The Wabanaki People Are Taking Back Their Narrative

Cultural preservation is self-preservation for Native communities. An upcoming film from the Upstanders Project, “Dawnland,” explains just that.

The documentary, now in post-production, follows the journeys of those involved in a truth and reconciliation process in Maine involving the Wabanaki people. The documentary examines the history and the implications of the removal of Native children from their homes in the US.

From boarding schools in the 1800s to foster care today, Native children have repeatedly been separated from their families. In Maine, the Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in 2012 to trace the abuses experienced by Native children since the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted in 1978.
As early as 1975, a US Senate report found that Native children were 19 times more likely to be removed by child welfare workers than non-Native children. Today, Native children are still twice as likely to be taken from their homes and placed in foster care. Research has suggested this practice can lead to even greater isolation and erasure of indigenous culture.

The stories of Native children in foster care are peppered with horrific and unusual punishments, including not receiving food and being subject to physical harm as well as emotional and sexual abuse.

To tell these stories today, “Dawnland” has tapped advisers and consultants to help ensure the representation of the Wabanaki is accurate. Chris Newell is one of the advisers — he ensures the film is “culturally competent to the collective cultures of the Wabanaki territory.” Newell — born and raised in Motahkmikuhk, an Indian township in Maine — considers the story of Dawnland not his own, but rather the story of many of the people he grew up with.

Hear more about cultural preservation in “Dawnland,” by listening to the audio above.

Future Folk shares the stories of communities through the music that they make. It is a co-production of PRI’s The World and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

Teach the Children Well


Lucy Cannon Neel, Chairperson of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs presented at the Benson Village School on  December 21, 2016. Lucy shared about the history and continued presence of Native Americans in what is now the state of Vermont. The students experienced traditional cultural materials as well; they were even able to drum (video below)!



Abenaki Citizen Visits Heartworks Preschool


Melody Walker Brook, a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, visited the children in the four- and five-year old classrooms at the Heartworks Preschool in Stowe on Oct. 28. She shared stories, music and traditional items like clothing, games, baskets, beads, and musical instruments. Brook’s presentation was part of the school-wide theme of Native Americans that students in Heartworks will explore during November. Brook, an activist and artist, is an adjunct professor at Champlain College (story correction) where she teaches Native American Worldview and Spirituality, Native American History and Culture, and Abenakis and Their Neighbors. She is a member of the Vermont Abenaki Artist Association, which works to promote Vermont’s indigenous arts and artists.

See the original story in the Stowe Reporter at

The First Person Born in the State of Vermont

john sergeant grave marker locust ridge

“Sacred to the memory of Colo. John Sergeant Who departed this life July 30th 1798 in the sixty sixth year of his age. Who now lies in the same town he was born & was the first person born in the state of Vermont.”
This grave marker stands in the Locust Ridge Cemetery,  in the north end of Brattleboro, Vermont. Once known as the Sergeant Cemetery, it is near the former farms of the Sergeant brothers, John and Thomas. This was land that their father Lt. John (Sr.), who was part of the garrison at Fort Dummer, was granted following his petition in 1738, long before it was considered “safe” to settle – it was described as all of the land between the West and Connecticut Rivers north to the Dummerston line. This area of town was known, quite literally, as “West River.” Son John was born within the walls of Fort Dummer in 1732, when that northernmost British outpost on the Connecticut River had been standing 8 years. Brother Thomas followed about 1734. Many descendants of these Sergeant siblings (also Sargent/Sergent/ Sargeant) lived on the farms and nearby afterward.
Col. John Sergeant has often been cited as being the “first person” (read white or Anglo-Saxon) born in what later became the State of Vermont and this is the claim made by his epitaph. However, other information shows clearly that the first British child born (at Fort Dummer) was Major Timothy Dwight in 1726, son of the commander, Lt. Timothy Dwight, and father of a third Timothy Dwight, who became President of Yale University.
The point being: all of this is to ignore, and dismiss, the thousand generations of indigenous Abenakiak and their ancestors, who have been in and of this land for millennia. They were here when the new people appeared and they are still here.
Askwa n’daoldibna iodali – we are still here. #ReclaimingWantastegok #3

Native Americans’ Report Reveals History of ‘Cultural Genocide’ in Maine

An article in the Bangor Daily News sums up the final report of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth & Reconciliation Commission. The five-member panel “gathered more than 160 statements from 13 focus groups in Maine” in their two years of work. Their final report, presented June 14, 2015, outlined 16 points of concern in summary of their disquieting findings.