Statement for ceremonial use at designated College events
We pause to acknowledge that Middlebury College sits on land which has served as a site of meeting and exchange among indigenous peoples since time immemorial. The Western Abenaki [A-ben-A-kee] are the traditional caretakers of these Vermont lands and waters, which they call Ndakinna [in-DAH-kee-NAH], or “homeland.” We remember their connection to this region and the hardships they continue to endure. Let us take a moment of silence to pay respect to the Abenaki Elders and to the indigenous inhabitants of Turtle Island, past and present…
We give thanks for the opportunity to share in the bounty of this place and to protect it. We are all one in the sacred web of life that connects people, animals, plants, air, water, and earth.
Shorter version for written documents
Middlebury College sits on land which has served as a site of meeting and exchange among indigenous peoples since time immemorial. The Western Abenaki are the traditional caretakers of these Vermont lands and waters, which they call Ndakinna, or “homeland.” We remember their connection to this region and the hardships they continue to endure. We give thanks for the opportunity to share in the bounty of this place and to protect it.
Pronunciations of Abenaki
The common pronunciation of Abenaki in the United States is [A-ben-A-kee], but as a result of the imposition of two different settler colonial regimes, there are three different pronunciations in use. In the original language of Western Abenaki it is pronounced [waw-BAN-a-KEE ], in Canada it is pronounced [a-BEN-a-KEE ], and in the United States [A-ben-A-kee]. Please click the link below for a recording of these three different versions by Jesse Bruchac, director of the Middlebury Language School of Abenaki, followed by pronunciations by these Native speakers: Cecile Wawanolet (Troy, N.Y.; Odanak, PQ), Simosis Obomsawin (Thompson’s Point, Vt.), Elvine Obomsawin (Thompson’s Point, Vt.), and Ambrose Obomsawin (Odanak, PQ).
Historically, how the word Abenaki has been spelled in historical documents offers evidence of numerous ways it was heard by nonspeakers, such as Abnaki, Abanake, Abanakee, Abenakee, and others. Even among the Vermont Abenaki community, there have been variant ways of saying the word. Chief Homer St. Francis often said it as “Abernaki,” with an “r” sound. Before the coming of Europeans, there were literally dozens of different Abenaki communities throughout what is now Vermont and New Hampshire with their own tribal names and, often, differing dialects.
Frequently Asked Questions
A Land Acknowledgment is a formal statement that recognizes and respects indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of this land and the enduring relationship that exists between indigenous peoples and their traditional territories.
To recognize the land is an expression of gratitude and appreciation to those whose territory you reside on, and a way of honoring the indigenous people who have been living and working on the land from time immemorial. It is important to understand the long-standing history that has brought us to reside on the land, and to seek to understand our place within that history. Land Acknowledgments do not exist in a past tense or historical context: colonialism is a current and ongoing process, and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation. It is also worth noting that acknowledging the land is indigenous protocol (information from LSPIRG).
The Land Acknowledgment will be included at the start of all major official Middlebury College ceremonies as designated by the president, such as opening Convocation, Baccalaureate, and Commencement. President Laurie L. Patton initiated this as an established practice during Baccalaureate and Commencement exercises in May 2019 by acknowledging the Western Abenaki as the traditional stewards of these lands.
It is appropriate to perform the Acknowledgment at other College events. It is common practice for the host of the ceremony or event to perform the Acknowledgment, unless a specific person has been requested to share it. Regardless of the event, the Acknowledgment above is read aloud as the first order of business or at the opening of an event. It should not be approached as a set of obligatory words to rush through, and it often is followed by a brief silence. The statement was created in consultation with local Abenaki leaders and should not be modified or amended without such consultation. These words should be offered with respect, grounded in authentic reflection, presence, and awareness.
Continuing Our Efforts
While the Land Acknowledgment is an essential starting point, there is much work ahead as we come to terms with the legacies and trauma of indigenous dispossession and settler colonialism. We have begun this work with a pilot in teaching Western Abenaki as part of the regular program of the summer Language Schools. Also, toward this end, the College is pursuing several other initiatives to create deeper engagement with the original indigenous inhabitants. Among these initiatives are the following:
- Ceremonial and other use of College lands by local indigenous peoples
- Cultivating, honoring, and teaching about traditional Abenaki food, medicine, and seed crops at the Knoll, the College’s teaching garden
- A Clifford Symposium on indigeneity
- Supporting a greater presence of indigenous students, staff, and faculty
- Creating new indigenous-focused courses or course elements
While we encourage a deeper engagement with the Abenaki community, we also recognize that this can create a substantial burden for them. Too often, indigenous leaders are asked to lead ceremonies, perform events, or consult on projects without appropriate compensation for their time and efforts.