Meeting opens with land acknowledgement that Vermont is Abenaki homeland
by Maya Porter for Community News Service
More than 30 people turned out for the first meeting of Vermont’s new Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Tuesday, September 5, in which officials introduced themselves and set an open-minded tone for their work.
The commission was set up by Act 128 in 2022 to record and make recommendations regarding instances of discrimination and harm against marginalized communities caused by state laws and policies. The three commissioners are each paid $80,000 per Act 128 requirements.
Commissioner Melody Mackin led the virtual meeting, noting that the gavel would change hands every time between her two fellow commissioners, Mia Schultz and Patrick Standen.
Faith Yacubian — the commission’s newly appointed executive director — was also in attendance.
Commissioners said they want to ensure representation and visibility for all Vermonters through their work and in their meetings. Case in point: Mackin began with a statement acknowledging Vermont as the homeland of the Western Abenaki and Mohican tribes. The meeting also featured a sign language interpreter, and each commissioner gave a physical description of themselves to aid attendees with vision problems.
Commissioners spent time letting attendees know what to expect during the group’s meetings, which are set to run once a month. Attendees should be honest, open-minded and respectful — and that commissioners would be held to those same standards, Schultz said. By showing up, she continued, attendees should expect discomfort, be aware of others and their differences and accept the nonclosure that often can come with discussions of race.
Three people in attendance spoke about what they’d like to see the commission accomplish — mostly in general terms, but one speaker did offer a specific critique: the officials’ failure to note their race when describing themselves. “White is not the default,” said the speaker, who only identified themselves as Rhy, adding that everyone should say “who and what they are.”
That prompted each commission member to state their race; Yacubian said that she has white privilege and Standen thanked the community member for the reminder.
State Rep. Kevin Christie, D-Hartford, one of the three lead sponsors on the bill that created the commission, said at the meeting that seeing the commission in action “was humbling” and he was “looking forward to the journey.”
Schultz echoed the sentiment: She said she was excited “to come to a place where we can be heard, the invisible now be visible.”
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is set to meet once a month. People can send questions and suggestions via email to VTRC@vermont.gov.
Categories: State Government