Organizations

The four state-recognized tribes of Vermont are very active. It is important to note that, though the tribes are recognized in Vermont, our land was not divided by borders. We, the Abenaki, call our homeland N’dakinna. The citizens of the four tribes do not live in only Vermont – they live in many places throughout N’dakinna, such as New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York. Some of the People even live in states other than the northeast. So, you will find that some of the organizations listed below are far-reaching. 

Over the next several weeks, we will be sharing the links to various organizations that you may find of interest. Please take some time and click on the links to learn more about each of these organizations. We have put a description for each organization to help you identify whether they may meet some of your needs or interests. 

Abenaki Arts & Education Center

The Abenaki Arts & Education Center (AAEC) was created because Abenaki history and culture are not included in the regional curriculum, it is difficult for teachers to find Abenaki educators and authentic curriculum resources. In addition to the free resources listed on this website, they also offer many educational programs, and a YouTube channel with videos. Following is the mission of the AAEC:

“Our mission is to support American Abenaki sovereignty through education and sharing Abenaki history and cultural resources with people of all ages so Abenaki living culture can be taught across N’Dakinna (our homeland).”

State-recognized Tribes

There are four state-recognized tribes in the state of Vermont. Each tribe is self-governed and operates as a sovereign tribe or band. The citizens of the tribes often gather at various functions to fellowship. A good example is the Abenaki Heritage Weekend, which will be held June 18 – 19 this year. To learn more about each tribe, please visit their website. The links are provided here:

Elnu Abenaki Tribe

Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation

Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation

St. Francis-Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi

An Online Discussion 

Thursday, April 28, 2022 —  4:00 pm EST (75 minutes)

FREE (Registration required)

Zoom link will be sent out to all registrants via email

Image of the book cover Firsting and Lasing by Jean M. O'Brien.

Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England” with Jean M. O’Brien 

ABSTRACT: In this talk, Jean O’Brien narrates the argument she makes in her book, Firsting and Lasting, that local histories written in the nineteenth century became a primary means by which Euro-Americans asserted their own modernity while denying it to Indian peoples. Erasing then memorializing Indian peoples also served a more pragmatic colonial goal: refuting Indian claims to land and rights. Drawing on more than six hundred local histories from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island as well as censuses, monuments, and accounts of historical pageants and commemorations, O’Brien explores how these narratives inculcated the myth of Indian extinction, a myth that has stubbornly remained in the American consciousness.

Speaker Bio: Jean M. O’Brien (White Earth Ojibwe) is a Distinguished McKnight University Professor of History at the University of Minnesota. She has authored numerous articles and book chapters about the Woodland American Indian region including but not limited to: Monumental Mobility: The Memory Work of Massasoit (with Lisa Blee, North Carolina, 2019); Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England (Minnesota, 2010); and Dispossession by Degrees: Indian Land and Identity in Natick, Massachusetts, 1650-1790 (Cambridge and Nebraska, 1997 and 2003). 

Jean is a co-founder, co-editor,  and Past President of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the association’s journal, Native American and Indigenous Studies. Jean has received numerous fellowships and awards in support of her expertise.in this field

Registration Link: https://us06web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZAqcu2rqT8jGtZQUzfo2mRXqNLzGc2OixV9

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AMY HOOK THERRIEN – Acclaimed ABENAKI WATERCOLOR ARTIST – PART 2

Sylvan Linck ‘24.5 – Middlebury College

FYSE 1570: Native Presence and Performance – 13 May 2021

Due to the length of this narrative, it will be introduced in two parts over a period of two weeks. This is part two.

Therrien also illustrated the book My Bring Up, which was a memoir written by her mother Shirly Hook and published in 2019. Therrien worked closely with her mother in order to create from memory the most accurate portrayals of different aspects of Hook’s life, beginning in her early life growing up in Chelsea, Vermont. The book covers some of the ways in which Hook’s Abenaki heritage influenced her family’s life, writing about “the traditions that helped her family put food on the table, the legacy of the eugenics program in Vermont, and the ties of love and respect that bind neighbor to neighbor.” 

