Nebi, Abenaki Ways of Knowing Water

A just-released short film by Vince Franke of Peregrine Productions, LLC, created to support the watershed education programs of Lake Champlain Sea Grant, UVM Extension, the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and to help preserve these stories for the Abenaki and others. Funding was provided by NOAA, Sea Grant, and an anonymous donor.

Centering on Bitawbagw/Lake Champlain and then water in general, the film is a series of interviews with people in the Native community expressing their understanding of  being in relationship with life-giving water. Each story teller provides their own unique interpretation; I was honored to participate in this group effort with Chief Don Stevens, Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan, Chief Eugene Rich, Melody Brook, Lucy Cannon Neel, Cody Hemenway, Morgan Lamphere, Bea Nelson, Fred Wiseman, and Kerry Wood.

#WaterIsLife

Direct link to Vimeo here.

Abenaki-Inspired Poster to Emphasize Respect for Land

Chief Don Stevens with poster

Advocates for racial justice in Vermont hope that a recently created poster will soon be seen in schools, libraries, town offices and small businesses all over the state. The poster reads: “Please respect and protect N’Dakinna (our land) while you are here. This is the homeland of the Western Abenaki People.”

The wording and imagery on the poster was chosen with great care by Don Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, who worked with Quebec based Nulhegan Abenaki artist Jon Guilbault to make sure that the most important Abenaki cultural symbols would occupy a prominent place in the artwork.

“It is important to remember that we are but stewards of this land we occupy and are only one part of the web of life,” Chief Stevens said. “What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves. This poster is a reminder that the creator gave the Western Abenaki the responsibility to care for our land and in turn would provide for our needs. Once the land was taken from us, we could no longer fulfill this responsibility. We ask that you respect and protect the land so it will continue to provide for us all.“

See the full article in the Addison Independent.

 

Abenaki Nation Partners With City of Burlington

abenaki vermont cultural gifts

In early May, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger’s office announced a new partnership with the Vermont Abenaki Alliance. The collaboration grew out of controversial discussions over the “Everyone Loves a Parade!” mural on Church Street, which not everyone loves.

(If you haven’t been keeping up: Calling the artwork racist, Albert Petrarca vandalized the mural’s identification plaque in October 2017. Since then, community members and City Council representatives have been debating whether to replace or alter the mural to depict a more accurate history of Burlington.)

The focus of the City and Abenaki Alliance collaboration will be public events and education about native people and history. The release notes a July 7 event on Church Street and, in the future, a permanent exhibition at the Burlington International Airport.

Read the full article by Sadie Williams in Seven Days.

Nulhegan Abenaki Chief Don Stevens Appointed to State Racial-Justice Panel

Chief-Don-Stevens-Abenaki-panel

Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation has been appointed by Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan to serve on the Racial Disparities in Criminal and Juvenile Justice Panel.

According to the attorney general’s website, the panel’s goal is to “develop a strategy to address racial disparities within the State systems of education, labor and employment, access to housing and health care, and economic development.”

Stevens, a Shelburne resident, said he has been working racial disparity issues for “many years. Mostly in the capacity as Chief and how it affects the Abenaki Community.”

He is working on cultural projects with Burlington’s mayor’s office, regularly attends Vermont State Police Fairness and Diversity meetings at Vermont Law School, and recently testified at hearings before the Vermont Legislature regarding bill S. 281 which researches systematic racism within the state government.

Though his area of expertise is focused on Native people and the Abenaki Nation, he said, “My goal is to take a look at policies and procedures within the criminal and juvenile justice system and offer insights on areas of improvement. There are specific areas within the Department of Corrections and Child Welfare Areas that need to be addressed in regards to Native peoples. As a minority myself, I hope to offer perspectives in whatever areas the panel decides to concentrate on.”

Link to original article in the Shelburne News.

