Opinion: Town should ensure indigenous committee has indigenous members

Aug 2, 2023

As an eager viewer interested to hear what Select Board chair David Tatelbaum had to say about the agenda item “F. Indigenous Peoples History and Culture Committee Composition Discussion” at its July 31 meeting, let’s just state that I was another disappointed resident. Yes, folks, not every decision made by Dartmouth’s Select Board has us jumping for joy.

First, this wasn’t a “discussion” to my hearing of that segment which lasted all of five minutes. Assuming Mr. Tatelbaum was referring to at least myself when he mentioned the “disinformation” some people have raised. To that I say, that’s a typically defensive response by someone who is trying to discredit those who have legitimate viewpoints or has no clue nor a sincere care about what’s really going on with respect to efforts made to encourage such a committee in this town and why.

About giving the public the impression that the town bylaws can never be changed by stating that the town bylaws preclude non-residents serving on a committee, to that I say, change the town bylaws under certain circumstances and explain with appropriate language as to what those circumstances are. That can’t be too difficult, is it? That’s why we have Town Counsel.

Regardless, shouldn't the town be consistent in its thinking and policies? I didn’t expect the fact that the Town Administrator and Assistant Town Administrator aren’t residents of the Town to come up in this so-called discussion. And it didn’t, maybe on the advice of Town Counsel. What’s the rationale? Well, we don't have a bylaw stating that town employees need to be residents. I would still argue that at the highest levels of governmental decision-making and influence, a senior official should live in Dartmouth or at least in a coterminous municipality.

In the August 1 issue of Dartmouth Week, “Tatelbaum said they’ve tried to find tribal members and indigenous people that are also Dartmouth residents, but ‘haven’t gotten a lot of interest.’”  Why am I not surprised? The tribal members, many of whom weren’t residents, and others who lobbied heavily for the Dartmouth Indian mascot/logo/symbol got what they wanted. Can’t we just admit that the vote which resulted in a celebration to retain the Dartmouth Indian was nothing more than a show of fierce loyalty to Dartmouth sports teams and their past victories on the field.

I don’t know about you but if I had descended from Native Peoples and had witnessed the vitriol that came out of the campaign efforts to keep the mascot, I would want no part of this committee. Native Americans are proud to exclaim, “I am still here.”  I mean really here, not depicted as a cartoon character. But are they seen, I mean really seen?

The School District is certainly free to pursue enhanced curricula and education programs about Indigenous Peoples’ History and Culture (of yesterday and today) and invite all tribal members to inform and participate in these programs. Let the School District do that and let us celebrate the successes. As for the Select Board, do some soul-searching about what your motives are. To state the obvious, if this committee excludes tribal members denying them the rights to make decisions, or vote, or influence the direction of this committee, then, it’s time to abandon this plan.

Respectfully submitted,

Diane Gilbert

Dartmouth, MA