Sketch of “Indian Rock” at the mouth of the West River, by a young Larkin Mead, later a nationally-known sculptor.
The Brattleboro Historical Society has begun submitting a regular feature to the local Brattleboro Reformer daily. This week’s column takes a look at the misrepresentation of established Native presence in the state’s long-mythologized history books, and offers some corrections of perspective into the present. I was able to help contribute to this welcome piece by the Society.
Full article here, excerpt below:
In 1828 the Brattleboro publishing company of Holbrook and Fessenden produced “A History of Vermont: From Its First Settlement to the Present Time.” It was the first known Vermont History book used in Brattleboro schools.
When writing about the “native inhabitants,” author Francis Eastman wrote, “not a vestige of them now remains – gradually the encroachments of the whites have pushed them farther and farther on” to the west and north of the United States and Canada.
In many early histories of Vermont, Native Americans were hardly mentioned. A Vermont school book used from 1890 to 1925 starts this way, “Very few Indians lived in Vermont when white men first came here, though hunting parties and war parties often passed through, and sometimes a party would camp all summer in a good place.” You can see that early history books did not give Native Americans much claim to Vermont…
Link to pdf of the 2018 Executive Proclamation by VT Gov. Philip Scott: Indigenous Peoples’ Day VT 2018
Link to pdf of Vermont Governor Phil Scott’s Executive Proclamation for 2018: Indigenous Peoples’ Day
In 2011 and 2012, the state of Vermont officially recognized four Abenaki tribes: Elnu, Nulhegan, Koasek and Missisquoi.
“History books, museums, and schools in New England often present Native culture as if the Abenaki disappeared in the 18th century,” says Vera Longtoe Sheehan, director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. “After we received Vermont state recognition the Abenaki people created the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association as a forum to showcase our artists and our vibrant culture. Now we are trying to bridge the gap between the Native and Non-Native communities through the “Wearing Our Heritage” project. Our goals are to reclaim our place in New England history, to make connections between our shared past and the present, and for our art to be accepted on the same terms as art from other cultures of the world.”
Although there is little mention of the Abenaki in 19th century history books, Abenaki people continued to live in their homelands, and maintain strong oral histories and traditions from earlier times. In the latter half of the twentieth century, Abenaki people undertook a systematic cultural revitalization that involves a return to traditional lifeways and skills. Ironically, for many years they were not recognized by federal or state government because they had never entered into a treaty that surrendered their territory to the United States.
Read this comprehensive article by Vera Longtoe Sheehan and Eloise Beil, for the Burlington Free Press.
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.
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.
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.