Vermont: Protestors remove American flags at 9/11 memorial in act of solidarity

September 12, 2013  

Middlebury College, VT — At 3:00PM on Wednesday, September 11, 2013, five protesters removed thousands of flags desecrating occupied Abenaki lands. The U.S. flags were part of a 9/11 memorial established by Middlebury College students.

Amanda Lickers, a member of the Onondowa’ga Nation, states, “In the quickest moment of decision making, in my heart, I understood that lands where our dead may lay must not be desecrated. In my community, we do not pierce the earth. It disturbs the spirits there, it is important for me to respect their presence.”

“For over 500 years our people have been under attack. The theft of our territories, the devastation of our waters; the poisoning of our people through the poisoning of our lands; the theft of our people from our families; the rape of our children; the murder of our women; the sterilization of our communities; the abuse of generations; the uprooting of our ancestors and the occupation of our sacred sites; the silencing of our songs; the erasure of our languages and memories of our traditions. I have had enough.” stated Lickers.

Lickers was at the college to facilitate a workshop on Settler Responsibility and Decolonization.

“Today I, along with a group of non-Middlebury students, helped remove around 3,000 American flags from the grass by Mead Chapel.” stated Anna Shireman-Grabowski, a Middlebury College student. “My intention was not to cause pain but to visibilize the necessity of honoring all human life… While the American flags on the Middlebury hillside symbolize to some the loss of innocent lives in New York, to others they represent centuries of bloody conquest and mass murder. As a settler on stolen land, I do not have the luxury of grieving without an eye to power. Three thousand flags is a lot, but the campus is not big enough to hold a marker for every life sacrificed in the history of American conquest and colonialism.” stated Shireman-Grabowski.

This action, as a direct response to a particular experience of the embodied pain of colonialism, was not taken on behalf of, or connection with, local Abenaki tribal citizens or Indigenous inhabitants of the area, but was a spontaneous move of respect by an Indigenous woman from a neighboring nation, appalled by this treatment of Abenaki sites. As Anna Shireman-Grabowski states “I wish to further clarify that members of the local Abenaki community should in no way be implicated in today’s events. Nor can I pretend to speak to their feelings about flags, burial sites, or 9/11.”

College President Ronald D. Liebowitz dismissed the protest stating that he was ”deeply disturbed by the insensitivity” of “this selfish act of protest” and threatened that the College “has begun a disciplinary investigation of this incident.”

“It is the duty of the college of middlebury to consult with abenaki peoples and repatriate their grounds.” stated Lickers. “Yesterday I said no to settler occupation. I took those flags. It is a small reclamation and modest act of resistance.”

Read the full statements by two of the protesters here:

Statement by Amanda Lickers:

i am a young onkwehon:we, a woman, a member of the turtle clan and the onondowa’ga nation of the haudenosaunee confederacy. i have been doing my best to be true to the responsibilities i have inherited through the gift of life, and the relationships i must honour to my ancestors and all our relatives.

for over 500 years our people have been under attack. the theft of our territories, the devastation of our waters; the poisoning of our people through the poisoning of our lands; the theft of our people from our families; the rape of our children; the murder of our women; the sterilization of our communities; the abuse of our generations; the
uprooting of our ancestors and the occupation of our sacred sites; the silencing of our songs; the erasure of our languages and memories of our traditions

i have had enough.

yesterday i went to occupied abenaki territory. i was invited to middlebury college to facilitate a workshop on settler responsibility and decolonization. i walked across this campus whose stone wall structures weigh heavy on the landscape. the history of eugenics, genocide and colonial violence permeate that space so fully like a ghost everywhere descending. it was my understanding that this site is occupying an abenaki burial ground; a sacred site.

walking through the campus i saw thousands of small american flags. tho my natural disdain for the occupying colonial state came to surface, in the quickest moment of decision making, in my heart, i understood that lands where our dead lay must not be desecrated. in my community, we do not pierce the earth. it disturbs the spirits there, it is important for me to respect their presence, their want for rest.

