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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Turners Indian Advocate Suggests Keeping Logo with Modifications

William Turner Monument Gill MA

An unfortunate turn of events.

At Tuesday night’s Gill-Montague School Committee meeting, Chris Pinardi unveiled a plan to involve Native American tribes and groups in a process that would allow the school to keep its previous mascot, the Indian, while adjusting the mascot to create an accurate and respectful representation.

Pinardi, who is a graduate of the school and has been running a group in support of retaining the former mascot, spoke at the beginning of the meeting and delivered a packet with letters from tribal leaders from Vermont and Lowell. He asked the district to consider keeping the name while adjusting the representation with assistance from the tribes.

Pinardi asked the board to listen with an open mind and consider suspending the current process to select a new mascot.“I respectfully request that the logo process be tabled and this process be explored fully,” he said.

The committee discussed the issue later in the evening, making no clear decision on the issue, and opting to delay discussion of the mascot selection process because of how late it was in the night.

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

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.

William Brotherton, Indian Mascots, and a Backstory

Members of the Turners Falls High School community were able to hear from William Brotherton, a lawyer and Native American who advocates for schools to keep Indian mascots. Brotherton, who is from Texas but is a member of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in Vermont, was in the area and stopped in Montague Wednesday night to answer questions and discuss the Turners Falls High School situation at Hubie’s Tavern.

The Gill-Montague Regional School Committee voted in February to discontinue use of the Indian as a nickname and logo for the high school sports teams. The vote came to the disappointment of some members of the community who said they felt unheard in the decision-making process. Brotherton said there is a larger, cultural issue of political correctness in America, where people no longer feel comfortable discussing difficult issues.

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

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Another side of the story:

Yesterday I met William Brotherton in person for the first time. He’s a friendly, self-assured guy, and has been pro-active with me in opening up personal and intra-tribal communications. We had spoken on the phone and emailed a couple times; that afternoon, we both joined a tour of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant (VY) in Vernon, Vermont and were able to get to know each other a little. The tour was offered to participants in VT Public Service Board (PSB, now known as the Vermont  Public Utility Commission, PUC) Docket #8880. This is the State review process for the proposed sale of VY by owner Entergy Corp. to NorthStar Group Services, for purposes of decommissioning and site restoration. I had filed in May for intervenor status on behalf of Elnu Abenaki, with the backing of the Nulhegan and Koasek bands. Brotherton, who serves on the Tribal Council  for the St. Francis Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, followed suit for their group shortly thereafter. The PUC process is now getting well underway with dozens of discovery and response documents going back and forth. By way of helping to inform the parties involved, the petitioners (Entergy and NorthStar) coordinated this tour within the plant’s security zone for an inside look at the scope of the project.

While on the tour of  the strongly-secured and highly industrialized site (we’re talking guards with machine guns), I asked many questions of our hosts regarding ground disturbance and oversight protocol. While I didn’t get many direct answers, Scott State (CEO of NorthStar) assured me that he understood and respected tribal concerns about cultural heritage and and wanted to be sensitive to them.  I believe he has become much more aware of these aspects than was the case previously, and while we must take any such proclamation with a grain of salt, I am guardedly optimistic that there may be some constructive dialogue going forward.

I noted that William Brotherton did not ask any questions about cultural resources. At one point, I gestured across the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River), to the eastern bank in New Hampshire, and mentioned to him about a fortified Sokoki village site there. It had been attacked in December 1663 by a  large force of Mohawk, Oneida, and Seneca warriors and successfully defended, although with a great loss of life; the land here holds many spirits, many at rest but others disquiet, whether from war or forced displacement or simply blatant disregard by modern development. William expressed surprise at what I had said. I began to understand the degree to which he was unfamiliar, indeed almost completely separated, from nearly all cultural understanding of Sokwakik. I am not sure that he knows what “Sokoki” signifies, much less represents  – if I am wrong, I welcome the conversation.

Afterward, we went down the river a half-mile and sat on a cottonwood log below the Vernon Dam, built in 1909 atop an ancient fishing site there at Great Bend. We spoke together for over an hour. I wanted to use the opportunity to talk with him about the significance of the landscape here to its people, past and present, and why we had filed as intervenors in PUC Docket #8880. I wanted to understand what he, on behalf of Missisquoi, had in mind as well. He didn’t really have an answer. I also wanted to talk to him about his endorsement, as a Tribal Council member, of the Indians team mascot/logo in Turners Falls, where he was going immediately afterward to speak to a group of supporters. I knew where he was coming from, ideologically, since I have read his articles and perused his CV.