Image of book cover for My Bring Up by Shirly Hook.
Book available for purchase on Amazon

Therrien “read her book over and over again” and tried her best to “come up with the right image to accompany each story.” Sometimes she chose to illustrate bigger, more important seeming things, but occasionally chose to illustrate an object from the story that might seem small and insignificant at first. She made this choice to display how some seemingly meaningless things could actually be very important and influential in shaping her mother’s life. She believes that illustrating My Bring Up “was another way to have a conversation with her about our family history.” When creating the illustrations, her process was to sketch images and then report back to her mother for feedback. When they would back together to discuss the illustrations “more stories and information came up,” and the artwork and knowledge behind it would expand. She found this a very insightful project. 

Image of Thorned Blue Bird by Amy Hook-Therrien.
Thorned Blue Bird

Therrien has been involved with the Vermont Abenaki Artist Association (VAAA) for many years. She has been a VAAA Juried Artist since 2014 and is now serving as a council member of the organization. Therrien was honored to receive the title of VAAA Artist of the Year in 2019, and in our interview stated that “as a contemporary artist, it’s nice that there is a place for me among such talented traditional artists.” She believes that being involved with the VAAA has “helped her find her place in the Abenaki community,” through her ability to connect with people through her art. In the words of Linda Tuhiwai Smith in her book Decolonizing Methodologies, “connecting is related to issues of identity and place, to spiritual relationships and community well-being.” Art is one of many ways for individuals to find their place in a community.

Sources Cited

Therrien believes that the goal of the VAAA is to “educate through art,” and that through the traditional and contemporary art created by the members [the VAAA] can educate communities about the Abenaki People.” She believes that communities are often greatly influenced and shaped by art, and that “art shows the identity of people and cultures.” Creating and sharing art is also a powerful way to celebrate Native strength and resilience throughout history, as well as “foster inventions and discoveries, facilitate simple improvements to people’s lives and uplift [peoples] spirits.” The art that Amy Hook Therrien and other Abenaki and Native artists create in ways that connect communities, educate people about Native culture, and through pieces such as An Aerial View of N’dakinna, inspire viewers to explore different perspectives. 

“About.” Therrien, March 29, 2021. https://amyhooktherrien.com/about/. 

Hook-Therrien, Amy. “Illustrating My Bring Up.” Therrien, January 6, 2020. https://amyhooktherrien.com/2020/01/06/illustrating-my-bring-up/. 

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. “Twenty-Five Indigenous Projects.” Essay. In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, 143–64. Dunedin, N.Z.: Otago University Press, 2012. 

“Amy Hook Therrien.” Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, 2021. https://abenakiart.org/blog9/amy-hook/. 

Sylvan, Linck. Amy Hook Therrien. Other, 2021. 

“Team Members.” Vermont Abenaki Artist Association, 2019. abenakiart.org/home/team_members. 

Woa. “An Interview with Amy Hook-Therrien, VT Abenaki Artist Association Artist of the Year 2019.” Vimeo, May 4, 2021. https://vimeo.com/467453764. 

Amy Hook Therrien – Acclaimed Abenaki Watercolor Artist – Part 1

Sylvan Linck ‘24.5 – Middlebury College

FYSE 1570: Native Presence and Performance – 13 May 2021

Due to the length of this narrative, it will be introduced in two parts over a period of two weeks. This is part one.

Amy Hook Therrien is a local artist who specializes in watercolor painting and is a citizen of the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation. Therrien grew up with her family in Chelsea, Vermont in a house overlooking the valley, and surrounded by nature. She graduated from Randolph Union High School and, with the support and encouragement of her parents, attended the University of Maine in Orono to study art. She considers herself very lucky to have such a supportive relationship with her family. While at the University of Maine in Orono she majored in fine art and specialized in painting and sculpture. Therrien moved back to Vermont after graduation, and is living in Windsor with her husband Alex, along with their bunny and two dogs. When she isn’t creating art, she loves spending time with family, traveling, and getting outside to do activities such as hiking and gardening. She is also a Traditional Abenaki singer, and for a time participated in an Abenaki singing group. 

