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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Robert McBride at Bellows Falls’ Vilas Bridge and Kchi Pontekw Petroglyphs

robert mcbride kchi pontekw vilas bridge petroglyphs

Still image – see video link at end of summation

Robert McBride’s Everyday People video series on FACT – Falls Area Community TV – featured a recent episode with personnel from VTrans and the VT Dept. of Historic Preservation, along with guests who had an interest in the proceedings. The crew was in town to document and map the Vilas Bridge and the ancient petroglyph site at Kchi Pontekw on the Kwenitekw, using newly acquired LiDAR equipment. A non-intrusive technology, LiDAR uses a rapid, rotating laser sending and receiving unit to record a highly detailed 3D image of terrain, objects, and surfaces. This record can then be used for reference and analysis. With the possibility of a future repair or removal of the deteriorating Vilas Bridge (owned by the state of New Hampshire, and now closed), it is important to record the current situation so that proper care can be taken as plans may be developed. For indigenous people, respectful protection of the sacred ancestral rock carvings above the falls are of special concern. Several people were in attendance to oversee the work on September 22, 2017; the Brattleboro Reformer covered the story that day as well.

Watch the FACT video here.

The First Inhabitants: Before Barre Was Barre

Missisquoi Abenaki Flag

With the Barre Heritage Festival around the corner, it’s a good time to look back and celebrate Barre’s history. For many people, that means looking back over 200 years to when the town was officially founded. How about looking back over 10,000 years?

The people native to the area, the Abenaki, are a community that has lived in the central Vermont area ever since their ancestors first migrated here several thousands of years ago.

Thirty people, give or take, are “American Indian and Alaska Native alone” in Barre (City and Town) taken together according to the Vermont Census. More Abenaki people might identify as being of “two or more races,” and they aren’t included in that number.

Read the full article by Will Kyle in the Montpelier Bridge.

Presentation Discusses Native Relationship with Connecticut River

chief roger longtoe sheehan northfield ma crc

Though the seventh day of the Connecticut River Conservancy’s From Source to Sea journey didn’t go quite as planned, no one seemed to mind. A presentation was meant to be on the water, but organizers say the new boat was not certified by the Coast Guard in time for the event. So instead, the group held the presentation at the Northfield Mountain Recreation Center’s picnic area on the shore of the Connecticut River.

Roger Longtoe, Rich Holschuh and David Brule all spoke during the one and a half hour event on Sunday afternoon. Longtoe and Holschuh are from the Elnu Abenaki tribe out of Vermont, and Brule is the president of the local Nolumbeka project, a non-tribal Native American organization that promotes education on Native issues.

All three men discussed how their tribes and organizations intersect with the river. Longtoe discussed its previous use as a “grocery store” where local tribes were able to get fish, as well as the areas along the river that were used as camps and meeting places between local tribes. “It’s a place where you gather, come and eat, and they’ve been doing this for a very long time,” he said.

Holschuh talked about the Abenaki language and how it relates to the indigenous culture around the area. Brule discussed more recent events and history around the river.

Andrew Fisk, executive director of the Conservancy, said incorporating Native American viewpoints into the ongoing work on the river has been helpful. He said the Conservancy’s main job is to listen and understand other points of view. “This has been incredibly informative for us, to listen and hear about how they see the river,” he said.

Fisk said the goal is to continue to celebrate the river and tackle the challenges surrounding it, especially related to the dams along the river and ensuring there is a smaller ecological footprint left behind.

The From Source to Sea journey began on July 16 and ends on July 30. It started at the mouth of the river, Fourth Connecticut Lake and will end at the Long Island Sound.

Elnu Abenaki Tribe: Native Americans Present Local History

roger longtoe sheehan elnu northfield history day

The Abenaki are here. They exist. And yet, they still live in a reality where not everyone is aware of that. But that is changing, slowly, but it is changing, said Joe Graveline, a member of the Northfield Historical Commission.

“They are having a renaissance, a rebirth in understanding their heritage,” he said. “They are finding their voice.”

A better understanding not only of the history of the Abenaki people but their place in the here and now — is just one of the many reasons why living history events like the one the Northfield Historical Commission is sponsoring this weekend are so important, Graveline said.

Read the full article in the Brattleboro Reformer. Two previous posts on Sokoki Sojourn reference Greenfield Recorder articles about the same event (here and here). Unfortunately, this well-written article ran a week too late. The Northfield event had already been held the previous weekend, on June 11, 2017.

Also, one correction, with respect to the quote “Among the Abenaki people, who made their homes in the Connecticut River Valley of what is now New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts, were the Sokoki and a smaller, related band called the Squakheags — both members of the larger Abenaki nation.” These are, in fact, the same people. A simple linguistic comparison between Squakheag and Sokwakik (Sokoki, in today’s usage) makes that clear. More on that soon…

Afternoon Encampment Teaches Pre-Colonial History

bryan blanchette northfield history day

Residents of Northfield and the surrounding area spent Sunday afternoon at the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center, learning more about pre-colonial and Native American traditions and customs from the Connecticut River Valley.

Those who attended the afternoon encampment listened to songs and stories while browsing crafts. It was an interactive event where Elnu Abenaki tribal leaders presented to the group, told stories, and answered questions about pre-colonial times in the Pioneer Valley. The event was hosted by the Northfield Historical Commission.

Elnu Abenaki Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan and Bryan Blanchette both presented during the event, which ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and about 50 [ed. note: closer to 100] people attended on Sunday.

Read the full article by Miranda Davis in the Greenfield Recorder.

roger longtoe sheehan elnu northfield history day

Abenaki Lifeways Focus of Northfield’s Day of History on Sunday

elnu abenaki northfield squakheag living history

Residents will get a taste of local Native American history Sunday, as members of the Abenaki tribe recreate the mid-17th century lives of their ancestors as part of Northfield’s Day of History. The Day of History, organized almost every year by the Northfield Historical Commission, serves to raise awareness of the commission while teaching residents about the town’s history, according to Historical Commission Chairwoman Carol Lebo.

In recent years, the commission has offered a home and garden tour, an exploration of 19th-century evangelist Dwight L. Moody’s birthplace and a history-oriented walk down Highland Avenue. But Lebo said the commission wanted to try something new this year. “Up until recently, the Historical Commission has been mostly interested in colonial history,” she said. “More recently we’ve become more interested in pre-colonial history and in archaeology … We decided this year that we’d sort of go back to earlier history.”

Through connections to different bands of the Abenaki tribe, the commission was able to arrange for members of the Elnu band to offer a re-enactment Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. outside of the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center.

Read the full article by Shelby Ashline in the Greenfield Recorder.