UPDATE (9/13/13): The Addison Independent came out today with the most thorough story yet about the incident. It included a quotes from Don Stevens who is the chief of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe. Here is an excerpt:
“We didn’t know anything about this and if we had we certainly wouldn’t have sanctioned it,” Stevens said.
He said that Abenakis do not publicize the locations of their burial sites in order to protect them, and that he has no knowledge of any such sites on the Middlebury campus. Stevens said that even if the site of the memorial had been a burial site, the American flags placed in the earth would not have been a desecration.
“Our burial sites honor our warriors and their bravery,” Stevens said. “Putting flags in the earth to honor bravery would not be disrespectful.”
UPDATE (9/12/13): Here is part of a statement written by Amanda Lickers, the woman Shireman-Grabowski claimed to assist in removing the flags. Lickers says she is a member of the Onondowa’ga Nation, which is a part of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The statement was posted in an article on the website Climate Connections:
yesterday i went to occupied abenaki territory. i was invited to middlebury college to facilitate a workshop on settler responsibility and decolonization. i walked across this campus whose stone wall structures weigh heavy on the landscape. the history of eugenics, genocide and colonial violence permeate that space so fully like a ghost everywhere descending. it was my understanding that this site is occupying an abenaki burial ground; a sacred site.
walking through the campus i saw thousands of small american flags. tho my natural disdain for the occupying colonial state came to surface, in the quickest moment of decision making, in my heart, i understood that lands where our dead lay must not be desecrated. in my community, we do not pierce the earth. it disturbs the spirits there, it is important for me to respect their presence, their want for rest.
my heart swelled and i knew in my core that thousands of american flags should not penetrate the earth where my abenaki brothers and sisters sleep. we have all survived so much – and as a visitor on their territories i took action to respect them and began pulling up all of the flags.
i was with 4 non-natives who supported me in this action. there were so many flags staking the earth and their hands helped make this work faster. this act of support by my friends, as settlers, tho small was healing and inspiring. we put them away in black garbage bags and i was confronted by a nationalistic-settler, a young white boy who attends the college demanding i relinquish the flags to him. i held my ground and confiscated them. i did not want to cave to his support of the occupying, settler-colonial, imperalist state, and the endorsing of the genocide of indigenous peoples across the world.
UPDATE (9/12/13 11:51AM): Business Insider also posted about it on their website.
UPDATE (9/12/13 10:50AM): President Ronald D. Liebowitz has addressed the matter in an all-school email. He says he was ”deeply disturbed by the insensitivity” of “this selfish act of protest” and that “[t]he College has begun a disciplinary investigation of this incident.”
UPDATE (9/11/13 11:44PM): Anna Shireman-Grabowski ’15.5 has come forward to confirm her involvement in disposing of the American flags and that she is the person kneeling in the picture. She also said that the other individuals were “non-Middlebury students.” In a written statement she wrote:
“Today I chose to act in solidarity with my friend, an Indigenous woman and a citizen of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy who was appalled to see the burial grounds of another Indigenous nation desecrated by piercing the ground that their remains lay beneath.”
We’ve posted the entirety of her statement below the jump.
UPDATE: The flags have been replaced by Harris and a group of students (see comments below post).
UPDATE: The Campus’s website has more details here.
ORIGINAL: At around 2:45PM this afternoon a group of people took down the American flags placed in front of Mead Chapel by the College Republicans and Democrats (Updated 8:45PM) to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11. Four women and one man piled them into garbage bags and took them away.
Julia Madden ’14 and College Republican member Ben Kinney Harris ’15 confronted the group as they disposed of the flags. According to Madden, the group only identified themselves by saying they were there on behalf of the Abenaki people. middbeat does not yet know who the individuals are and if any of them are Middlebury students.
When Madden and Kinney asked about what they were doing they replied that it was disrespectful to the Abenaki people to put the Abenaki’s colonizers’ flags on their land. When Kinney asked if he could have the flags back since his organization purchased them, they refused and left with them.
“I was dumbfounded that someone could be that disrespectful about something that affected everyone in this country and that everyone should recognize,” said Madden in a phone interview.
If you have any more information about this or thoughts about it, please send it in to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below.
Today I, along with a group of non-Middlebury students, helped remove around 3,000 American flags from the grass by Mead Chapel. While I was not the only one engaged in this action and the decision was not solely mine, I am the one who will see you in the dining halls and in the classroom, and I want to take accountability for the hurt you may be feeling while clarifying the motivations for this action.
My intention was not to cause pain but to visibilize the necessity of honoring all human life and to help a friend heal from the violence of genocide that she carries with her on a daily basis as an indigenous person. While the American flags on the Middlebury hillside symbolize to some the loss of innocent lives in New York, to others they represent centuries of bloody conquest and mass murder. As a settler on stolen land, I do not have the luxury of grieving without an eye to power. Three thousand flags is a lot, but the campus is not big enough to hold a marker for every life sacrificed in the history of American conquest and colonialism.
The emails filling my inbox indicate that this was not a productive way to start a dialogue about American imperialism. Nor did I imagine that it would be. Please understand that I am grappling with my complicity in the overwhelming legacy of settler colonialism. Part of this process for me is honoring the feelings and wishes of people who find themselves on the other side of this history.
I wish to further clarify that members of the local Abenaki community should in no way be implicated in today’s events. Nor can I pretend to speak to their feelings about flags, burial sites, or 9/11.
Today I chose to act in solidarity with my friend, an Indigenous woman and a citizen of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy who was appalled to see the burial grounds of another Indigenous nation desecrated by piercing the ground that their remains lay beneath. I understand that this action is confusing and painful for many in my community. I don’t pretend to know if every action I take is right or justified—this process is multi-layered and nuanced. I do know that colonialism has been—and continues to be—a real and destructive force in the world that we live in. And for me, to honor life is to support those who struggle against it.
Please do not hesitate to email me or approach me if you wish to discuss this in person.
President Ron Liebowitz’s Statement, 9/12
To the Middlebury College Community,