Teaching Through Art Creation: An interview with Francine Poitras Jones.

By Faith Wood. Middlebury College. Class of 2024.
Native Presence and Performance (Freshman Seminar Course).

In spring 2021, Vera Longtoe Sheehan (Elnu Abenaki) met with the students of “Native Presence and Performance: Reclaiming the Indigenous Narrative,” a first-year seminar offered by Middlebury College. After the meeting, Longtoe Sheehan recommended the students interview and write about VAAA affiliated artists. This blog post is one of a series that were created for that project, respectfully submitted by a student who self-identifies as non-Native.

Due to the length of this narrative, it will be introduced in three parts over a period of three weeks.

Even at 72 years old, Francine Poitras Jones of the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe plays an active role in teaching through creation. Dressed in her traditional regalia, she often volunteers to visit the classroom to teach students about Abenaki games, songs, culture, and language. Her BlueWolfCrafts Etsy page boasts over 170 items of Native American hand-crafted items, from jewelry made with Wampum shells she herself gathered, to leather pouches and moccasins. Francine does not limit herself with just one or two mediums.[1] For example, in two-dimensional works, her art spans from acrylic painting, to sketches with India ink, to creating with watercolors. For as long as she can remember, Francine has loved and been naturally inclined to creating. “Being able to create things was born into me,” she admits.[2]

Image of beaded moccasins and peaked cap.
Beaded Moccasins and peaked cap

Image of wall hanging by Francine.
Great Blue Heron wall hanging

                At first, Francine studied the work of others in her community, including learning beading techniques from fellow Nulhegan citizen, Lori Lambert. Over time, she has been able to build upon what she has learned and incorporate own personal touches to her art work. These touches are often the inclusion of natural materials, like bark, twigs, shells, leather, and moose and deer scapula. In using these materials, Francine is helping elements of the natural world would otherwise go to waste live on forever. One particular painting incorporated actual bits of birch bark that were peeling off the tree. “It’s my way of thanking the tree for its beauty,” she says warmly.[3] In Francine’s community, animals are not hunted for trophies, only based upon need. If possible, every part of the animal should be used in order to honor its life. Sometimes, she will use animals that her sons have hunted in her art creation, but only after thanking the animal for its life and thanking Creator for providing such


[1] Poitras Jones, Francine. “Handmade Handcrafted Native American-Made Items by BlueWolfCrafts.” (Etsy), 26 Mar. 2021.

[2] Poitras Jones, Francine. Personal Interview. March 2021.

[3] Ibid.

Decolonizing the History that is Taught in Schools Across the Abenaki Homeland

Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Elnu Abenaki Tribe, Director, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, and Abenaki Arts & Education Center.

Originaly published by Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum on Jan 23, 2020. View original here.

If your not familiar with the term decolonization you probably recognize the Latin prefix de- meaning to reverse and the word colonization which refers to the process by which the colonial settlers move into and took control of Indigenous lands. Colonization is the brutal process by which one group of people overpowers another group of people, takes control of all of the resources and it generally causes irreparable loss and harm to the original inhabitants. The new government forces new laws and customs upon the group that is being dominated. In theory decolonization would return society in the Americas to its original state before colonization but that process would be nearly impossible and far too complicated because we cannot undo what has been done but we can help mitigate the damages that have been done to the Abenaki communities of the region. For me this work is about reclamation, truth, and education so this article will focus on my work developing decolonized educational resources for schools.

I began developing and presenting Native American programs in classrooms over twenty years ago because I knew there was a gap in what and how our children were being taught about American history and the Native American people of our region. The problem of Abenaki erasure in school curriculum is multi-dimensional. Over the years, there have been very few changes in how Native American culture is taught. Many of us grew up learning the same incorrect history as our children will and that same history is passed from one generation to another. We also rely upon history books that are out-dated and incomplete because they written from a single perspective so long ago . 

Adding to the dilemma is many of us grew up learning many stereotypes and myths about Native American people.

Therefore, with some exceptions, children are still taught that the original Native American inhabitants of N’dakinna (Abenaki for homeland) are no longer here which  was proven false when four Abenaki communities fought for and won state recognition in Vermont in 2011 and 2012. Therefore, it’s disconcerting when I ask children what they know about Native Americans and they always seem to use the past tense because they didn’t realize that Native Americans are still alive. 


