This is the second year the state is recognizing Indigenous People’s Day as an official holiday. Vermont is the first northeast state to move away from Columbus Day.
Abenaki people say it’s a first step toward reclaiming their culture.
“We have the same wants, dreams, and desires as anyone else,” Kerry Wood said. “Part of that is to remember where we came from and who we are, and make sure we maintain a community.”
That community exists at Vermont’s Indigenous Heritage Center, a safe place to engage in ceremonies, dances, and teach the Abenaki way. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy joined them Monday to announce $250 thousand in grant money to upgrade and expand its facilities.
“We’re preserving things,” Sen. Leahy said. “Too often we forget you have to preserve, because if you don’t learn from the past, you’re not prepared for the future.”
Kerry Wood knows the past signifies injustices for her community. She says she was denied a childhood embracing the Abenaki culture, because her grandfather made the tough choice to change their family name, in order to have better opportunities.
Although Vermont was first inhabited by Abenaki people, controversy surrounds that history. Now, Wood wants to keep the culture alive, that was lost for many generations.
“History is taught from the dominant culture, it’s taught from one perspective,” she said. “It’s really important to take a step back and say what might be other perspectives of history.”
The heritage center will also put years worth of Abenaki artifacts, like clothing, tools, and jewelry on full display.
“We’ll have the chain of custody all in the exhibit to say ‘we’ve always been here,we’re still here, and we’re always going to be here,'” coordinator Frederick Wiseman said.