First Indigenous People’s Day celebrated in Vermont

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Vermont celebrated the state’s first indigenous peoples day on Monday. In May, Governor Phil Scott signed a proclamation removing Columbus Day from the state’s official holidays.

“The word is getting around that we’re here,” said Richard Menard of Swanton.

The Abenaki community, comprised of more than 3,000 people in Vermont and New Hampshire, say they finally feel acknowledged.

“Most of the time people don’t recognize us, said Sage Gould, a 4th grade Abenaki. “It feels good that we’re actually being recognized.”

Replacing the holiday with Indigenous People’s Day is part of a trend to move away from honoring Christopher Columbus.

“Where our real roots are is important,” said Gov. Phil Scott. “History is important to our future because we need to learn from the past.”

In Swanton, the traditional homeland of the Missisquoi Abenaki tribe, the day was celebrated by unveiling a totem pole at the Swanton Central School. It’s carved with various animals that represent families among the tribe.

“It helps to establish that sense of belonging for the Abenaki,” said Jeff Benay, director of Indian education for Franklin County public schools. “Who for years and years and years didn’t feel like this was a place that was theirs.”

People of all ages and backgrounds gathered to learn about the Abenaki culture. Among the tribe himself, carver Richard Menard said he did something special when designing this totem.

“This is the first totem I’ve actually put the English name and the Abenaki name on them, he said. “For an educational tool for the kids.”

Vermont joins Maine, New Mexico, Alaska, Minnesota, Oregon, Hawaii and South Dakota in passing similar laws.

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