Amherst school officials mull plans to recognize harms caused to Indigenous peoples

  • Amherst Regional High School GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, January 03, 2022

AMHERST — A comprehensive initiative aimed at adequately reflecting on the historical and continuing harms caused to Indigenous peoples in the region is an objective Amherst Regional School Committee officials will pursue in the coming year.

As the committee continues to discuss issuing what is known as a land acknowledgment, where it might state that there was genocide of native peoples and theft of their land where students in the four regional towns now live, Amherst representative Heather Lord said that she wants to make sure that this becomes more than a gesture.

“If we only do the land acknowledgment and don’t follow it up with substantive actions that enhance and work with Indigenous community here and across the country, we will be doing harm,” Lord told her colleagues at a meeting earlier this month.

Lord said one aim of the land acknowledgment, which she first broached as a topic last spring, would be to make sure that any erasing, lying and sanitizing about the history of interactions between Native American and European settlers ends.

For Indigenous people, Lord said, there continues to be disproportionate representation in the prison industrial complex and in the foster care system, and they have been impacted by lower life expectancy and more health effects from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It is still a present oppressed people,” Lord said.

“It’s not a past problem, it’s a continuing problem,” said Pelham representative Margaret Stancer.

The School Equity Advisory Committee may take on the engagement aspects of the project and return to the School Committee with what Chairwoman Allison McDonald said would be a multi-phase and multifaceted approach. With Lord departing the School Committee, she may become the point person for that committee.

In an outline of the “call to action,” Lord wrote, “The hope is that beyond that there would be other steps taken to cultivate community with local natives, increase Indigenous presence on campus and steps to decolonize the curriculum and institution in small but meaningful increments.”

A series of goals could be established, starting with countering the familiar doctrines of discovery that arrived and instead observe that people were being driven out of the area.

Amherst representative Peter Demling said the taking of land is a complex moral problem to solve, but could be discussed with descendants of people who formerly inhabited the land.

“The last thing I would want to do is something quick just to make myself feel better,” Demling said.

Amherst representative Ben Herrington agreed with Lord that specific actions need to coincide with any land acknowledgment.

“This can’t be a performative thing whatsoever,” Herrington said.

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