Transcript from the morning news brief on Vermont Public Radio on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, with Mitch Wirtlieb (thanks to Meg Malone for providing this):
On February 24 at 2 p.m. the Institute for American Indian Studies, 38 Curtis Road, Washington, CT welcomes Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Abenaki, one of the creative minds behind the exhibit, “Alnobak Wearing Our Heritage.”
Vera Longtoe Sheehan, notes “this exhibit is unique because it is the first traveling exhibit about Abenaki people that are still here living on the land and creating wonderful things.” During this fascinating talk, Sheehan will explain how items in the current exhibition are made and used to express Native Identity.
This beautifully curated exhibit is composed of artifact clothing as well as contemporary pieces made by Vermont’s Abenaki artists, community members, and tribal leaders. The show offers a chronological look at Abenaki fashion and adornment. There is everything from a beautiful 17th-century style buckskin dress by Melody Walker Brook to a hip looking denim jean jacket with a Tolba or turtle design created by Vera Longtoe Sheehan.
Edward Augustus Kendall, “Travels Through the Northern Part of the United States, in the Years 1807 and 1808,” Vol. 3, 1809, p. 207.
It’s time to begin a concerted effort to post markers from the many story trails I am tracing, some faint, some bold, as a part of the project I call “Reclaiming Wantastegok.” Some are drawn from the (often scant) written European record, others are extrapolated from the land itself. This an exercise in, as Lisa Brooks has phrased it, “reclaiming Native space.” Stories are told, changed, omitted, discarded, forgotten, fabricated. But they are all still here, responsive to those who will listen – this is the land where they originate – they are of this landscape. Indeed, indigeneity is expressed as that which is original to a place – in fact, inseparable from it – and they are the aspects, be they human or other-than-human, that define it, with its complex relationships, as distinct.
Some of these traces may lead in several directions. Others may circle back and overlap. Still others may open up into a network of connections as yet unseen. Together, they can help to re-imagine, restore, reclaim, and revitalize what it means to “be this place.” The Sokwakiak Abenaki are the original people of this place. These understandings are for/with/of/from them – the Aln8bak, their ancestors, their allies, and all of their relations. Kchi wliwni – with great thanks. K’wlibaamkani – good travels for you.
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.
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
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.