Over the last few years a growing number of cities, towns and states have been taking a harder look at the historical role of Columbus in the discovery of the Americas. A number of them, including Minneapolis, Vermont, Seattle, Phoenix and Denver have disavowed Columbus Day designating the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day, celebrating Native Americans rather than Columbus. Many historians have stated that Columbus did not “discover” American and that native peoples preceded the explorers who came to these shores.
In Millerton, outside of the Gilded Moon building, instead of a Columbus Day observance, an Indigenous Peoples Day of celebration took place with members of the Schaghticoke United First Nation from Kent, Connecticut. The day was also in support of the Standing Rock Sioux who are protesting the installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline in South Dakota, saying that they were not consulted about the impact of the project on their watershed. The protest has drawn over 3,000 native people from over 280 different native tribes to the area.
The Schaghticoke Chief, Sachem Hawk Storm, spoke saying; “The Schaghticoke First Nation stands in solidarity with Standing Rock in protecting the water, speaking out for watershed justice and leaving the water intact for the next seven generations. We also support the development of alternative energies to replace fossil fuels and will work on a global scale to make these things happen and stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. If we do not get away from fossil fuels you many not have fresh water to drink in the future. We need to take this seriously.”
The day was organized by Fidel Moreno, who teaches Spanish at Indian Rock School and is the director of Healing Winds, a non-profit helping veterans and their families. Mr. Moreno produced a film called “Wiping the Tears,” about Wounded Knee. He recently returned from a trip to South Dakota to bring 1,500 lbs. of food and blankets to the native peoples gathered there.
He said there are over 200 teepees there, and that three quarters of those gathered are native people who have been praying for the water, having talking circles and “gathering in one mind” in solidarity. He said that it is less of a protest and more of a peaceful gathering with a lot of order and people receiving three meals a day. The 280 tribes have representative flags flying there.
Brooke Lehman and Gregg Osofsky of the Watershed Center in Millerton welcomed the Schaghticoke: “It is an honor to have an indigenous presence in our area. The problems of the Dakota Access Pipeline is one that we all share. It is so good to have a presence speaking out about the watershed.” Ms. Lehman also read a letter from Al Gore’s daughter, Karenna Gore (Schiff), Director of Union Theological Seminary’s Center for Earth Ethics, who had planned to attend the gathering.
“We must work together to make sure we give our children a culture they can be proud of…..to see the real value of water, land and air, and to teach them that all this is to be honored rather that dominated and exploited. We urgently need to restore balance to our ailing planet. Indigenous peoples have been generous in sharing their perspective and ancient practices and prayers that help do this.” Kareena Gore IS the Director of the Center for Earth Ethics at the Union Theological Seminary.
Other highlights of the day were performances by a group of Schaghticoke women called, Spirit of Thunder Heart. Their founder Donna Coane explained that in native culture women are viewed as being closer to water because “We come from water in the womb, the moon and the tides are ruled by water, and we are the water protectors.” The women then led a prayer ceremony for the water with a moving song in their native language, passing around a bowl of water for everyone to honor.
Mr. Moreno, who is of Yaqui and Mexican heritage, put up a huge white teepee and invited everyone to return on Friday to the teepee for a “gathering around around the fire.” He said that the Northeast Regional Standing Rock Solidarity Committee has a Facebook page and explained how donations of blankets and warm items for winter could be made to the group in South Dakota. He invited the participants to attend a private screening of a rough cut of the fourteen hours of film footage of interviews from Standing Rock. He said he plans to continue to work with the Schaghticoke First Nation to establish the White Eagle Sanctuary. The nation has an opportunity to purchase 175 acres of the wetlands on Bog Hollow Road in Wassaic.