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.

An interview with Jim taylor – 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 three parts over a period of three weeks. This is part one.

Jim Taylor

By Tate Sutter ’24.5
Middlebury College

1 June 2021 

Jim Taylor lives life honoring his Abenaki heritage. An accomplished artist, he creates beautiful Eastern Woodlands style quillwork: he made the wampum beads for the Elnu Abenaki tribe’s constitution stands. Participating in the Woodland Confederacy, a living history group, he reminds others that Abenaki people still live in N’Dakinna. A classically trained artist, Taylor designs insignias for organizations around Turtle Island. He represents and serves his fellow Elnu Abenaki as a council member. In her book Decolonizing Methodologies, Linda Tuhiwai Smith outlines twenty-five broad projects Indigenous people can perform to strengthen their cultures. Taylor, who goes by JT as well as Swift Fox, actively lives many of these projects. He supports his culture and people through artwork and representation.

Image of quillwork by Jim Taylor.
Quillwork by Jim Taylor

When Taylor learned quillwork, he had no teacher; very few people remembered the process of stitching quills. According to Taylor, “I had no one to teach me, so [I learned by] looking at various pieces.” He spent time researching quillwork pieces in museums and exhibits to see traditional quill stitches.

From these stitches, he used trial and error to learn quillwork. Soon after learning, Jean Heinbuch published her book A Quillwork Companion which helped further expand his quillwork knowledge. As Tuhiwai Smith discusses, revitalizing strengthens and fosters many facets of Indigenous cultures that are threatened. Over the years of making quillwork, JT has revitalized and become an expert in Northeastern Woodlands quillwork. 

JT uses quillwork on bags, neck knives, sheaths, Abenaki diadems, and many other objects. His designs incorporate numerous stitches and styles including line, plating, and zigzag, which he especially loves. They include significant symbols and colors like the Thunderbird, the double curves, and the four colors of man.  He creates custom pieces. While JT finds inspiration from other quillwork pieces, he never replicates works. Each work possesses its own power; replicas do not hold the individual power of a previous work. His work can be seen in museums and in people’s homes. Painters such as Robert Griffing have used his work in their paintings as models of Eastern Woodlands quillwork. JT believes in pricing his quillwork reasonably, so that regular people, not just wealthy collectors, can enjoy it.

Teaching Through Art Creation: An Interview with Francine Poitras Jones – Part 3

By Faith Wood. Middlebury College. Class of 2024
Native Presence and Performance (First Year 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.

Poitras Jones believes the United States government has not done nearly enough to heal the wounds it has inflicted upon Indigenous peoples. She “[does] not like a lot of what the United States government does,” but she uses her voice, through voting and through her craft, to “spread the word” about the Indigenous way of life. She asserts that if her people are to reach equity, it will be through their own resistance and initiative, not freely given. Whether the government acknowledges it or not, Francine knows that Turtle Island belongs to the people who were here before colonization. “It is still our land, even though it comes under a flag.” Calling it by its name, she affirms, “It is still our land. It is still Turtle Island.”[1][2]

Due to the length of this narrative, it is being introduced in three parts over a period of three weeks. This is the third and final part.

In 2014, Poitras Jones merged her craft with her identity and her ancestry by making her mother regalia to be worn at a powwow. The regalia, which was made with calico, included a belt, purse, head band, and moccasins. With great pleasure and gratification, Francine recalls the event:

“My mother got to wear the regalia I made her to her first and only powwow, and she got to get out into the circle and dance. It was difficult. My brother held her on one side, and I held her on the other. She wept.” This meant a lot to her because “she was able to show the world who she was. She couldn’t do that before.” On the day she “leaves us,” Francine’s mother will wear the regalia Francine made her.[3]

Another piece that is particularly meaningful for Francine is the “18th Century Abenaki Couple.” Francine was asked by Vera Longtoe Sheehan, the director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA) to portray a precise portrait of what an Abenaki couple would have worn at that time. Francine spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for the piece in order to get it just right. Historical accuracy is important to the VAAA because the experiences and cultures of their people have so often been suppressed. In making this painting, Francine says she fills the need for a “historically accurate picture that can be used [by the VAAA] for education without permission [from anyone]. That is [Abenaki].”[4] After completing the painting, Francine added her signature touch of incorporating natural elements by making a birch twig frame. In July of 2019, the painting was displayed in Senator Bernie Sanders’ office.[5]21 Though Francine did not get paid in money for her artwork, she feels compensated in other ways. She says, “I am grateful that I was the one chosen to do this painting.”