Therrien often starts her paintings by drawing lines and details with pen and then going over those drawings with watercolor. When first beginning to incorporate watercolor into her work, the fluidity and uncontrollability of the medium made her nervous. However, with time and practice, she “learned to love the uncontrollable chaos” of it. She often purposefully mixes her paint loosely to allow the paint to separate in a way that creates a more exciting and realistic texture. Therrien believes that “painting in nature is always exciting,” and loves painting things that she finds outdoors. She is passionate about exploring that excitement, and enjoys painting natural things such as landscapes, flowers, leaves, waterfalls, stones, and is “obsessed” with painting birch trees, which she really loves. 

Therrien sometimes enjoys going on walks or hikes either by herself or with family to find inspiration for her paintings. When experiencing some trouble thinking of the next project idea, she enjoys painting leaves. Painting leaves is a way to continue creating while possibly helping to inspire a new project idea. When the objects she is painting are small enough, like leaves, she often brings them back to her studio to paint there. While painting outside sounds romantic and lovely, logistically it is quite difficult, and she prefers to work in her studio. When the subject of her painting cannot be brought into her studio, she often takes pictures of it and brings those back to her studio to work with. 

When choosing what to paint in nature she rarely picks the “perfect” leaf, tree, or other subject. She finds great value in painting “imperfect” subjects, such as a cracked up dead leaf or a flower that is missing a petal. Nothing in nature is perfect, and nothing looks exactly the same. Painting things in nature and painting them realistically and “imperfectly” allows for more freedom in her painting style and her paintings. She believes that “you can fall in love with the imperfect.”  One of Therrien’s pieces titled Aerial View of N’dakinna, appears in a Study Guide that the Vermont Abenaki Artist Association created to educate people about the Abenaki and their dress throughout time. The painting of N’dakinna, meaning homeland, is placed next to a geopolitical map of the same area. The painting contains no place names or borders and shows the very “different perspective that the Native people have of the land.” It is a drastic visual shift from the geopolitical map next to it, and it sometimes takes longer for people to recognize the area when portrayed in this way. Therrien herself says that “I know if I hadn’t painted it would take me a little while to place it.”  Her piece challenges European dominated thinking and inspires a new perspective more inclusive of Native people.

Melody (Walker Brook) Mackin: Weaving Core Values Through Time – Part 2

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 two parts over a period of two weeks. This is part two.

Annabelle Wyman 24.5 – Middlebury College

Native Presence and Performance – 1 June 2021

Melody also uses cultural weaving to move forward from the injustices of the past. When I asked her about the Abenaki history with colonization, she shared the advice of her Chief, Roger Longtoe Sheehan, on rebuilding traditions through the analogy of a broken puzzle. Their community is still trying to piece the puzzle together today, but the painting is different so you can never piece the original one together. However, the ancestors knew that life was going to change, so it is okay for the picture to change, because some traditions no longer fit into the current native culture. Melody thinks that the important thing to ask is “what do ancestors want me to bring forward and what do I want to bring forward?” She believes that through cultural weaving, she can help bring forward the core values of her ancestors. When we discussed the finger weaving tradition and its value, she explained that she does not think art is the most important part of her culture and heritage. The best aspects of Abenaki culture cannot be dug up at an archaeological site and returned to its Native owners. It is more important to understand the way the ancestors walked in the world and how they worked to make it better. With the help of her Chief, she began to ask herself whether it was more important to honor the material culture or the lessons the ancestors left with you and the fact that you survived. This is another one of Tuhiwai Smith’s indigenous projects in action. Survivance is achieved by Native cultures through teaching and storytelling. Celebrating survival is used to help bring forward indigenous values to the future. Melody celebrates the survival of her culture and uses cultural weaving to pass on the weaving tradition and most importantly, the core values of her ancestors. 