After many years of doing programs at schools, museums, and historic sites, I returned to college where my Graduate research focused on “Abenaki Erasure and Continuity of Culture in Their Homeland.” The culmination of my studies is the Abenaki Arts & Education website which is a free resource that teachers and students can use to learn more about the continuity of Abenaki history and culture into the present day. The website includes recommending readings, articles, videos, and study guides to help people better understand our culture. Visitors can be assured that the resources have been vetting by knowledgeable Abenaki educators and culture bearers.

The colonization of the Northeast did not happen overnight, quite to the contrary it is a  long and complicated process, therefore reversing the history of colonization that is taught in our schools is also going to be a complicated process that cannot be done quickly or by one person. It will take all of us working together to make a difference. If your a teacher and homeschooler, consider attending our course “Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom, a 3-day professional development seminar that is taught by Abenaki educators and culture bearers and you can earn a certificate or credit through Castleton University. Teachers, parents, and caregivers can also expose their children to Abenaki culture through Abenaki exhibits, heritage events, and programs that are listed on the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association’s website. 

Vera Longtoe Sheehan with New England teachers during the first annual “Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom.” Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Photo courtesy of Vermont Abenaki Artists Association.

Resources 

Vermont Abenaki Artists Association abenakiart.org/

Abenaki Arts & Education Center: abenaki-edu.org/

About the Author

Vera Longtoe Sheehan is an artist, educator, and activist who serves her community as the Elnu Abenaki Tribal Genealogist and the Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association where she leads the education team. She has a BA in Museum Studies and 

Native American Studies, MALS, and an Advanced Certificate in Public History from SUNY Empire State College. The combination of her experience and her education allows Vera to bridge the gap between the Abenaki community and mainstream society by creating and delivering educational programs, museum exhibitions, and events that preserve and interpret the vibrant culture of the Abenaki people. Additionally, Vera is a member of the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic Studies and Social Equity Advisory Working Group which is examining how Ethic Studies can be incorporated into K-12 curriculum.

“Abenaki Elders and Artists Struggle in Face of State Reopening”

photo of disposable masks in the shape of x caption shared the same text as title

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 

By Lina Longtoe Schulmeisters (@Askawobi), Program Coordinator and juried artist, and
Hawk Longtoe, Intern and juried artist, VAAA

N’DAKINNA (Vermont, USA) – As the country braces and prepares for new waves of Covid-19 cases amidst state reopenings, the Abenaki population remains vulnerable since the early days of the pandemic.

N’dakinna (Abenaki for our homeland),  is beginning to reopen, with Vermont going as far as to allow “travel outside of Vermont to counties across New England and New York that have a similar active COVID-19 caseload to Vermont and return without quarantining if they do so in a personal vehicle”, according to the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. But many Abenaki citizens are extremely vulnerable in these times.

Based on recent research by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA), the Abenaki population is in desperate need of protective gear (PPE) such as masks, gloves, and other materials as Vermont and neighboring states continue their re-opening plans. Disinfectant and cleaning supplies are also highly needed, in order to keep Abenaki families and businesses safe, while personal care/hygiene products have also been requested alongside arts supplies for children and youth performers. “I worry and pray that everyone is checking on the Elders,” remarked one VAAA artist, “I don’t know if our Elders are getting the help that they need. I check in on the Elders at least once a week and ask if they need anything and hope they aren’t too proud to say yes or accept that help.”

For this reason, VAAA’s team is working behind the scenes to gather donations to help fund our Covid-19 relief and response efforts, including sending care packages to Elders and artists who need PPE items such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, or assistance with acquiring basic necessities such as food and medicine. Due to the fact that VAAA is a grassroots organization, our long-time partner Lake Champlain Maritime Museum will be our acting fiscal sponsor. Visit VAAA’s donation page to see how you can help visit www.abenakiart.org/donations.

VAAA was recently awarded a special project grant from the Vermont Arts Council and New England Foundation for the Arts which will provide direct relief and assistance to 17 Abenaki artists. Vermont Humanities Council awarded VAAA a Cultural Relief grant that will partially support virtual programming such as the Abenaki Heritage Weekend later this summer. Contributions like these serve as direct action to assist the Abenaki community in a meaningful way identified by the Abenaki community.

VAAA represents almost 300 individuals who proudly contribute to not only the four Recognized tribes of Vermont (the Elnu, Nulhegan, Koasek, and Missisquoi Abenaki Tribes) but also contribute to the larger Vermont and American societies. We are essential workers, health care workers, EMTs, tradesmen, business owners, teachers, educators, professors, veterans, EMS students, volunteers, adult and youth leadership, Elders, and much, much more. Just like you and your families. The groundbreaking research discussed here is currently being undertaken by key individuals within the VAAA team. Any publications or presentations based on this data will be made by these same Abenaki culture bearers.