Brightly colored acrylic painting of an Abenaki man and woman standing outdoors, near a river,amd they are wearing historical Abenaki clothing. They are both wearing peaked hoods, white linen shirts are white linen ,and their bottoms are blue and red wool.
Francine Poitras Jones. “18th-Century Abenaki Couple.” 2017. Acrylic on canvas framed with bunched of birch twigs, and hanging feathers.

“Art is a reminder of something,” she continues. “It is more meaningful than just what it physically is.”[6]

            Francine Poitras Jones’ craft is so much more than just what it physically is. More than the paints, the leather, and the birch bark, her art is a message. It is an expression of herself and her people, their past… It is a form of survival and resistance. It is a method of teaching, of sharing, and of inspiring curiosity and passion in others. Like mixing colors on a paint palette, each creative project Francine Poitras Jones undertakes blends together to represent what she is here to do: unite, connect, and share her story to create meaningful change for her people and the world at large.

Bibliography

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

Poitras Jones, Francine. Personal Interview. March 2021.

“Sen. Bernie Sanders Exhibits Abenaki Art in Office.” Abenakiart.org, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, 27 July 2019.

Tuhiwai Smith, Linda. “Chapter 8: Twenty-Five Indigenous Projects.” Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples Zed, 2012, pp. 143–163.


[1] According to Tuhiwai Smith, calling places, people, and ideas by their Indigenous names is a key project of survival and resistance for Indigenous peoples (157). Francine exemplifies this project by calling this part of the world by its Indigenous name, “Turtle Island”.

[2] Poitras Jones Interview.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Sen. Bernie Sanders Exhibits Abenaki Art in Office .” Abenakiart.org, (Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, 27 July 2019).

[6] Poitras Jones Interview.

Teaching Through Art Creation: An Interview with Francine Poitras Jones – Part 2

By Faith Wood. Middlebury College. Class of 2024
Native Presence and Performance (First Year 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 is being introduced in three parts over a period of three weeks. This is the second part.

Though so much of Francine Poitras Jones’s life is centered around building the bridge between these worlds through the sharing of her time, talents, and passions, she acknowledges that there are certain traditions and items that are so important to her and her people that they cannot and should not be commodified. One such item is the eagle feather. “Eagle feathers,” she explains, “are only meant to be given, not bought. The eagles fly higher than any other bird that I know of, and because eagles fly high, the eagle is closer to Creator. By lifting the eagle feather when you are in prayer, you are asking the eagle to take your prayers to Creator.”[1]  In keeping certain traditions within the community, Indigenous communities like Francine’s pass on their living heritage. When a community has had to endure much struggle to even be here today, passing on its sacred practices becomes all the more infused with meaning and power.

Though painful, the struggle Indigenous populations have had (and still have) to overcome is not something to be forgotten. According to Tuhiwai Smith, remembering the harm done to their ancestors can be a very distressing process, but it is one that can lead to both healing and transformation.[2] Poitras Jones’ family came to Massachusetts from Canada during a time of mass genocide and forced sterilization of Indigenous peoples. She says she will “never forget” the story her mother told her of the time when she asked her aunt if she was Indian, and her aunt screamed, “Don’t you ever use the word ‘Indian’ again!”[3] Her mother’s aunt reacted like this not out of allegiance to her French ancestry, but out of fear of being found out; being openly Native American at that time would likely put them in danger of becoming victims of genocide.

When she became an adult, Francine sought out the truth of her past. Though she “knew she had Native American blood,” she knew very little about her ancestry.[4] After seeing her own name, Poitras, in an Indigenous display at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, Alberta, Francine started on her 20-year journey of uncovering her family’s history. She scoured through library archives and examined article after article, eventually being able to piece together the story of her family. Proving her lineage “meant everything” to her. She could truly be open with who she was. She could be connected with her relatives in a way many of her ancestors could not.[5]


[1] Poitras Jones Interview.

[2] Tuhiwai Smith, 146.

[3] Poitras Jones Interview.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

Teaching Through Art Creation: An Interview with Francine Poitras Jones – Part 1

By Faith Wood. Middlebury College. Class of 2024.
Native Presence and Performance (First Year 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