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.

Town of Wendell, Tribes Join Forces to ID Ceremonial Sites

A group of collaborating Native American tribes has offered to work with Massachusetts towns to identify landscapes of ceremonial or religious significance to their heritage, and Wendell is taking them up on that.

The history of indigenous ceremonial stone landscapes and the importance of maintaining their integrity and tranquility was explained to the Selectboard by Doug Harris, deputy tribal historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office in Charlestown, R.I.

Harris said these sites probably exist in every town in the state, and Wendell is no exception.

Read the full story by Dominic Poli in the Greenfield Recorder here.

Wabanaki REACH Brings Awareness to Campus

Walking into a sunlit room with a circle of chairs arranged in the center, 20 local Maine residents and students gathered together to learn about the indigenous people of Maine.

Located in the Woolley Room at the DTAV Community Center, the workshop was held to bring awareness to the struggles that indigenous people in Maine face to this day. The event was held on Friday, Oct. 28 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and included many different exercises and activities. Some of them included moments of silence for those who have passed away, other activities involved discussing Native Americans and their culture, interactive learning activities and many other exercises that helped the group get a better understanding of how Native Americans were treated at the time when America was discovered and taken over by Europeans, and how they are treated today.

Maine is a historic state with many Native Americans indigenous to the Penobscot River and surrounding areas. The leaders of the Wabanaki REACH group, Barbara Kates and Paul Strickland, wanted to emphasize how important the Native Americans were to this land, and how important they still are.

The discussions and talks were navigated and mediated by Kates, the Maine Community Organizer, as well as Strickland and other members of the group. They also brought to light different topics such as the removal of Natives from their lands and rivers, and how the Native American population in Maine has slowly diminished over time.

Read the full report by Bria Lamonica in the University of Maine’s student newspaper Maine Campus.

Elnu Abenaki Prefiled Testimony in VT PUC Docket #8880

Link to pdf below:

Prefiled Testimony Elnu Abenaki Rich Holschuh VT PUC 8880

Vermont Yankee Buyer Assures Tribe It Will Hire Cultural Adviser

Rich Holschuh VY Sale Mike Faher

If NorthStar Group Services gets a chance to decommission Vermont Yankee, the company will have a hired cultural expert watching over its work.

In a nod to Native American concerns about the Vernon site’s historical importance, NorthStar CEO Scott State is committing to enlisting a consultant on matters such as archaeology, anthropology and history.

The costs of that expert, State pledged, “will not impact the Nuclear Decommissioning Trust or the Site Restoration Trust, and instead will be borne solely by NorthStar.”

Rich Holschuh, a Native American activist representing the Elnu Abenaki tribe in Vermont Yankee proceedings, applauded NorthStar’s commitment but expects to stay closely involved in decommissioning issues. “I see this as the first conversation in an ongoing dialogue,” Holschuh said.

Read the full story by Mike Faher in vtdigger.org here.

The same Mike Faher story in the Brattleboro Reformer here.

And a version in The Commons here.