References:

  • Agency of Commerce and Community Development, 2020. Cross State Travel Information | Agency Of Commerce And Community Development. [online] Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Available at: <https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/restart/cross-state-travel> [Accessed 14 June 2020].

About the 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 http://abenakiart.org or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

For more information, contact:

Lina Longtoe Schulmeisters, Program Coordinator, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, abenaki@abenakiart.org

###

Calling All Abenakis

Support local indigenous research and ways of knowing; participate if you’re eligible or share to spread the word. I’m looking to reach all Abenakis across N’dakinna. The survey is available at www.tinyurl.com/AbenakiFood

This is open to *all* Abenakis, regardless of:
– tribal affiliation
– which country you live in
– whether you or your tribe are currently recognize
d or have Indian status

 

Sen. Bernie Sanders Exhibits Abenaki Art in Office

For more information Contact: Vera Longtoe Sheehan, vera.sheehan@abenakiart.org

Image Courtesy of Diane Stevens Photography.

July 26, 2019 – Burlington, VT. – Abenaki art will be on display for the public in Sen. Bernie Sanders Washington DC office from now until November 2019.

Last January, Julia Santos from Senator Sanders office reached out to the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, and the senator’s representative requested that VAAA loan Abenaki artwork to be displayed in the senator’s office as part of an on-going exhibit dedicated to Vermont artists. When asked whether the senator was interested in displaying traditional or contemporary art, Santos suggested that the art represent the beauty of Abenaki culture.

“As the discussion continued, it became clear that the Abenaki people should exhibit a small collection of both traditional and contemporary artists so the art could tell the story of Abenaki continuity of culture in our homeland,” explained Vera Longtoe Sheehan who is the Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. “It was also important for the Abenaki language to be incorporated into the exhibit title yet for the exhibit name to be understood by a broader audience.”

As visitors enter Sen. Sanders office they are greeted by the exhibit “Askwa n’daoldibna iodaliWe are Still Here” which features artwork by well-known artists from three out four of Vermont’s recognized tribes. Some of the highlights include: Amy Hook-Therrien’s, of the Koasek Abenaki Tribe, watercolor painting “An Aerial View of N’Dakinna” depicting the tribal homeland without borders; Jeanne Morningstar of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe’s wood-burned gourd, which tells the story of Gluskape shooting an arrow into the Ash tree and bringing humans into existence; a beaded Chief’s medallion by Lori Lambert, of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe bearing her tribal flag; Vera Longtoe Sheehan, of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, honoring all Abenaki veterans past and present with a woven bag in the colors of the “Red and Blue Men;” and the photograph Nature’s Palette by Diane Stevens’s of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe. This image won the Best in Color award in the Arts Alive Open Photography Contest.

Sheehan goes on to explain how Abenaki designs carry special meanings, especially when woven into wampum belts that are used in ceremonies. Linda Longtoe Sheehan, also of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, explains the images on the “Marriage Equality Wampum Belt” which bears the images of “two men together, a man and a woman together, and two women together.”

Last but not least, the acrylic painting 18th Century Abenaki Couple that was created by Francine Poitras Jones. This particular artwork was created by referencing an original 18th century watercolor painting of an Abenaki couple which is in the collection of the Montreal Archives.

“It is important that Abenaki artistry is displayed in the Capitol City of the United States of America. We are part of the original fabric that makes up this country.  We continue our governmental relationships with the US Congress delegations as did our ancestors. In this spirit, we must thank Senator Bernie Sanders for hosting our Western Abenaki display and recognizing the importance of indigenous people who still live and thrive in his home state of Vermont,” said Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe.

If you are unable to travel to Washington DC, VAAA has another exhibit is on display at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, VT.  “Nebizun: Water is Life” draws its inspiration from Wabanaki (Native American) Grandmothers that have been doing Water Walks to pray for the water. Grandmother Dorene Bernard and others are currently traveling over 600 kilometers through the traditional territories of the Wabanaki Confederacy tribes (Abenaki, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Malecite). Their journey will take them from Nova Scotia to Nebizun, Maine in “a 53-day ceremony where we’re going to walk with the water, to pray for the water and pray for Mother Earth,” Bernard said.

As fellow citizens of the Wabanaki Confederacy, the Abenaki share their concerns for life bringing waters. “We want to show the Abenaki relationship to water and draw attention to water as a fundamental element that is necessary for all life and acknowledge how pollution can change our traditional lifeways and health,” said Vera Longtoe Sheehan who curated both exhibits.