As we began to end our conversation, I asked Melody what she is currently working towards, and she told me about land activism. She explained that one of the most important parts of Abenaki identity is land — N’Dakinna — as it is central to who they are. Without a reservation or land that is designated for Abenaki use, fully reconnecting with her heritage can at times be difficult. Nevertheless, the Abenaki have been on this land for 10,000 years and will be here for another 10,000 years. They are the original inhabitants of this land and know how to take care of it. Their community works very hard to protect spiritual sites and to fight developers who are trying to build on them. The goal of land rights activism is less about having land returned to the Abenaki, and more about protecting it from industrial uses and educating people about how to care for land. Land activism is one of Melody’s ways of envisioning a better future for her community, and more importantly the whole country, as the treatment of land is so important for our survival. Her fight is now about being heard by legislators, particularly in Vermont, and convincing people with power to listen to the wisdom of the Native community. But it is not just a fight for Abenaki people; those of us whose settler-colonist ancestors refused to listen also need to help create a space for Native people to be heard. 

Melody (Walker Brook) Mackin is a truly influential and devoted member of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe who uses her work as an educator and activist to protect the land which holds spiritual significance for her people. Above all, she is a cultural weaver who works to bring the core values of her ancestors forward to the next generations and teach others about the value of Abenaki culture. I am incredibly honored to have interviewed her, and I will carry the wisdom she imparted upon me by using my power as a non-native member of the Vermont community to help elevate Native voices like hers. 

Bibliography: 

Brook, Melody Walker. Interview by Annabelle Wyman. March 21, 2021.

Brook, Melody Walker. Weaving a Thread through the 7 Generations, TEDxStowe, 

2018. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFSRiQ2h6NY&t=60s.

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. “Twenty-five Indigenous Projects.” Decolonizing Methodologies: 

Research and Indigenous Peoples, Zed Books, 2012, pp. 143-164.

Vermont Abenaki Artist Association. Melody Mackin: Elnu Abenaki Tribe. 

Melody (Walker Brook) Mackin: Weaving Core Values Through Time – Part 1

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 two parts over a period of two weeks. This is part one.

Annabelle Wyman 24.5 – Middlebury College

Native Presence and Performance – 1 June 2021

Melody Mackin is a wonderful finger weaver, diligent activist, ardent educator, and devoted member of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe. In March of 2021, I had the privilege of speaking with her about this work and what she believes are the important aspects of Abenaki culture and history. Melody was taught to weave by two of her community members, Linda Longtoe Sheehan and Rose Hartwell, both of whom provided her with information on different facets of weaving. She explains that Linda taught her about the value of deliberate, slow, and methodical work while Rose taught her the intricacies of the craft and helped Melody to develop her own style of finger weaving. In the Abenaki community, finger weaving is deeply interwoven with the personality of the artist. The artist who creates the project incorporates their own techniques and methods to the process that bring their own style to the piece. Weaving has not changed much over the thousands of years it has been in existence, and members of the Abenaki community continue the tradition by using the same patterns, techniques, and materials as their ancestors to create a nearly identical product. However, the projects that are completed today are often very different than the ones of the past. Many products that were originally needed are not necessary today. Instead of ceremonial sashes, modern weavers have created pieces such as cell phone cases; beautifully connecting modern needs with traditional practices. 

When Melody first began learning, there were only a limited number of finger weavers left in the community. She used her new skills to teach others in her family and the community, which then helped the number of weavers to multiply. She also took the time to teach non-native people from outside of her community in schools and at gatherings (most notably the Affirming Traditions Conference) in an effort to raise awareness about indigenous art forms. As Melody began to teach weaving to other members of her community, she came to a realization: her students were creating amazing products their first or second time weaving. She explains that her ancestors showed her that she was meant to be a teacher and should use her skills to educate others about the Abenaki community. 

