Indigenous Peoples Day

Federal Grant Announced to Grow Vt. Indigenous Heritage Center

The facility is receiving $250,000 to enhance its building and offer more educational opportunities

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A federal grant will help expand and improve a Vermont center that celebrates the culture of the area’s original inhabitants and provides educational opportunities about Native American heritage.

"I can't wait to bring our grandchildren," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee.

Leahy delivered $250,000 in funding for the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center, which is located at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington. The money will be used to improve the building, create fresh opportunities for learning, and offer space to preserve culture.

"If you don't learn from the past, you're not prepared for the future," Leahy said at the announcement of the grant funding.

That announcement came Monday, which was Indigenous Peoples Day in Vermont. Vermont is one of more than a dozen states that have officially replaced Columbus Day with the new designation.

Vermont's Abenaki community marked Indigenous Peoples Day with drumming, song, and educational displays and conversations at the heritage center.

"It means a lot," said Holly LaFrance of Burlington, referring to the new federal funding to grow the facility.

LaFrance, who is of Abenaki descent, said she is eager to learn more about her own heritage by continuing to participate in gatherings at the landmark.

"This is a safe place that we can come and do our ceremonies and gather and — I'm getting teary-eyed," LaFrance said. "It wasn't always that way."

This weekend, in a formal ceremony, the state of Vermont will apologize for state-sanctioned policies that harmed Indigenous people, and others, during one of our darkest chapters in history.

The eugenics movement of nearly 100 years ago viewed Indigenous people and other groups as undesirable, and targeted them for sterilization and other discriminatory practices.

Today's Vermont lawmakers approved a resolution apologizing for those past traumas — effects of which included driving Native American heritage into forgotten shadows here.

"It is important that we reflect and acknowledge the impact this had on so many individuals and families, and work to address the continuing impact of these policies on the communities that have historically been marginalized, discriminated against, and displaced in Vermont," wrote Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham County and Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, in a recent statement announcing the public apology on behalf of the Vermont Legislature for the state's historic role in sanctioning eugenics.

Balint is President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate, and Krowinski is the Speaker of the Vermont House. They will read the formal apology Saturday, Oct. 16 at 3 p.m. on the steps of the Vermont State House in Montpelier, the leaders announced.

"It's important to have that apology," said Fred Wiseman of the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center, explaining he sees the olive branch as important to the healing process for many families targeted by the cruel stance. "Everything is about reconciliation now."

As for building out the heritage center, members of the Abenaki community said Monday they are confident it will mark a fresh and positive new era.

"Moving forward, we can work together," said Moretown's Alli Lewis, who is of Abenaki descent. "And this [heritage center] is a safe place for us to support our heritage, to live our culture, and to engage with others in that, so we are really excited about that."

Work on the facility is expected throughout 2022, Wiseman said.

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