About the 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 http://abenakiart.org or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

For more information, contact:

Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Director Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (802) 579-0049

###

Abenaki Fulbright Scholar Returns to Homeland for Dissertation Research

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Inline imageJoin us in congratulating Vermont Abenaki Artists Association educator and artist, Lina Longtoe Schulmeisters on the successful completion of her J. William Fulbright grant! Last year, Lina was selected to join the 2018-2019 US-UK Fulbright Commission Postgraduate Cohort and used the grant to fund her studies at the University of Reading where she is currently an MSc Environment and Development candidate. Lina notes that her academic interests and goals exist, “at the intersection of sustainability, food security and sovereignty, and social justice. I want to ensure that marginalized communities, particularly indigenous ones, are not excluded from decision making in the future.”

Lina Longtoe Schulmeisters graduated from Eckerd College with a BA in Environmental Studies and a concentration in sustainability. She was a 2017 The Udall Foundation Tribal Policy Scholar. Her other accomplishments include being elected onto the University of Reading’s School of Agriculture, Policy and Development’s Student-Staff Committee, as well as Reading University Student Union as the Environment and Development Postgraduate Representative. Notably, she was also awarded one of the Graduate Institute of International Development, Agriculture and Economics ( GIIDAE ) International Scholarships by her University, of which there is only one awardee per continent. She remains proud to serve her Abenaki community by acting as the newly appointed Program Coordinator for the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association and as the Elnu Abenaki Tribe’s official documentarian.

She has recently returned to N’dakinna (our homeland) to complete her dissertation on Abenaki food sovereignty. According to Lina, she wishes not only to fill gaps in the literature about contemporary Abenaki lifestyles but also hopes to remedy some of the damaging ways research has been conducted in Indian Country. As for near future plans, Lina is excited to return to her role as one of the guest lecturers for this year’s Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom where she will be speaking about ethnoscience and our traditional agricultural. Teachers and educators interested in signing up for the professional development, Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom, may do so through the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum at http://tinyurl.com/AbenakiEdu

Available for certification or credit from Castleton University.

Photo courtesy of Lina Longtoe Schulmeisters via Askawobi Productions.

About Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA)
The VAAA 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 Abenaki artists. For more information about VAAA, please visit http://abenakiart.org or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

About the Elnu Abenaki Tribe
In 2011, Governor Peter Shumlin granted state recognition to the Elnu Abenaki Tribe based in Southern Vermont. Elnu citizens work to continue our cultural heritage through historical research, lectures and school programs, oral story-telling, singing, dancing and traditional craft making. Our main focus is insuring that our traditions carry on to our children. We are traditionalists trying to maintain our culture in a modern society. For more information about visit http://elnuabenakitribe.org.

Contact
Vera Longtoe Sheehan
Director, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association
vera.sheehan@abenakiart.org
# # #

VAAA Report to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs 1-7-2019

Kwai (hello/greetings) everyone,

As we have just retired 2018 and look forward to 2019, I would like to let you know what a successful year 2018 was. VAAA partnered with Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Flynn Performing Arts Center, and local libraries to present many programs.

School children from throughout Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut went to see our traveling exhibit Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage and they used the curriculum materials that we developed in their classrooms. Additionally, we had 28 teachers attend our second annual professional development seminar Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom.

Education is a crucial part of VAAA’s mission to reach the public. This year’s annual Abenaki Heritage Weekend, on June 22-23rd will focus on reaching young people and their families through activities. Additionally, we are excited to officially announce our third annual Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom teacher training will take place from August 8-10. Both of these events will take place at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

If you are unfamiliar with Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom, it is a three-day course that teacher can take to fulfill their professional development needs. After successful completion, teachers can either choose a certificate of completion or academic credit at Castleton College.

We also developed an Abenaki case study for the State University of New York. The case study will be used in a second course at SUNY this Spring semester.

2019, will be another exciting year! Our education team is busy developing new K12 curriculum materials and resources for K12 classrooms and beyond. I would like to take a moment to acknowledge VAAA’s education team whom I work closely with Melody Walker, Lina Longtoe, Francine Poitras Jones, and other culture bearers who have dedicated themselves to teaching our culture. Our level of success in the community is made possible through their dedication.

In 2019, we look forward to new partnerships. Institutions and school who are interested in working with Vermont Abenaki Artists Association can visit our website abenakiart.org for more information contact us at abenaki@abenakiart.org, and their emails will be forwarded to the correct artist or department.

