abenaki artist Jon Guilbault to make sure that the most important Abenaki cultural symbols would occupy a prominent place in the artwork.
“It is important to remember that we are but stewards of this land we occupy and are only one part of the web of life,” Chief Stevens said. “What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves. This poster is a reminder that the creator gave the Western Abenaki the responsibility to care for our land and in turn would provide for our needs. Once the land was taken from us, we could no longer fulfill this responsibility. We ask that you respect and protect the land so it will continue to provide for us all.“
In Australia, a custom known as Acknowledgement of Country encourages public gatherings to begin by paying respect to the traditional guardians of the land. Typically, whoever is convening the event starts by honoring the land’s custodians (indigenous people), by stating that the gathering is being held on land that has been cared for by a specific group of people. The acknowledgement names the particular tribe, nation, or community that has stewarded the land, and offers respect to the indigenous elders of that region.
This Australian custom has spread to Canada, and is now sometimes used by Native American and progressive groups in the United States. While Acknowledgement of Country is usually a verbal statement made at the start of a gathering, meeting or cultural event, the poster is a visual way to express respect and gratitude to the people who have been caretakers of the places we call home.
NULHAGEN ABENAKI CHIEF Don Stevens is seen here at a tribal event with his grandson Shadow, left, son Don III and mother, Margaret. Stevens played a role in creating a poster asking people to respect the homeland of the Western Abenaki People.
“We are currently living under a system of political economy that is based around the commodification and exploitation of people and the earth,” said Kemi Fuentes-George, associate professor of Political Science at Middlebury College, and supporter of the project. “In fact, environmental injustice would not be possible without racial injustice, and vice versa. It is past time that we replace this exploitative system with one that recognizes our common humanity, and our interconnectedness with all living things.”
WomenSafe’s Executive Director Kerri Duquette-Hoffman and its Board Chair, Amy Mason, were enthusiastic early individual supporters.
“When Kerri and I learned about this initiative, we didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity to support the project, in hopes that we could one day post signs in our homes and at our office,” Mason said. “At WomenSafe, it’s a top priority to help those who access our services feel at home. It’s our hope that someone with Abenaki heritage would feel warmly welcomed when greeted by one of these posters near our entrance.”
The project was crowdfunded by supporters across the state, who will receive a poster in gratitude now that the first batch has come off the press. A Go Fund Me page is seeking additional funding for subsequent printings, as well as to support other Abenaki educational and cultural initiatives. Community members who would like a poster of their own are encouraged to visit gofundme.com/poster-to-support-abenaki-people.
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