In her book Decolonizing Methodologies, Linda Tuhiwai Smith introduces twenty-five indigenous projects that serve to help Native communities in their attempts to conduct research and renew their tribal identities and culture. She explains that Protecting is a project used to ensure the continuation of oral and cultural tradition. Melody exemplifies this project by using her knowledge and passion for teaching to share her skills with her community and thus protect the art of finger weaving from extinction. As she began to explore her passion for teaching further, Melody worked at Johnson State College where she taught Abenaki history, culture, and spirituality, and Native American history and culture. After Johnson State College, she taught a class called “Making Connections” at Champlain College. This class was about bringing a community together and building cohesive relationships; which is the ideology that shapes Melody’s current work as an educator and mentor in the Abenaki community. Then she went on to Northern Virginia Community College to teach history of western civilization and U.S. history. Melody also gave a wonderful TedTalk entitled, “Weaving a Thread Through the 7 Generations” in which she explains her process of cultural weaving. Cultural weaving is a way to reconnect with the past in order to move through the world in a way that respects your ancestors from the past and in the future. It is done by bringing the core values of the community –– seeing the spirit in all things and understanding one’s role in the community of creation –– into daily life and using them to make decisions in the present for the seven generations. The seven generations that the Abenaki community focuses on are the generations that you can live with, from your great-grandparents to your great-grandchildren. With every decision Melody makes, she works to honor the past, present, and future of her community. Unlike western civilization, the Abenaki community does not focus on the individual, it focuses on everyone, including the ancestors. Melody explained to me that walking in your ancestors’ shoes is a beautiful exercise that helps with this practice. She says that “the whole point of the seven generations is to understand where you’ve been to understand where you need to go.” This is a beautiful practice that could deeply change the culture of the U.S. In fact, Melody contends that if everyone made decisions based upon respect for their ancestors in the past and present, the world would be a much better place.

Abenaki History

Published with permission from the Brattleboro Historical Society.

Image of historic French depiction of Abenaki Couple from the 18th Century.
Historic French depiction of Abenaki Couple from the 18th Century

In 1828 the Brattleboro publishing company of Holbrook and Fessenden produced “A History of Vermont: From Its First Settlement to the Present Time.” It was one of the first books published in town that wrote about the Abenaki.
     When writing about the “native inhabitants” the author, Francis Eastman, wrote “not a vestige of them now remains-gradually the encroachments of the whites have pushed them farther and farther on” to the west and north of the United States and Canada.
     In many early histories of Vermont, Native Americans were hardly mentioned. A Vermont school book used from 1890 to 1925 starts this way, “Very few Indians lived in Vermont when white men first came here, though hunting parties and war parties often passed through, and sometimes a party would camp all summer in a good place.” You can see that early history books did not give Native Americans much claim to Vermont.
     However, in a current history book called “The Original Vermonters,” the University of Vermont authors state that there were thousands of Abenaki living in Vermont before Europeans arrived. The authors say Abenaki, and their ancestors, have lived in Vermont for 12,000 years. So, why the discrepancy between early history books and the books of today?
     Unfortunately, many Abenaki were killed by European disease. Many of those who survived the numerous illnesses were killed in warfare with the English. Those that survived warfare were forced to leave their land by the European settlers who desired the Abenaki land that had already been cleared and farmed by them for centuries. Some Abenaki chose to adopt European ways so they could remain in the newly forming towns in what was to become Vermont. Some Abenaki were forced to move to the remote corners of the state, away from European encroachment, in order to maintain their culture.
     European fishermen landed on the coast of New England 200 years before Fort Dummer was built and, at that time, death by foreign disease began to ravage the native population. When Fort Dummer was built in 1724 the Abenaki population in the Brattleboro area had already been reduced by 200 years of illness.
     Evidence of previous Abenaki presence in Brattleboro has been found everywhere. Native American burial grounds at the Retreat Meadows, along the Connecticut River near Cersosimos and in Downtown Brattleboro between High and Grove Streets…Abenaki village settlements along the West River in Dummerston, in Vernon along the Connecticut River, and in Guilford along Broad Brook…”Indian Rock” and the petroglyphs at the confluence of the Connecticut and West Rivers and the many Abenaki artifacts found in our region since the beginning of Brattleboro’s written history…all of this evidence points to a large Abenaki presence in Brattleboro’s past.
     History books of the last 50 years have said the Abenaki who lived in our area were known as the Sokoki. In the years leading up to the building of Fort Dummer many of the surviving Sokoki moved to the northeast shores of Lake Champlain in order to join with Abenaki from other parts of Vermont. Previously separate groups of Abenaki joined together in an effort to maintain their way of life as their settlements had been devastated by disease, trade pressures and war. The St. Francis-Sokoki band of Abenaki was formed in the early 1700’s from remnants of Brattleboro area Abenaki and the Abenaki of the Lake Champlain region.
     Unfortunately, beginning in the 1760’s, Vermont governments and courts systematically denied Abenaki claims to land they had occupied for thousands of years. It was not until 2006 that the Vermont government began the process of legally recognizing the Abenaki as the First People of Vermont. In 2012 Vermont formally recognized the four existing bands of Vermont Abenaki. In 2012, 3,200 Abenaki were in the four tribes, including descendants from the Brattleboro area Sokoki.

