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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An Evening with Vermont Abenaki Artists Association: Nov. 14 at the Flynn Center

bryan blanchette flynn center vaaa
“The story is here, but it’s been hidden. The Abenaki people, who were written out of the story, are still here.” —VPR

At the Flynn for the first time, the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association shares a performance of both traditional and contemporary Abenaki music, storytelling, and drumming. Performers include Chief Don Stevens, Chief 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, a Berklee alumnus who started singing at powwows over 20 years ago and who is currently writing and performing new Abenaki language songs.

Tomorrow, November 14th, from 7:30-10 pm, at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, 153 main St., Burlington, VT 05401.

Tickets went on sale to Flynn members on Tuesday, July 18 and to the general public on Wednesday, August 2. Flynn membership starts at $50 and is available at any time. To become a member visit http://www.flynncenter.org/support-us/membership.html.

Afternoon Encampment Teaches Pre-Colonial History

bryan blanchette northfield history day

Residents of Northfield and the surrounding area spent Sunday afternoon at the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center, learning more about pre-colonial and Native American traditions and customs from the Connecticut River Valley.

Those who attended the afternoon encampment listened to songs and stories while browsing crafts. It was an interactive event where Elnu Abenaki tribal leaders presented to the group, told stories, and answered questions about pre-colonial times in the Pioneer Valley. The event was hosted by the Northfield Historical Commission.

Elnu Abenaki Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan and Bryan Blanchette both presented during the event, which ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and about 50 [ed. note: closer to 100] people attended on Sunday.

Read the full article by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

roger longtoe sheehan elnu northfield history day