More than 200 colleges and high schools across the nation participated in Young America’s Foundation’s 9/11: Never Forget Project. Students came together to establish an American flag memorial on campus consisting of 2,977 flags representing each person murdered in the terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, five student protesters at Middlebury College ripped the flags out of the ground before 3:00 pm.
The 9/11: Never Forget Project has been an annual nonpartisan event at Middlebury College for the past ten years. By participating in the 9/11: Never Forget Project, students honor the victims of the attacks, as well as honor the American principles for which they died.
Middlebury student groups spent nearly two hours setting up the flag display yesterday morning. The protesters told Ben Kinney, president of the conservative club on campus, they were “confiscating” the flags in protest of “America’s imperialism.”
The protesters refused to compromise with the students because the flags were supposedly located on an “Indian burial ground and you can’t have anything penetrating the Earth.”
By removing the display of 2,977 flags, not only did the five protesters disrespect their fellow students who worked hard on setting up the display, but they also took away the chance for other students to remember the victims of the horrific attacks 12 years ago.
These five student protesters should be immediately sent to diversity training regarding respect for others’ freedom of speech. What they did was neither noble nor righteous, it was irrational and disrespectful. Each of them should apologize for dismantling a beautiful display honoring American heroes.
The vandals were quick to reference their heritage, but in an email to the Huffington Post the school’s director of public affairs, Sarah Ray, admitted it has “never before been suggested that this is a Native American burial ground.” We have grown tactlessly familiar with leftists, such as Elizabeth Warren and Ward Churchill, hiding behind made-up Native American backgrounds to cover their own prejudice toward others.
Two of the vandals have published statements on Climate-Connections.com only proving their intolerance.
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
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.