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.

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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.

Vermont Gov. Scott Declares Indigenous Peoples’ Day for 2017

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Another very happy day. Vermont Public Radio southern Vermont bureau reporter Howard Weiss-Tismann announced the news in a story filed last night, shortly after interviewing Elnu Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan and myself in Wantastegok/Brattleboro. Photo by Weiss-Tismann. More to follow…

Full story here.

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.

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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.

VPR: Coming To Terms With Vermont’s Dark History Of Eugenics

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VPR’s Vermont Edition devoted June 7th’s broadcast to an interview with Dartmouth College senior Mercedes de Guardiola. Mercedes spoke on the State of Vermont’s Eugenics Survey at the State Archives just the week before (see Sokoki Sojourn’s post here). The original 6/7/17 VPR article includes 34 minutes of audio – please listen carefully by clicking here.

Vermont’s prominent role in the American eugenics movement of the early 20th century is an often overlooked part of the state’s history.  The state’s brutal history of sterilization, forced institutionalization, and racist pseudoscience is the focus of a new academic paper by our guest.

We’re joined by Dartmouth College senior Mercedes de Guardiola. Her thesis covering the eugenics movement in Vermont is “Blood has told”: The Eugenical Campaign in the Green Mountain State.

Broadcast was live on Wednesday, June 7, 2017 at noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

VPR: Dartmouth Student Researches Vermont’s History Of Eugenics

Click here for the audio on VPR News’ The Frequency.

In the early 20th century, Vermont was among a group of states that had policies on the books based on eugenics — the idea that the human population could be controlled to bring out what were considered “desirable” characteristics.

Mercedes de Guardiola, a student at Dartmouth College, wrote her senior thesis on the history of eugenics in Vermont. Though the study of eugenics has since been discredited, when the policies were in effect, they resulted in the sterilization of some Vermonters.

De Guardiola is presenting her work Wednesday evening at the Vermont State Archives in Middlesex. [Note: this took place last night, 5/31/2017]

VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with de Guardiola about the origins of Vermont’s eugenics policy, its lasting effect on the state and what’s been done in the years since to reckon with this period in Vermont’s history.