Bringing Together Two Sides of Vermont

don stevens drum flynn center vaaa

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.

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The Light Behind Our Eyes: Abenaki Perspectives on Personhood

light behind our eyes melody walker brook abenaki personhood poster

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.

Brooks Library (Wantastegok): Wearing Our History – Abenaki Artists Panel Discussion

Vermont Abenaki Artists Association Aln8bak Wearing Our Heritage

Contemporary Abenaki artists and tribal members talk about the meaning of garments, accessories, and regalia in their own lives and in the expression of community and tribal identity. Some of the topics will include: The Indian Arts and Crafts Law of 1990; art informed by tradition and what it means to be a Native American artist in the 21st century; honoring the past through art, and how artists walk the Red Road recognizing our ancestors. The panel will include [Elnu Abenaki] S8gm8 (Chief) Roger Longtoe Sheehan and Willow Greene, moderated by Vera Longtoe Sheehan.

This program was created by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association in partnership with Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and Flynn Center for the Arts, supported in part by a grant from the Vermont Humanities Council. Find out more about the event and panel at http://brookslibraryvt.org or (802) 254-5290.

Wednesday, November 8 at 7 PM – 9 PM
Brooks Memorial Library
224 Main St, Brattleboro, Vermont 02645

Abenaki Clothing Wears a Rich History

vera longtoe sheehan alnobak heritage mount kearsarge

Next time you see a person wearing a denim jacket or beaded earrings or bracelet, you might do well to take a closer look.

“This is sort of everyday wear that Native people would wear now, and it includes some kinds of things that non-Native people would wear too, but there’s just something about it that shows their native identity,” said Nancy Jo Chabot, curator of the Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner.

Chabot is the co-curator of a new exhibit at the museum “Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage” that documents the way in which garments and accessories that reflect Abenaki heritage have been – and still are – made and used to express Native identity, according to museum officials.

“You start to see that in little elements in modern clothing,” she said of the portion of the exhibit depicting the current era, “things that wouldn’t look out of place for any modern person walking down the road, but for a Native person have these very distinctively heavy Northeast design elements.

“That’s a crucial, important part of anything we do here at the museum: (showing) that Abenaki people are here, are living, and creating wonderful things. And this exhibit in particular is to show that the Abenaki people that were here, where we are on this land right now, are still here.”

Vera Longtoe Sheehan, an Abenaki teaching artist, activist and director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association curated the exhibit with Chabot. This exhibit was unique, Sheehan said, in that it is the first traveling exhibit about Abenaki culture co-curated by an Abenaki person and that has been accepted in mainstream galleries such as the Amy Tarrant Gallery at the Flynn Performing Arts Center in Burlington, Vt., in addition to museums.

Read the full story by Melanie Plenda in the Union Leader.

Tech Helps Abenaki Spread Understanding of Native Culture

dustin lapierre vaaa phone app

“Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage,” a traveling exhibit, brings a group of objects and images to audiences in New England that explore Native American identity in modern culture, by asking, “What does it mean to be an Abenaki person in the modern world? What does it mean to be an indigenous artist?”

The exhibit documents the way in which garments and accessories that reflect Abenaki heritage express native identity.

The traveling exhibit, developed through a partnership of the Vermont Abenaki Arts Association and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, is enhanced by a newly available app that delivers additional content about the exhibit. The Google Play store has released the new Android app, available for Android devices only, called Vermont Abenaki Artists Association.

Read the full article by Sarah Galbraith in the Rutland Herald.

LCMM Hosts “Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom” Aug 2, 2017

Abenaki Art at LCMM Alnobak baby

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum will host “Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom,” a summer workshop for educators, this Wednesday, Aug. 2. Members of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association will serve as faculty for this all-day seminar, and for a series of panel discussions for young adults and adults to be offered in the fall and spring at area libraries.

(in conjunction with the current exhibit “Aln8bak: Wearing Our Heritage”)

Link to the article in the Addison County Independent.

Paths to New Hampshire’s Native Past

native new hampshire magazine

…Walking back to a time when foot trails and rivers were the main drag and birch-bark canoes coursed the waters, imagine a shoreline scene of wigwams set aglow from home fires and a moonlit sky. Inside, a circle of people share stories and trade, eating fish and waving away wood smoke — families coming together, celebrating the seasons and each other.

A recent National Geographic Channel special, “America Before Columbus,” notes that, in the 1400s, more people lived on our continent than in all of Europe and they had created “a managed landscape of cities, orchards, canals and causeways.” Likewise, New Hampshire’s Native roots cover every inch of the state, from the wooded realms of the north down to our big central lake and from our seacoast and salt marshes to the Connecticut River in the shadow of Mt. Monadnock. American Indians have lived here since the end of the last ice age, following food cycles, fresh water and fertile ground. The evidence that remains, mostly place names and myth, has become so familiar to us that we sometimes forget the source.

“It’s very important for people to understand that families were living in these places,” says Michael J. Caduto, author of “A Time Before New Hampshire: The Story of a Land and Native Peoples.”

“A lot of people think of Native history as being kind of static or represented by stone tools and bones and other archaeological findings,” he says. “Those artifacts are just evidence of the life that has been here for over 11,000 years — the Abenakis and all of their ancestors.”

See this above-average article by Mark Dionne, and illustrated by Ryan O’Rourke, in this month’s issue of New Hampshire Magazine.