I started by saying that I (and others) fully endorse the incorporation of a regular curriculum segment devoted to indigenous culture and the effects of colonization, not only in Turners Falls High School but all educational forums. This would probably be the best thing coming out of the entire mascot controversy, because it will help to displace the ignorance – the “not-knowing” – that brought us to this juncture and the benightedness – the “not-caring” – which follows. I pointed out to him that the contemporary indigenous people in the immediate area, Nipmuk and Abenaki, had clearly expressed their opposition to the continued use of the Indians mascot, and why this was the case. I don’t think he heard, or grasped the significance, what I was saying.

To borrow his own words, from Miranda Davis’s Recorder article: “Brotherton said there is a larger, cultural issue of political correctness in America, where people no longer feel comfortable discussing difficult issues,” this is exactly the case here. This initiative is not an erasure of history or a sanitizing campaign. Yes, this is very uncomfortable situation. It is hard to take a clear look at what has brought us all to this challenging place, recognizing that we can do much better and that everyone in the community will benefit. To NOT do so is continuing the illusion of propriety and the normalizing of disenfranchisement. This IS that difficult discussion which we are having, and to which Brotherton alludes. But first of all we need to know what we are talking about. I hope I can continue this exploration with William – I told him that as we parted on Wednesday afternoon. And I hope we can share this story with many others, in hopes for a healthier, more inclusive life for all in this beautiful place.

 

 

GMMT Discusses Abenaki Participation in VT PSB VY Sale

Chris Lenois of WKVT’s Green Mountain Mornings and Mike Faher of VTdigger.org and the Brattleboro Reformer discuss the granting of party status in VT PSB Docket 8880 to two Abenaki tribal groups, Elnu and Missisquoi. BCTV footage begins at 1:55.

Reformer article here.

Vermont PSB Grants Abenaki Tribes Role in Vermont Yankee Sale Review

VERMONT YANKEE VPR

Howard Weiss-Tismann on VPR filed this story (excerpt below):

The Public Service Board says the Missisquoi Abenaki Tribe can take part in the regulatory hearings for the proposed sale of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

There are four state-recognized Abenaki tribes in Vermont, and the Public Service Board on Friday said the Missisquoi Tribe can take part in the hearings for the proposed sale to the industrial demolition company NorthStar Holdings. The board has already agreed to allow the Elnu Tribe, from southern Vermont, to intervene in the state hearings.

William Brotherton is a member of the Missisquoi Abenaki Tribal Council, and he says the northern tribe has a stake in the restoration of the Vernon site. “We have been diligent in making sure that our sites up north are protected and preserved, and so we wanted to be part of this process,” Brotherton said.

Mike Faher of VTDigger filed this story (excerpt below):

Two Native American tribes have won the right to be involved in the state’s review of the proposed sale of Vermont Yankee. The Vermont Public Service Board has ruled that both the Elnu Abenaki and Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi can act as “intervenors” in the state’s consideration of the plant’s purchase by NorthStar Group Services, a New York decommissioning company.

Both NorthStar and current owner Entergy had objected to the Missisquoi Abenaki’s intervention. But the Public Service Board sided with the tribe, saying its concerns about future use of the power plant site are relevant to the matter at hand.

In its request for intervenor status, the Swanton-based Missisquoi nation had summed up its concerns this way: “Our tribe wishes to participate in the process that will determine how the former nuclear power plant site is utilized in the future in order that we safeguard the heritage of our past.”

Mike’s story has also been picked up by the Brattleboro Reformer.

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Note: Elnu Abenaki, in keeping with its prior intra-Tribal agreements, will be standing in all of these proceedings as proxy for Nulhegan and Koasek Abenaki Tribes as well. We have agreed to keep tribal leadership in open communication and conference as we address mutual concerns.

Missisquoi Abenaki Stand with Standing Rock

missisquoi-abenaki-standing-rock

The Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi stands with Standing Rock. Their flag waved in North Dakota, representing their solidarity, as the parent advisory committee for Title VII Indian Education spent Wednesday afternoon packing boxes full of donated winter clothing, medical supplies and non-perishable foods to ship to protesters of the Dakota Access pipeline.

The $3.7 billion pipeline has drawn opposition from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and environmental activists who say it could pollute water supplies and destroy sacred tribal burial sites. Protesters are demanding the U.S. government halt or reroute the Dakota Access pipeline while companies behind the project ask for permission from the courts to complete it.

Looking at the stacks and stacks of donations on the table, Brenda Gagne, the president of the parent advisory committee, was in tears over the level of support and response from the community as she and other committee members organized the goods into boxes.

Read the complete story in the St. Albans Messenger.