VERNON, Vt. (AP) — Two Native American tribes want a say in the cleanup of the closed Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant and the future use of the land in an area that was once the site of settlements and fishing grounds for the groups' ancestors.
Last month, the Elnu Abenaki tribe, based in southern Vermont, filed testimony with the Public Utilities Commission. The tribe said it wants any activities that disturb the earth in this area to be overseen by qualified people and it wants to be involved in helping to determine the standards for how the land on the Connecticut River is restored.
"Our concern is for the earth, the soil of our homeland, that of our ancestors, and all of our relations," the testimony said.
The Missisquoi Abenaki, based in Swanton, Vermont, is also taking part in the state's review of the proposed sale, which must be approved by state and federal regulators.
Paleo-Indians first moved to what is now Vermont 12,900 years ago, and native communities have continued to live in the state since, according to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs.
After the land is restored, the tribe would like to see it "lie at rest and allow it to heal as much as possible," said Rich Holschuh, a public liaison for the Elnu Abenaki.
"It should be a place where everyone can remember, and listen and learn, and dream, and offer hope of a better way for the next generations to be in this place," he said
The Vermont Yankee plant shut down in 2014. Its owner, Entergy Nuclear, is seeking to sell it to demolition company NorthStar Group Services, which has promised to demolish the reactor and restore the site by 2030.
NorthStar has agreed to meet with the Elnu Abenaki next week.
"NorthStar is sensitive to the concerns expressed by the representatives of Elnu Abenaki ... and would like to begin a dialogue," said CEO Scott State.
"A lot of this is about establishing a voice," said Holschuh. "The presence of the indigenous people has not been acknowledged in the past. It's kind of a glaring omission if you look at Vermont's history."