An Interview With Jim Taylor – Part 3

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 was introduced in three parts over a period of three weeks. This is Part Three.

Jim Taylor

By Tate Sutter ’24.5
Middlebury College

Native Presence and Performance

1 June 2021  

Image of quillwork by Jim Taylor.
Quillwork by Jim Taylor

On Turtle Island, museums’ histories and relations with Indigenous Americans are fraught with lies, disregard, and theft. Native works can often be found in auction houses and museums; many of these pieces were stolen or coerced from Indigenous peoples. Returning these works to Native peoples allows for proper interactions to take place between them. Wampum belts “are living and breathing.” They do not belong sealed away in museum archives. JT, who regularly checks auction house websites for Native art and traditional pieces, saw two Wampum belts listed on Sotheby’s, a New York based auction house. He sent an image of the belts to a friend who sent it to the Onondaga Nation of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The Onondaga “discovered that one of the belts… was stolen from them… by Frank Speck,” a twentieth- century anthropologist. The other belt, they identified as Abenaki. JT joined “a delegation of Abenaki and Haudenosaunee people [to New York City] … We petitioned them to basically give us back the belts and the lawyers for Sotheby’s said they couldn’t.” However, Sotheby’s did refuse to auction the belts. The family selling the belts had purchased them from the Museum of the American Indian which later became the National Museum of the American Indian (NMIA) at “an after dark art auction basically in the basement [of the Museum].” When requested to return the belts to the Abenaki and Haudenosaunee, the family refused. After twelve years of Native pressure, the family finally repatriated the belts to the Haudenosaunee. The Haudenosaunee returned the Abenaki belt to the Odanak Abenaki in Canada. The belt is now safe in the Odanak museum. A coordinated group effort proved necessary for the belts to be returned. JT’s discovery of the auction, and his participation in talks with Sotheby’s, contributed to the collective effort in returning these belts to Indigenous peoples. 

As a council member for the Elnu, JT works to improve the lives of his tribe’s members. Colonial governments often ignore Indigenous leadership or interact with it in patronizing manners. Representation of the Elnu by the Elnu rebuffs these actions. The southernmost recognized Abenaki tribe, the Elnu’s traditional territory ranges from present day Gill, Massachusetts, to near Putney, Vermont. Presently, there are around one hundred tribal members. Abenaki tribes practice differing forms of government. The Elnu choose two council members, a man and a woman, and a chief. Councilmembers do not run for election; however, they are selected by the community. JT spends much of his time working with tribe members; he helps them resolve issues. The Elnu are very communal people, and the pandemic has forced them to adapt. Since elders are key community members and great sources of knowledge, protecting elders has been the Elnu’s primary goal during the pandemic.  

The financial impact of Covid has been felt by Abenaki artists. Many Abenaki practice contemporary and traditional artforms. All across the Northeastern Woodlands, shows and gatherings have been canceled. Grants have helped offset some of the economic struggles that Abenaki artists have faced during the pandemic. However, it appears we are moving towards a time that communal events are possible once more. 