Kci wliwni (great thanks) for your support and confidence as we move onto the new year.

Waolowzi (be well),

Vera Longtoe Sheehan

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

April 23, 2018

Earth Haven Learning Centre is proud to announce the publication of the Seven Sisters: Ancient Seeds and Food Systems of the Wabanaki People and the Chesapeake Bay Region, written by Dr. Frederick M. Wiseman.

This book tells the story of a remarkable seed chase that is
combined with the reclamation of lost heritage of the Wabanaki people, their history and culture, and the rediscovery of their ancient agricultural technologies. Also highlighted are ancient seeds from the Chesapeake Bay region.

This 7” x 10” full colour publication offers a compilation ofnumerous, heirloom seeds, along with photographs, descriptions and their origins. The book also describes the ancient agricultural systems used by the Wabanaki people, as well as their agricultural ceremonies and calendar. A great book for seed savers and students of environmental and indigenous studies.

“Dr. Wiseman has eloquently laid out our cultural practices, seasons and the meanings behindour overall food systems. I like to refer to our culture as a giant jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle iscomplete and whole only when the different fragmented pieces are put back together. I have found Dr. Wiseman to be a puzzle master with a  unique way of finding the missing pieces to helpthe Abenaki experience come into better focus.” – Chief Don Stevens

Trained as an archaeologist and ecologist, Frederick Matthew Wiseman isdevoted to the promotion of North American Indigenous cultures and thepreservation of their ancient agricultural practices and food systems. Retiredas Professor of Humanities at Johnson State College, he continues to representNative American interests in New England, eastern Canada, the Chesapeake Bay area, Arizona and northwestern Mexico. Over the last twenty years, Dr.Wiseman has completed and published a number of books, films, scholarly andpopular articles and has presented his work at numerous events as a keynote speaker.

For more  information and to order the book, contact earthhavenlearning@gmail.com.
Publication date: April 28, 2018
7” x 10”, Full Color, Soft Cover, 280 pages
Retail price: $28.00 CAN, $22.00 USA

Presenting Abenaki History in the Classroom

Music, history and archaeology, weaving, social justice issues, heirloom plants and fire-pit cooking: through a combination of lectures and experiential learning, Abenaki scholars, historians, and culture bearers present their vibrant regional culture that reaches back nearly 13,000 years and continues into the 21st century. This 2 ½-day professional development seminar offers up-to-date information on Abenaki culture to prepare educators of all levels to present Abenaki culture in their classrooms and better support Abenaki and other Native American students. Market research by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA) indicates that many teachers unknowingly use outdated resources, and people are further confused by images of Native Americans in the media. Members of the VAAA serve as faculty for this interdisciplinary seminar at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. This rich learning experience is designed to provide educators (from teachers at schools and historic sites to homeschool teachers) with new resources and techniques to help students learn about Abenaki culture.

Audience: All Educators

When: Wednesday, August 3 – 4, 2017 from 9:30am-4pm

Where: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 4472 Basin Harbor Road, Vergennes, VT

Cost: $375 for certificate program or $550 if taken for credit from Castleton College. Registration fee includes lunch, program materials, and certification

Register at: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

Upcoming Events

April 19 th, 2018, 7:00 pm – 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. 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. Charlotte Library, Shelburne, VT. Admission is free.

May 7, 2018 – Abenaki Woman’s Panel Discussion- Native American women are perhaps the most marginalized group of people in Vermont. Discussion by a panel of Native women will address their struggles coming to terms with the dichotomy between the respected position of Abenaki women in our past and how society has lost respect for women; their roles as culture bearers, leaders and mothers; and how cultural traditions suggest possibilities for change in the future.  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. Fletcher Free, Burlington, VT. Admission is free.

June 23 & 24 – Abenaki Heritage Weekend  – This special weekend organized by Vermont Abenaki Artists Association and presented at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum gives visitors an Abenaki perspective on life in the Champlain Valley. Dancing, drumming, storytelling, craft and cooking demonstrations are presented by members of Vermont’s Abenaki Tribes. The Native Arts Marketplace and exhibit opening celebration provide opportunities to meet some of the artists featured in the special exhibition Abenaki Ornamaentation: From Trade Beads to Sead Beads. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum 4472 Basin Harbor Rd. Vergennes, VT 05491 · (802) 475-2022. More information

August 3 & 4 – Teaching Abenaki History and Culture.  Two day and a half professional development seminar for teachers, museum educators, and home schoolers. Certificate provided upon sucessful completion of 20-hour program. More information