On VPR: Vera Longtoe Sheehan for Women’s History Month with Molly Ockett

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Kwai Nedobak! Nd’elewizi Vera Longtoe Sheehan du Elnu Wôbanaki – that translates into English as: Hello my friends! My name is Vera Longtoe Sheehan, and I’m a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe.

I’m here to honor the countless generations of Wôbanaki women who were fiber artists and to the women that will carry this art form to future generations of our people. Most of their names have been lost to history, but they’re remembered for the textiles they created – and when we’re lucky, through the surviving textiles themselves.

The late Jim Petersen, a professor and Anthropology Department Chair at UVM, documented an extensive legacy of textile fragments dating back thousands of years that have been found in Abenaki archaeological sites. And I’ve personally had the honor of studying some of these surviving 18th-century textile pieces.

The Maine Historical Society has an 18th-century plant fiber object in their collection that was made by an Abenaki woman known as Molly Ockett, a healing woman who took care of people in her community, and who was also a talented fiber artist. As an herbalist, Molly would have been a keeper of extensive knowledge about different types of plants and what they were used for. She would also have known how to harvest plants like the milkweed or dogbane that she used to weave bags such as the fiber object that has come to be known as Molly’s Purse.

My father, John Sheehan, is an eighty-four-year-old Abenaki culture bearer who fondly remembers carts full of milkweed being delivered to his grandmother “Lena” during his childhood. He recalls watching his grandmother and aunties talking and laughing as they made milkweed string – then the hours they spent weaving it into market bags that they sold for less than twenty-five cents apiece. Later “Lena” taught him how to weave and he passed this family knowledge on to me – his daughter.

I’m honored to carry Lena’s fiber arts knowledge and pass it on to my daughter Lina who will carry it on to the next seven generations.

It is important for us to continue teaching weaving and other old-style art forms to revitalize our culture that connects us to our ancestors, our traditions, and n’dakinna – our homeland – now known as Vermont, New Hampshire, Northern Massachusetts, Southern Maine, and Quebec.

Link to the article and audio at Vermont Public Radio.

Local Radio Show Broadcasts Native Perspectives

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When Deb Reger began her weekly radio show, “Moccasin Tracks,” on WRUV 90.1 FM last Tuesday at noon, she reminded her listeners where she was. “We recognize this area where we broadcast from as N’Dakinna, the ancestral homeland of the Abenaki nation,” she said from the radio station’s studio in the University of Vermont’s Davis Center in Burlington.

As the song “Grandmother” by Navajo artist Radmilla Cody played in the background, Reger told listeners that her guest for the week was Grandmother Nancy Andry, an elder who lives in Connecticut and is of Algonquin and Metis heritage. It took a couple of tries before Reger got through on the phone to her guest. So the seasoned radio host adjusted her playlist to include longer songs. She wasn’t too frazzled, though. “It happens,” she explained.

Reger started “Moccasin Tracks” in 2009 because she wanted to produce a show that featured the voices and music of native peoples. “You just didn’t hear [from them] that much,” Reger said.

Reger, who doesn’t claim any native ancestry, stresses she doesn’t seek to speak for the native peoples. Her goal is to let them represent themselves and tell their stories.  “I hold this space, this broadcast time, for the people who are underserved,” the radio host said.

Read the full article by Kymelya Sari in Seven Days.

WNPR and Lisa Brook’s Forthcoming Book: Our Beloved Kin

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Coming out on January 9, 2018 from Yale University Press – this looks amazing… A compelling and original recovery of Native American resistance and adaptation to colonial America.

With rigorous original scholarship and creative narration, Lisa Brooks recovers a complex picture of war, captivity, and Native resistance during the “First Indian War” (later named King Philip’s War) by relaying the stories of Weetamoo, a female Wampanoag leader, and James Printer, a Nipmuc scholar, whose stories converge in the captivity of Mary Rowlandson. Through both a narrow focus on Weetamoo, Printer, and their network of relations, and a far broader scope that includes vast Indigenous geographies, Brooks leads us to a new understanding of the history of colonial New England and of American origins. Brooks’s pathbreaking scholarship is grounded not just in extensive archival research but also in the land and communities of Native New England, reading the actions of actors during the seventeenth century alongside an analysis of the landscape and interpretations informed by tribal history.

