When we pause to think about our relationship to the land we live on, we often find that we take, use and abuse the natural world. In BCL 7, we spent some time examining this reality more deeply. We reflected on the many ways that the land provides for us, and the few ways we reciprocate by giving back. For some of us, this awareness complicated our sense of belonging to this place. For many of us, it was a powerful and humbling way to see how much our lives depend on the land even while we take it for granted.
“I now understand how much we need to give back. At the moment, what we have taken absolutely outnumbers what we have given back to nature. It shows us the strides we have to take such as planting more trees and preserving/developing our natural systems.” – BCL 7 student
We would like to thank Judy Dow, Courtney Mulcahey and Aimee Arandia Østensen for guiding us on our journey to acknowledge the land, and to begin to honor the indigenous Abenaki people who have cared for this place we call Burlington for thousands of years. They called the area ‘Winooski,’ which means “the wild onion land,” because of the leeks (close relatives of onions) that thrive in this place. The Abenaki name for the river was Winooskitook, or “the wild onion river.”
Judy’s family has lived in this area for many generations, and she now leads Gedakina, an organization dedicated to preserving and teaching Native American culture and history. She invited us to acknowledge the land – and natural systems – before we turn our attention to the systems we use for transportation, energy, and housing. We now try to mention and honor that the European settlers do not define Burlington alone: As Vera Longtoe Sheehan writes, “The Abenaki have lived in the region for over 12,000 years. They are sometimes referred to as the Dawnland People because the word Wabanaki translates to People of the Dawn.” (1)
Judy also led us on a fascinating tour of neighborhoods in Burlington’s Old North End, teaching us about the early 1900s, when many locals participated in an underground moonshine industry to help them survive challenging times. Small distilleries were scattered throughout Burlington at this time, with underground tunnels that connected neighboring houses in some places. Judy got us thinking about how people ‘adapt to survive’, while also encouraging us to include ‘people living on the margins’ in our understanding of Burlington’s history.
In October, BCL 7 spent two weeks exploring – and developing – our own relationship to the land. We teamed up with Burlington Parks, Recreation and Waterfront and Burlington Wildways to explore and contribute to the city’s new ‘Kieslich Park’ at 311 North Ave. We also learned about conservation efforts at the Intervale. Getting to participate in deep conversation about how these places should be cared for today, and who belongs and has access, was a meaningful step on our journey of land acknowledgment.
“It helped me feel like I can contribute to the land by planting, weeding invasive species, and bringing more awareness to plants [by] painting the signs for labeling the garden” – BCL 7 student
“I’ve taken a lot more than I’ve given… This whole idea of sustainability is sort of the problem. I liked learning about the land, the native species and the contrast of systems. I definitely feel like I care more about the land and will go to the park.” – BCL 7 student
We capped off our land acknowledgment work by learning about the concept of ‘the long body.’ According to Dr. Leny Strobel, the ‘long body’ comes from an indigenous worldview that recognizes our physical bodies as part of a larger whole that extends backward and forward in time. This ‘weaving sense of time’ allows people to persevere through difficulty, combining gratitude for the past with hope and vision for the future – and drawing strength from the land. (2)
Our relationship to land is connected to the stewardship of the land for thousands of years, how we move on the land today and how we take care of it, and what we can do now to leave a healthier place for future generations. BCL is working on our own land statement, and this semester we continue our journey of acknowledging and living in a more reciprocal way with Burlington.
“Our future depends on what people do today for climate change… the best things we can be doing are changing to renewable energy and planting trees. Trees are so vital to our ecosystem and we need more.” – BCL 7 student
“The act of creating and speaking an Indigenous land acknowledgement is a practice that is becoming more common in the eastern parts of Turtle Island. While we experience it as a moment at the beginning of a gathering, it is actually part of a bigger process for our society and for the individual.” – https://shelburnefarms.org/
“I think my land acknowledgment has grown when I go somewhere. Now I think about who the land belongs to now and who it belonged to.” – BCL 7 student
“I’ve definitely felt more appreciative of the land and planet, and have felt worse about what humans are doing to it. Learning about climate change is good for understanding what we’re up against but seeing these stories and data of a rising climate spooks me out. It makes me feel like we are too selfish and only worry about our immediate needs [instead of] our future on earth.” – BCL 7 student.
For more background on deep history of this place, check out: