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Amherst school officials to recognize Native Americans’ connection to land



Staff Writer
Monday, June 14, 2021

AMHERST — Members of the Amherst-Pelham Regional School Committee may soon recognize Native American tribes and other Indigenous peoples who made their home in the Amherst area before the arrival of European settlers.

The land acknowledgment, as it is known, is the idea of Amherst representative Heather Lord, who said a strongly worded statement would be crafted detailing that the land on which present-day communities are located is stolen, and would also list tribes displaced and forcibly removed.

“A land acknowledgment is but a first step,” Lord said at a meeting last week. “(It’s) an important step for us embracing the anti-racist and multicultural truth we are living in.”

Lord said this would also be part of a multiyear journey to amend the school curriculum and prevent erasure of Indigenous people, which could happen through connecting with local tribal elders and better supporting students with Indigenous backgrounds, observing that at graduation, stoles are provided for students of various ethnicities.

Amherst representative Peter Demling said he appreciates moving forward with a land acknowledgment, noting that he was not familiar with the concept.

“Generally speaking, it is uncomfortable to be living in a space that originally is not ours,” Demling said.

Better understanding of the local tribes would also present a learning opportunity for students, he said.

School Committee Chairwoman Allison McDonald said one of the keys to this is to collaborate with elders on what the land acknowledgment looks like. 

Leverett representative Gene Stamell said he is supportive of the idea, but would prefer language that doesn't politicize the topic, and would prefer to use words that appreciate the previous inhabitants of the land.

Lord, though, said the discomfort in language is important, so as to honor pain, history and truth.

“These are truths, these are realities,” Lord said.

Amherst representative Ben Herrington said using correct terminology, such as forced removal from the land, is critical in the statement.

Other members who spoke said they look at such a land acknowledgment as a good thing. 

Pelham representative Margaret Stancer said she supports it and wants to know more about resources available for educating students.

Bringing in people with connections to native peoples to discuss such a statement would also be a positive way to approach this, said Amherst representative Kerry Spitzer.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.