City of Burlington and Abenaki Alliance to Promote Abenaki Awareness

A press release, just issued:

Mayor Miro Weinberger and Chief Don Stevens from the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk – Abenaki Nation today announced that the City of Burlington and Vermont Abenaki Alliance (made up of the four Abenaki Tribes recognized by the State of Vermont) have agreed to explore several projects to promote awareness of Abenaki history and culture. This announcement is the result of conversations between the City and Chief Stevens that arose during the discussion of the Church Street “Everyone Loves a Parade” mural. In lieu of participating in the Mural Task Force to determine the future of the mural, Chief Stevens and the Abenaki Alliance have chosen to pursue other projects, which will include an annual summer event on Church Street and may include a display of cultural artifacts at the Burlington International Airport, among other potential projects. These projects will build on Burlington’s previous work with Abenaki communities to create the Chief Grey Lock statue in Battery Park and the City Council’s acknowledgment and support of recognition of the Abenaki Nation in September of 1995.

“Abenaki Tribes have a long history within the State of Vermont and with the City of Burlington,” said Chief Don Stevens. “As leaders within our Abenaki communities, the Chiefs have decided not to participate in the ‘Everyone Loves a Parade’ Mural Task Force, but to find other positive avenues to promote our culture within the City. We look forward to collaborating with the City on projects that will increase local and international awareness of Abenaki history and culture. Finally, if the mural is to be changed or altered, we do feel that the Native person depicted on the mural should accurately and historically represent Abenaki people from this region.”

“I appreciated Chief Don Stevens’ input as we have been working through the community challenges related to the ‘Everyone Loves a Parade’ mural,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “The City welcomes the opportunity to continue to work with the Abenaki Alliance to find ways of properly recognizing the role of the Abenaki in the history and future of this region.”

Please note that this communication and any response to it will be maintained as a public record and may be subject to disclosure under the Vermont Public Records Act.

Link here to posting at VT Business Magazine.

Abenakis Gather for Traditional Snow Snake Game in West Barnet

nulhegan abenaki snow snake kymelya sari

Last Saturday, about two dozen people gathered in West Barnet to play the traditional Native American winter game of snow snake. The games also coincided with the official opening of the Nulhegan Abenaki Cultural Center.

“This is an ancient Native game,” explained Donald Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan band of the Abenaki nation. “You slide a stick down the track. Whoever goes the farthest wins.”

The competition is generally friendly. But sometimes, the winner takes all the sticks, said Stevens. “If you’re playing against another nation, be prepared to lose your sticks.”

The games were held in Derby Line for the last three years.

Read the full account by Kymelya Sari in Seven Days.

City Councilors Consider Action for Downtown Mural

burlington-mural-ctsy-michelle-maria-wikimedia-commons

“I’m Chief Stevens. I’m the Chief of the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe. I want to make it clear.  We are a sovereign nation. We are not victims. We would like to promote education and cultural opportunities which I think Burlington has a unique position to be able to afford that including the mural.  It’s problematic just from the fact that it doesn’t represent Abenaki people. But I want to find ways to work with you guys in promoting our culture in a positive manner.”

Read the latest discussion of the Church Street mural in Burlington, Vermont from WAMC and Northeast Public Radio, with Pat Bradley.

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.

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.

WPTZ’s Tom Messner with Chief Don Stevens and Professor Fred Wiseman

Four separate video segments:

  • Meteorologist Tom Messner of Burlington, Vermont’s WPTZ – NBC Channel 5 talks with Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe about indigenous persistence, traditional crops and wisdom, and educational outreach. Link here.
  • In the second segment, he speaks further with Professor Fred Wiseman, featuring artful interpretations of those themes by elementary students. Link here.
  • In the third segment, Tom continues to talk with Fed Wiseman about the Seeds of Renewal Project and the return of Abenaki heritage crops and techniques. Link here.
  • And in the fourth piece, members of the Nulhegan Abenaki drum group demonstrates their traditional singing and drumming. Link here.
  • Filmed November 15, 2016 at the Harvest Celebration with the Seeds of Renewal Project at the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain in Burlington.

Link to the Facebook event page.