Jim Taylor fills many positions in his community. He creates spectacular quillwork, worked in a multinational effort for the repatriation of wampum belts, and serves his community as a councilmember. While much appears vague in this time of Covid-19, one can be assured that JT will continue creating, teaching, and serving his fellow Abenaki.  

Resources

Bruchac, Margaret M. “Broken Chains of Custody: Possessing, Dispossessing, and Repossessing Lost Wampum Belts.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge 162, no. 1 (March 2018): 56–105. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mzh&AN=2018280437&site=e ed-live&scope=site. 

Jim Taylor interviewed by Tate Sutter, March 23, 2021. 

Longtoe Schulmeisters, Lee. “A Brief Introduction to Wampum,” Askawobi Productions, November 19, 2011, video, https://youtu.be/oSrWCkvOFa0. 

Longtoe Schulmeisters, Lina and Hawk Longtoe. “Abenaki Elders and Artists Struggle in
Face of State Reopening” abenakiart.org, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, June 29, 2020, https://abenakiart.org/blog9/2020/06/29/abenaki-elders-and-artists-struggle-in- face-of-state-reopening/. 

Taylor, Jim, “Meet Native America: Jim Taylor, Elnu Abenaki Tribal Councilman and Elder.” By Dennis Zotigh. National Museum of the American Indian, April 29, 2016
Meet Native America: Jim Taylor, Elnu Abenaki Tribal Councilman and Elder, March 29, 2016. https://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2016/04/meet-native-america-jim-taylor.html. 

Taylor, Jim. “Quillwork by Swift Fox.” Accessed March 31, 2021. http://quillwork_byswiftfox.tripod.com/index.html. 

Toensing, Gale Courey. “Sotheby’s Wampum Belts ‘a Drop in the Bucket’ of Sacred Items for Sale.” Indian Country Today. Accessed April 1, 2021. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/sothebys-wampum-belts-a-drop-in-the-bucket-of- sacred-items-for-sale. 

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. Decolonizing Methodologies Research and Indigenous Peoples. London and New York: Zed Books, 1999. 

“Wampum.” Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Accessed March 31, 2021. https://www.haudenosauneeconfederacy.com/wampum/. 

“18th Century Living History Album.” Elnu Abenaki Tribe. Accessed March 31, 2021. http://elnuabenakitribe.org/18LivingHistoryPhotos.html.

An Interview with Jim Taylor – Part 2

Image of detail on bag by Jim Taylor.

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. This is Part Two.

Jim Taylor

By Tate Sutter ’24.5
Middlebury College

Native Presence and Performance

1 June 2021

 

Not limiting himself to a single art form, JT also creates wampum. Wampum belts and strands tell the stories and agreements of the Abenaki and other Eastern Woodland tribes, including the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. According to JT, “my community, the Elnu, we always strongly held to the [wampum laws and traditions.] We still to this day commemorate various events where a belt is woven to record that event.” Wampum forms part of Abenaki history and memory.

Long after I am gone and the other elders are gone, these strands will remain. And you know when we have a council meeting. When the community is there, the strands and the belts are brought out and the stories are recounted so… as you grow up you would see the belts, see these strands, and hear what each one represented and how it came to be. Wampum belts and strands “are living and breathing just like human beings.” Bringing the belts out during meetings and ceremonies nourishes the belts through interactions with the community. When the Elnu gained recognition from the State of Vermont, JT was asked to create wampum strands to record the Elnu’s constitution. JT feels that this is “my legacy to my people.”  

 

Wampum belts and strands “are living and breathing just like human beings.” Bringing the belts out during meetings and ceremonies nourishes the belts through interactions with the community. When the Elnu gained recognition from the State of Vermont, JT was asked to create wampum strands to record the Elnu’s constitution. JT feels that this is “my legacy to my people.”

JT makes wampum from whelk and quahog shells. White beads are made from whelk shells, and purple beads are made from quahog shells. Originally, coastal tribes traded wampum with the Abenaki. While not currency, wampum held value and could be used for trade. Since JT lives as a visitor on Narragansett and Wampanoag land, he never sells the wampum he makes there. He does sell his wampum in other places including on Abenaki land.