BFP History Space: Celebrating Abenaki Culture

abenaki dance circle lcmm

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.

Advertisements

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

John-and-Vera-Longtoe-Sheehan-with-fiber-bag

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.

Institute for American Indian Studies Exhibit Features Abenaki Creative Process

vera longtoe sheehan aln8bak wearing our heritage

On February 24 at 2 p.m. the Institute for American Indian Studies, 38 Curtis Road, Washington, CT welcomes Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Abenaki, one of the creative minds behind the exhibit, “Alnobak Wearing Our Heritage.”

Vera Longtoe Sheehan, notes “this exhibit is unique because it is the first traveling exhibit about Abenaki people that are still here living on the land and creating wonderful things.” During this fascinating talk, Sheehan will explain how items in the current exhibition are made and used to express Native Identity.

This beautifully curated exhibit is composed of artifact clothing as well as contemporary pieces made by Vermont’s Abenaki artists, community members, and tribal leaders. The show offers a chronological look at Abenaki fashion and adornment. There is everything from a beautiful 17th-century style buckskin dress by Melody Walker Brook to a hip looking denim jean jacket with a Tolba or turtle design created by Vera Longtoe Sheehan.

 “The message of this exhibit is that we are still here and that we know our history and still respect and practice our culture,” said Longtoe Sheehan. Many of us practice both traditional designs and clothes such as the twined woven dress and handbag I made as well as contemporary designs using a jean jacket, in different ways, both connects my family tradition to thousands of years of our history.”

Brooks Library (Wantastegok): Wearing Our History – Abenaki Artists Panel Discussion

Vermont Abenaki Artists Association Aln8bak Wearing Our Heritage

Contemporary Abenaki artists and tribal members talk about the meaning of garments, accessories, and regalia in their own lives and in the expression of community and tribal identity. Some of the topics will include: The Indian Arts and Crafts Law of 1990; art informed by tradition and what it means to be a Native American artist in the 21st century; honoring the past through art, and how artists walk the Red Road recognizing our ancestors. The panel will include [Elnu Abenaki] S8gm8 (Chief) Roger Longtoe Sheehan and Willow Greene, moderated by Vera Longtoe Sheehan.

This program was created by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association in partnership with Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and Flynn Center for the Arts, supported in part by a grant from the Vermont Humanities Council. Find out more about the event and panel at http://brookslibraryvt.org or (802) 254-5290.

Wednesday, November 8 at 7 PM – 9 PM
Brooks Memorial Library
224 Main St, Brattleboro, Vermont 02645

Abenaki Clothing Wears a Rich History

vera longtoe sheehan alnobak heritage mount kearsarge

Next time you see a person wearing a denim jacket or beaded earrings or bracelet, you might do well to take a closer look.

“This is sort of everyday wear that Native people would wear now, and it includes some kinds of things that non-Native people would wear too, but there’s just something about it that shows their native identity,” said Nancy Jo Chabot, curator of the Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner.

Chabot is the co-curator of a new exhibit at the museum “Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage” that documents the way in which garments and accessories that reflect Abenaki heritage have been – and still are – made and used to express Native identity, according to museum officials.

“You start to see that in little elements in modern clothing,” she said of the portion of the exhibit depicting the current era, “things that wouldn’t look out of place for any modern person walking down the road, but for a Native person have these very distinctively heavy Northeast design elements.

“That’s a crucial, important part of anything we do here at the museum: (showing) that Abenaki people are here, are living, and creating wonderful things. And this exhibit in particular is to show that the Abenaki people that were here, where we are on this land right now, are still here.”

Vera Longtoe Sheehan, an Abenaki teaching artist, activist and director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association curated the exhibit with Chabot. This exhibit was unique, Sheehan said, in that it is the first traveling exhibit about Abenaki culture co-curated by an Abenaki person and that has been accepted in mainstream galleries such as the Amy Tarrant Gallery at the Flynn Performing Arts Center in Burlington, Vt., in addition to museums.

Read the full story by Melanie Plenda in the Union Leader.

Tech Helps Abenaki Spread Understanding of Native Culture

dustin lapierre vaaa phone app

“Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage,” a traveling exhibit, brings a group of objects and images to audiences in New England that explore Native American identity in modern culture, by asking, “What does it mean to be an Abenaki person in the modern world? What does it mean to be an indigenous artist?”

The exhibit documents the way in which garments and accessories that reflect Abenaki heritage express native identity.

The traveling exhibit, developed through a partnership of the Vermont Abenaki Arts Association and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, is enhanced by a newly available app that delivers additional content about the exhibit. The Google Play store has released the new Android app, available for Android devices only, called Vermont Abenaki Artists Association.

Read the full article by Sarah Galbraith in the Rutland Herald.

Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom Workshop

vermont abenaki artists association cultural education

Members of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association serve as faculty for this one-day professional development seminar at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM), designed to provide teachers and homeschool educators with new resources and techniques to help elementary students learn about the Abenaki tribe. This program is supported by a grant from the Vermont Humanities Council.

Abenaki culture and history that spans 11,000 years in the Champlain Valley will be introduced by culture bearers with a deep understanding of how this vibrant regional culture continues into the 21st century. Some of the topics include: history and stereotypes; new resources being developed for use in classrooms; age-appropriate activities; and learning how you can better support Abenaki and other Native students while presenting American history. The program includes a gallery talk and tour of the traveling exhibition Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage that explores Abenaki identity and continuity through the lens of the clothing we make and wear to express our identity.

When: Wednesday, August 2, 2017 from 9:30 am – 4 pm
Where: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 4472 Basin Harbor Rd., Vergennes, VT
Cost: $15 registration fee includes lunch and program materials.

Instructors:

Melody Walker Brook is an Adjunct Professor at Champlain College and has taught The Abenakis and Their Neighbors and Abenaki Spirituality at Johnson State College. She serves on the Vermont Commission of Native American Affairs and is a traditional beadworker and finger weaver.

Liz Charlebois, Abenaki culture bearer, is a powwow dancer, traditional bead worker, ash basket maker, and bitten birch bark artist. She cultivates a traditional garden and has organized a seed bank of heirloom seeds grown by the Indigenous people of the Northeast. Liz has served on the New Hampshire Commission of Native American Affairs and as Education Specialist at the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner, NH.

Lina Longtoe is certified Project WILD instructor for the Growing Up WILD, Aquatic WILD and Project WILD K – 12 programs, which are sponsored by the EPA, US Fish and Wildlife, and the National Wildlife Federation. Her area of study is environmental science with a concentration in sustainability. She is Tribal Documentarian for the Elnu Abenaki Tribe and maintains a YouTube channel to help preserve Abenaki culture.

Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, has a background in Museum Studies and Native American Studies. She has been designing and implementing educational programs with museums, schools and historic sites for over twenty-five years. Her art is focused on traditional clothing and twined woven plant fiber bags.

For more information, please contact:
Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association vera.sheehan@abenakiart.org