The view downstream (SSW) from a southerly ridge of Wantastegok Wajo – one can clearly see the site of Fort Dummer, now submerged. Old accounts state that the mountain was the “Indian’s Great Chair, ” from which the comings and goings could be closely watched at a great distance.
With the release of two new books, Daniel Paul is adding new material to his decades-long crusade to educate people about Mi’kmaq history.
The Mi’kmaw elder, who is best-known for his seminal history book We Were Not the Savages, recently published his first, and likely his last, novel Chief Lightning Bolt. Paul wrote the novel 20 years ago and then put it aside. He returned to it with a fresh set of eyes, had others read and edit it, and decided it was time to release the book publicly. “I wanted to see it published before I die,” he said in a recent interview.
Paul, who was born on the Indian Brook Reserve (now Sipekne’katik First Nation), turns 79 next month. He had a brush with mortality when he underwent treatment for prostate cancer. Doctors gave him the okay after he completed treatment in November 2016, but the ordeal took its toll on his health.
In his novel, published by Fernwood Publishing, Paul brings to life a contemporary Mi’kmaq legend of a man, who becomes chief and a renowned warrior and peacemaker. In the process he comes to embody Mi’kmaq values of humility, courage, honour, and service to others.
While Paul’s previous non-fiction book told the story of the Mi’kmaq and their fate after the arrival of the Europeans, in his novel he tells the story of the Mi’kmaq prior to the arrival of European colonizers.
“The best way to do it (tell the story) was a fictional novel,” he said.
“Some people accused me of writing fiction when I wrote We Were Not the Savages,” he added with a laugh.
A preview of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, performing traditional and contemporary Abenaki music, storytelling, and drumming in FlynnSpace on November 14 at 7:30 pm. By KieraHufford, contributor to @flynncenter Tumblr.
The Abenaki people, like many Native Americans, have been living in America since before European settlers arrived. However, the tribes only received state recognition five years ago, in 2012. The Flynn welcomes the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA), giving them a space to share parts of their culture with the public—a performance that would have felt entirely different had it taken place in 2010.
When Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki spoke with Vermont Public Radio (VPR) back in 2016, he talked about the importance of state recognition. “Before we had state recognition, whenever we made something—a pipe, a wampum bracelet, whatever—and we sold it, we had to say that we were of ‘Abenaki descent.’ We couldn’t say that we were Abenaki from such-and-such a tribe. That’s a federal law. You could get hit with a $250,000 fine per item.”
It made it difficult for Abenaki people to share their heritage. They couldn’t label their creations as being made by members of the Abenaki tribes, even though that’s who they are. And even now, they have to carry a native card proving that they’re members of the tribes; however, who they are, their culture, and where they come from is in their blood. It’s their identity, and a card shouldn’t be needed to prove that.
One of the biggest problems, according to the Abenaki, is that the Vermont Agency of Education doesn’t have a mandated curriculum surround the Abenaki people and their culture, so many students go through school and never really learn about their history or existence. The Abenaki are hoping to change that in the coming years.
“If we were going to sum up the state of where things are with the Abenaki right now, I would say change,” Eugene Rich, co-chair of the Missisquoi Abenaki Tribal Council, told VPR. “I think we’re trying to change our public persona.”
According to their website, the VAAA “embodies the history, culture, and art of the Abenaki people. While most of our artists and performers preserve and pass on the traditional art of our ancestors, others create contemporary artistic expressions that are informed by tradition.” Their mission is to promote Vermont’s Indigenous arts/artists while providing a place to share ideas and develop professionally as entrepreneurs.
The VAAA wants the Vermont public to be able to find and engage artists like Chief Don Stevens, of the Nulhegan band of the Coosuk Abenaki; Nulhegan Abenaki Drum, who combine traditional Northeastern music with the sound of the big powwow drumming; and Bryan Blanchette, who began singing at powwows 20 years ago and is currently writing/performing new Abenaki language songs, who will be performing at the Flynn.
The Abenaki have a place of belonging in Vermont, a place that should be recognized and unquestioned by the state’s residents. Not every Native American appears the same, but that doesn’t mean they have to prove their culture. The best way to combat this thinking is by learning, by understanding the Abenaki culture and how it, too, has adapted as the years have gone by.
Melody Walker Brook is an educator, activist and artist, currently an adjunct professor at Champlain College. She was previously an adjunct professor at Johnson State College where she taught “Native American Worldview and Spirituality”; “Native American History and Culture”; and “Abenakis and Their Neighbors”. She gives lectures on a variety of topics, including Abenaki history, women’s issues, and Abenaki political history. She has done ground breaking research on Abenaki Spirituality and is heavily involved in the Abenaki cultural revitalization movement. She works with museums, lectures in both the K-12 and collegiate level classroom on topics relating to the Eastern Woodlands and indigenous history.
Come early to get one more chance to win one of the beautiful raffle items donated by the wonderful Pocumtuck Homelands Festival vendors last August. Doors open at 12:30 p.m.