my heart swelled and i knew in my core that thousands of american flags should not penetrate the earth where my abenaki brothers and sisters sleep. we have all survived so much – and as a visitor on their territories i took action to respect them and began pulling up all of the flags.

i was with 4 non-natives who supported me in this action. there were so many flags staking the earth and their hands helped make this work faster. this act of support by my friends, as settlers, tho small was healing and inspiring. we put them away in black garbage bags and i was confronted by a nationalistic-settler, a young white boy who attends the college demanding i relinquish the flags to him. i held my ground and
confiscated them. i did not want to cave to his support of the occupying, settler-colonial, imperalist state, and the endorsing of the genocide of indigenous peoples across the world.

it is the duty of the college of middlebury to consult with abenaki peoples and repatriate their grounds.

yesterday i said no to settler occupation. i took those flags. it is a small reclamation and modest act of resistance.

in the spirit of resilience, in the spirit of survival

amanda lickers

Statement by Anna Shireman-Grabowski:

To the Middlebury community –

Today I, along with a group of non-Middlebury students, helped remove around 3,000 American flags from the grass by Mead Chapel. While I was not the only one engaged in this action and the decision was not solely mine, I am the one who will see you in the dining halls and in the classroom, and I want to take accountability for the hurt you may be feeling while clarifying the motivations for this action.

My intention was not to cause pain but to visibilize the necessity of honoring all human life and to help a friend heal from the violence of genocide that she carries with her on a daily basis as an indigenous person. While the American flags on the Middlebury hillside symbolize to some the loss of innocent lives in New York, to others they represent centuries of bloody conquest and mass murder. As a settler on stolen land, I do not have the luxury of grieving without an eye to power. Three thousand flags is a lot, but the campus is not big enough to hold a marker for every life sacrificed in the history of American conquest and colonialism.

The emails filling my inbox indicate that this was not a productive way to start a dialogue about American imperialism. Nor did I imagine that it would be. Please understand that I am grappling with my complicity in the overwhelming legacy of settler colonialism. Part of this process for me is honoring the feelings and wishes of people who find themselves on the other side of this history.

I wish to further clarify that members of the local Abenaki community should in no way be implicated in today’s events. Nor can I pretend to speak to their feelings about flags, burial sites, or 9/11.

Today I chose to act in solidarity with my friend. I understand that this action is confusing and hurtful for many in my community. I don’t pretend to know if every action I take is right or justified—this process is painful and complicated. I do know that colonialism has been—and continues to be—a real and destructive force in the world that we live in. And for me, to honor life is to support those whose existence is a struggle against colonialism.

Please do not hesitate to email me or approach me if you wish to discuss this in person.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Actions / Protest, Independent Media, Land Grabs

0 Responses to Vermont: Protestors remove American flags at 9/11 memorial in act of solidarity

  1. Ron Robinson

    Shouldn’t have built the whole campus there then. This is just a rationale for more Leftist intolerance. The “occupying colonial state” line doesn’t justify her hurtful action ripping up and trashing American flags that commemorate 3000 murdered Americans…including, yes, native Americans.

  2. Dennis

    no happy medium?
    one way or the highway?
    did anybody know about the sacred grounds?

  3. A B

    the american flag is the flag we waved as we killed their women and children

  4. I think removing the flags was a reasonable response that is also a productive way of raising consciousness and generating dialog about American imperialism. Dramatic speech aside, removing miniature flags in no way equates to the death of millions. Attributing more importance to it than that actually is a product of believing false stories about fighting for freedom; that is in reality an archaic story producing global holocausts on a regular basis in service to a fear of not enough resources and a consciousness of separation.

  5. linda bishop

    absolutely correct. i am smiling as i read this accounting of a symbolic event that should be cheered by all who read it! we did not acquire the “Ugly American” label without earning it.

  6. Pingback: 2013 Top ten articles on Climate Connections | Climate Connections

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