A special traveling exhibition developed through a partnership of the Vermont Abenaki Arts Association and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
What does it mean to be an Abenaki person in the modern world? What does it mean to be an Indigenous artist? Native identity finds expression in different ways with each generation. When the State of Vermont recognized four Abenaki Tribes in 2011-12, Vermont’s Indigenous artists embraced the right to identify their work as Indian art. The inspiration for Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage emerged from a decade-long collaboration between Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) and Vermont’s Abenaki artists, community members and tribal leaders.
Wearing Our Heritage brings before audiences in New England a group of objects and images that document the way in which garments and accessories that reflect Abenaki heritage have been and still are made and used to express Native identity. These objects are made and worn for self-affirmation, to affirm connections with family, clan, band and tribe, and to express identity wit
hin the geographical locale co-occupied with mainstream culture. We hope that this exhibition will encourage public engagement and understanding of some of the issues associated with Native identity and recognition, and evolving creative expression by members of a traditional culture.
“Identity is a negotiation between what others expect of you and what you expect of yourself,” says Frederick M. Wiseman, Ph. D., Abenaki scholar and activist, who has spent several decades gathering, interpreting, and reconstructing artwork, artifacts, images and traditions of the Abenaki throughout the Northeast.
In the quest to interpret Native art and culture from an Indigenous perspective, Vera Longtoe Sheehan has made the transition from community member and tradition-bearer to contemporary artist and curator, and founder of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. “Indigenous artists no longer need to choose between traditional and contemporary art forms,” she says. “Many of us practice both, and our contemporary art is informed by tradition.” For some Abenakis, it manifests in creating Pan Indian style clothing for powwows. For others, it means bringing back the clothing of their ancestors. Since the late 1980s there has been a growing movement of Abenakis who are reclaiming their traditional clothing beginning with 18th century clothing and slowly working their way further back in time.
By the mid-1990’s, many contemporary Abenaki artists began making earlier styles of clothing that were similar to those that Samuel de Champlain encountered when he met the indigenous people of the Champlain Valley in 1609. In 2009, as the 400th anniversary of Champlain’s visit was commemorated in the Champlain Valley. The Abenaki people were already equipped to represent their ancestors at Quadricentennial activities in Burlington, VT such as the Quadricentennial parade, the Vermont Indigenous Celebration and in recreated Abenaki living history encampments all over the state. Additionally, the Abenaki community presented a Fashion Show of replica garments and accessories in styles worn by their ancestors as far back as the Archaic period (ca. 7,000 – 1500 BC).
In Maine State Museum’s landmark exhibition, Uncommon Threads, co-curator Bruce Borque, called Wobanaki textiles “one of North America’s most dynamic indigenous textile traditions,” and expressed concern that the “scattered, scarce and fragile” historical examples are slipping away. Historical images of Western Abenaki clothing are especially scarce, even through the mid-twentieth century, giving heightened significance to both the rare family photographs and the robust body of work by Vermont’s contemporary Abenaki artists brought together for this project.
The importance of clothing, accessories and regalia to Vermont’s Native people as an expression of personal and community identity is eloquently expressed by Francine Poitras-Jones, a Member of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation. On joining the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association in 2014, she wrote, “I have drawn and painted almost as long as I can remember. . . In addition to painting and making leather pouches, I make regalia. In 2014, I made my mother’s first regalia from her head (headband) to her toes (beaded moccasins), including her dance fan, dress, and shawl. She was 86 years old at the time and had never danced in the circle because she had never been allowed to speak of her heritage.”
Rhonda Besaw, Melody Walker Book, Liz Chalebois, Michael Descoteaux, Jill Cresey-Gross, John Hunt, Rick Hunt, Pat Leno, Lina Longtoe, Nathan Johnson, Francine Poitras Jones, Lori Lambert, Jessee Lawyer, Takara Mathews, Jan Medor, Jeanne Morningstar Kent, Denise Pouliot, Linda Longtoe Sheehan, Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Diane Stevens, Don Stevens, Jim Taylor and Amy Hook Therrien
April 8th through June 17th, 2017
The Flynn Performing Arts Center, Tarrant Gallery, Burlington, Vt.
June 24th to August 12, 2017
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Vergennes, Vt.
August 19th to October 23rd, 2017.
Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, Contemporary Artists Gallery, Warner, NH
More dates to be announced.
For more details about the exhibit or if your museum is interested bringing the exhibition to you venue email email@example.com
Retired humanities professor Frederick M. Wiseman, PhD is an activist, Abenaki artist and author of many books about Abenaki history.
Vera Longtoe Sheehan is an Abenaki teaching artist, activist and Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association.
Eloise Beil is the Collections Manger at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
18th Century Abenaki Couple. Francine Poitras Jones. 2015.
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum
Founded in 1985, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) has always respected the Native people as experts in their own history with an important perspective on the management of the region’s cultural resources. In anticipation of the Champlain Quadricentennial, LCMM partnered with the Abenaki community to honor Lake Champlain’s First Navigators. Since 2007, members of the Abenaki community have gathered annually at LCMM for an intertribal event, and have worked with LCMM staff to create and enhance the Museum’s interpretation of Indigenous history and culture.
Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA)
Our mission is to promote Vermont's Indigenous arts and artists, to provide an organized central place to share creative ideas and professional development as entrepreneurs, and to have a method for the public to find and engage our artists. For more information about VAAA please visit us on Facebook or Twitter.
Copyright 2013 VERMONT ABENAKI ARTIST ASSOCIATION. All rights reserved.