Indigenous People deserve to be honored

In her letter Kate Burke writes: “In signing this proclamation (presented by the Du Bois Legacy Committee) not only did the Selectboard take a step toward social equity in our community but it also set in motion what can become a real honest healing.”

To the editor:

I am writing to the editor today to voice my disappointment in the coverage of the passing of the Indigenous People’s Day Proclamation this past Monday’s meeting (September 23) of the Great Barrington Selectboard. Both the word choice of the reporter and the lack of certain key facts feed into a culture unwilling to acknowledge the past.

The Selectboard voted unanimously to sign a proclamation declaring the Second Monday of October from this year forward Indigenous People’s Day and to work to honor the original people of this land. In signing this proclamation (presented by the Du Bois Legacy Committee) not only did the Selectboard take a step toward social equity in our community but it also set in motion what can become a real honest healing. What the reporter didn’t note was that the Selectboard had initiated the proclamation and their silence in the matter wasn’t out of passiveness on the subject or a desire to hurry things along but complete and total support. As a member of the Selectboard, I want to make sure it is known that we did not treat this flippantly, this was something of great importance to us.

Beginning the article with ‘As drama goes, you’d be hard-pressed to find a moment at a Great Barrington Selectboard meeting that surpasses this one,’ is in itself dramatic at best and biased at worse. For an evening that was filled with drama over Lake Mansfield and marijuana cultivation, Steve Good Man’s raw emotions and honest account of fact were the least dramatic event of the evening. Starting the article with this sentiment detracts from the mission of the Proclamation, and its goals of creating an environment of healing, by feeding into a need to water down the social inequities that made the author uncomfortable. Steve Good Man, who represented his Nation, spoke of his tears when he heard of this Proclamation and expressed his gratitude to the Selectboard, the Legacy committee and the town with a song of thanks in his native language; his heartfelt offering brought many of us to tears. It was beautiful, it was poetic – and it took up space in the meeting in a way that made most attendees reflect deeply.

Steve’s sentiment, ‘this is not an end. It is a finishing,” would have been a much better way to begin. Perhaps the failure to truly engage with Steve’s message was due to the fact that the very space he took made the author uncomfortable. After the meeting another attendee mentioned that Steve “took up too much space.” I hope that expressed sentiment gives each of us pause. To truly take Steve’s words to heart, we must all deeply reflect on these competing ideas: the very recognition of Indigenous People’s Day; the understanding that this recognition is only the first tentative beginning of a true acknowledgement of this country and its history; and the sentiment that even asking to be recognized in a public meeting as a native man is considered ‘taking too much space’. We have absolutely no right to comment on or devalue the space and/or time taken by an individual whose family land was stolen, whose forefathers were subjected to mass genocide, and whose families were placed on reservations, to live as non-citizens, on their own land.

The lack of depth in this report only feeds into my fear that our region, despite all of its liberal promises, just isn’t ready to take that long look in the mirror, talk about social inequity, and work towards meaningful change on a systemic level. We would rather continue to bury ourselves in the slurry of negative reporting, name calling, and petty bickering than come to an honest accounting of our society and the way it fails so very many of its residents. I’m saddened by where we are but continue to hope that we can find the courage to start asking ourselves some much harder questions.

On October 14th, 2019, honor the Indigenous People of this land; learn the real history of this nation and its treatment of those that were here first, recognize that this very area and all of the land that we claim ownership of is only ours because it was taken, and reflect on what it will take to heal these wounds, ourselves, and the country that we all call home.

Kate Burke

Great Barrington

The writer is a member of the Great Barrington Selectboard.