By Don Keelan
Years ago, my wife and I sold several old buildings in East Arlington, Vermont. We may have been the fifth or sixth owner since the buildings were constructed by an out-of-state speculator who came to Vermont to take advantage of the possible business and population expansion that he had envisioned.
Using today’s “standards,” the original builder would be described as a “flatlander” or a non-native Vermonter: he was not born here, nor did his family have roots that went back six or eight generations. His goal was to set up a business on the town line between Arlington and Sunderland to take advantage of each town’s development incentives.
The flatlander migrated from Avon, Connecticut, in the year 1763, and his name was Remember Baker. He was better known as a first cousin to Ethan and Ira Allen.
During the early 1770s, Baker, along with his cousins and General Stark, would meet in the gristmill he built and plot strategies on how their gang, The Green Mountain Boys, would harass “the Yorkers,” the British soldiers, and local Tories.
I bring up this ancient piece of history to point out that, for the most part, all of us or almost all of us living in Vermont today are not Native Vermonters, but that in the past, our ancestors or we came from someplace else. Even being born in Vermont should not warrant the title, Native Vermonter.
I find it somewhat annoying, especially around election time when candidates like to point out that they are “a Native Vermonter.” Unless they are descendants of the great Abenaki Nation, what are they attempting to convey by stating they are a Native Vermonter? Furthermore, what does that make me – a flatlander? Literally, it is misleading; I migrated to Vermont from New York State, where the great Catskill and Adirondack Mountains are quite substantial, especially in height.
Declaring oneself to be a Native Vermonter states that I am different from you, emphasizing and labeling all others as flatlanders. The question is, for what purpose? Aren’t we all Vermonters committed to the State’s motto of Freedom and Unity? Why would anyone, in today’s environment, want to have it any other way?
Just because our State’s junior senator, Bernie Sanders, the Great Divider, wishes to create divisions amongst us is no reason to continue his class warfare. Soon after my family moved to Vermont, over 35 years ago, I witnessed the beginning of class distinctions that Bernie set in motion. So much for adhering to the State’s motto of Unity.
Initially, for Bernie, it was the big companies versus the small companies, and soon, it moved to the rich people versus the hard-working people (later, the poor people). But always a division, two classes of Vermonters. To this day, he continues to denounce the wickedness of the big companies and the rich people.
How politically clever it is to use the term, hard-working people of Vermont, another form of labeling. As far as I am concerned, anyone working in Vermont, poor or rich, if working, is working hard. There is no reason to make a distinction. Just like it is unnecessary to make a division between someone who can trace their Vermont lineage back to the War of Independence to that of someone who recently arrived in Vermont from Ethiopia or Vietnam.
If, in fact, the organizers of the BIPOC and LBGQT community are seeking to end discrimination and bring forward full inclusiveness, then it is time to eliminate the references of Native Vermonter, flatlander, and other references to class distinction such as rich, poor, or hard-working.
I will take the liberty of paraphrasing a recent Wall Street Journal quote by U.S. Circuit Court Judge James Ho, “I was not born in Vermont but thank God every day that I will die in Vermont, a Vermonter.”
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.