Listen to a NEXT interview by John Dankosky on WNPR with author Professor Lisa Brooks about her compelling new work “Our Beloved Kin” (scroll halfway down).

Pre-order a copy here.

Lisa Brooks is associate professor of English and American studies at Amherst College. She is author of The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast.

To Keep Native Medicinal Knowledge Alive, Leaders Organize Plant Walks

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A positive piece on VPR yesterday, talking and walking with Tom Beck of Nulhegan Abenaki, getting to know #allourrelations. Audio from the podcast is included.

“To prevent their collective cultural knowledge about medicinal plants from disappearing, some Vermont tribal nations are sharing their expertise with those outside the native communities.

On a recent sunny morning, a small group of 10 or so people gathered in the parking lot at the entrance to Vermont state land for a educational plant walk through the forest.

Before making it out of the parking lot, Tom Beck, one of the instructors, pointed out the first medicinal plant to the group. “Right here, this is a piece of sweet grass, it’s actually pretty long, and it’s quite nice,” says Beck. He’s a spiritual leader of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, a state-recognized tribe in Vermont.

Beck has picked up a wide blade of green grass about two feet long, and he’s holding it delicately between his weathered fingers.  “When you take this and you braid it together, it’s your mind, your body and your spirit working together,” says Beck. “It’s a self-diagnostic tool.”

Beck says the sweet grass braids are burned in a ceremony, and how evenly the three strands burn is an indicator of how your mind, body and spirit are working together. It can be a reminder to attend to that balance. “If it burns straight across, you know your mind, your body and your spirit is working together equally,” Beck says.

See the full article with Kathleen Masterson on VPR News here.

VT Edition on VPR: Looming Sale, Big Questions: The Latest From Vermont Yankee

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Mike Faher was interviewed by Jane Lindholm today, on Vermont Edition, discussing his ongoing coverage of the proposed VY sale under consideration by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC Docket No. 8880). Among other updates, they discussed the Elnu Abenaki testimony regarding their concerns at the site in the heart of Sokwakik and how that might be handled in the process.

Article and podcast here. Go to 18:40 in.

VPR Wins Three National Journalism Awards

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A podcast exploring the status of Abenaki Native Americans in Vermont and a video that uses Legos to explain the Iowa caucus, and breaking news coverage of the Northeast Kingdom EB-5 scandal have won Vermont Public Radio three national journalism awards for its work in 2016.

*****

Best News Documentary: “What is the status of the Abenaki Native Americans in Vermont today?”

Each month, the podcast Brave Little State answers a question submitted by a listener and voted on by the community. The winning piece took on the question question: “What is the status of the Abenaki Native Americans in Vermont today?”.

Angela Evancie, the podcast’s host and creator, says the show’s people-powered model, which was pioneered by WBEZ’s Curious City, has opened up a radical new way of reporting.

“In the case of this story about Vermont’s Abenaki, a seemingly simple question prompted complicated conversations about how the native community sees — and doesn’t see — itself in contemporary Vermont,” Evancie said. “I was so grateful to the Abenaki leaders who opened up their homes and tribal headquarters to me, and trusted me to share a small part of their story.”

See the full report here.

From Cherokee Country To Pequot Shores: Rediscovering Native American Trails

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A great piece on NPR yesterday (June 30, 2017) with a nearly hour-long audio track about early trail systems and their multi-levels of significance. Listen here.

“Long before our modern highways, there was an extensive network of Native American trails up and down the East Coast. This hour, we hear about efforts to map these old trails and find out how they’re helping archaeologists and others learn about the past.

We begin our conversation in former Cherokee country to find out why a North Carolina man and an archaeologist are mapping hundreds of miles of old Cherokee trails. Then we head back to Connecticut’s woods where many Native American tribes used trails to link villages — spurring on trade and facilitating war.”