Category Archives: Storytelling Newsroom: COVID-19

Vermont Abenaki Artists Association Launches New Storytelling Project to Promote Health and Wellness

Burlington, VT – After months of conversations and a lot of advice from Abenaki community members, the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA) has announced a new arts project aimed at helping the community process their COVID-19 experiences. The Abenaki Storytelling Project is a community-based arts and storytelling project that focuses on Native American strength and resiliency. 

The Vermont Abenaki Artists Association is a Native American arts organization that works to connect Vermont communities to Abenaki educators and artists from the visual, performing, and literary arts. VAAA has special expertise in working with Abenaki artists and incorporating their arts and storytelling into public programs, cultural events, and museum exhibitions. 

“Like so many others, the Abenaki community has been greatly affected by the global pandemic,” says VAAA Executive Director Vera Longtoe Sheehan. “We developed this storytelling project to explore this recent period of our collective history in a way that hasn’t been done before.” 

Sheehan says the VAAA uses insights from Native American arts and storytelling to uplift Indigenous peoples’ voices and perspectives. “This project is a unique way for the Abenaki people to process, interpret, and share their own experience about the pandemic and vaccinations,” said Sheehan. “By personalizing the health disparities rooted in historical and social injustices, we are amplifying the voices of the Indigenous peoples in calling for a culture of health equity.”

The 2022-2024 Storytelling Project was inspired by the VAAA’s work with the state early in the pandemic to get PPE (personal protective equipment) items like face masks, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizer for Abenaki artists and Elders. Sheehan said that led to a partnership with the Department of Health to address circumstances that were unique to the Abenaki community. This included a cooperative effort to address vaccination hesitancy among the Abenaki community that was based, in part, on health disparities driven by a history of prejudice and discrimination. The partnership born of months of relationship building through discussions and working together to distribute over 760 Covid-19 Antigen Test Kits, contributed to the development of the Storytelling Project. 

Ruth Steinmetz, a Department of Health communication officer who focuses on health equity said achieving health equity and reducing health disparities a top state priority. “Key to reducing persistent negative health outcomes is building trust-based community partnerships,” said Steinmetz. “The Storytelling Project is an important opportunity for us to gain more understanding of the experiences of Indigenous communities in culturally affirming ways. This project can help us to support the health and wellbeing of the Abenaki community more effectively.” 

VAAA’s trained facilitators will begin collecting Native American stories and artwork at the Abenaki Heritage Weekend on June 18-19 at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, Vermont. The artwork and stories will inform an online digital exhibition and a traveling museum exhibition.

Abenaki artists will set up a Memory Booth where families can share their stories and artwork at the Heritage event. Memory Booth participants will receive an Abenaki Artists Association t-shirt and can mark the occasion with a photo taken on site. “It’s important for people to see themselves and their communities reflected in exhibitions,” Sheehan said. 

Additional opportunities to participate in the project through focus groups and extended one-on-one storytelling sessions will be announced on the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association’s website and Facebook page

Abenaki Heritage Weekend

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For information contact: Francine Poitras Jones

heritage_weekend@abenakiart.org

 804-943-6197

Abenaki Heritage Weekend June 18-19 at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

Are you looking for a special experience to start the summer? On June 18th and 19th, citizens of the New England Abenaki community will gather at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to celebrate their history and heritage and they are inviting you and your family to join them! 

This free event will be open from 11am to 4 pm both Saturday and Sunday. One of the highlights is the Native Arts Marketplace of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, where visitors can talk to artists, watch craft demonstrations, and purchase outstanding beadwork, paintings, jewelry, wampum, woodwork, leatherwork, drums, feather boxes, and other items. “The variety and quality of the work created by our Abenaki artists are outstanding,” says Vera Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA). “Some of our artists create traditional art and some create contemporary art, often inspired by tradition. If you are looking to purchase a special gift or something new for your collection, be sure to visit the Native Arts Marketplace.”

Throughout the weekend there will be activities to interest everyone. There will be singing and drumming by the Nulhegan Drum — you may even be invited to drum with them. Chief Shirly Hook and Doug Bent of the Koasek tribe will demonstrate bean hole cooking – just imagine how good that food will smell! If you love the outdoors, don’t miss the Animal Tracks display where Doug Bent will help you to identify and recognize tracks of many animals from N’dakinna (our homeland). Families with little ones will enjoy the “Make and Take” area, where children can make a craft to bring home. Children and adults alike should not miss storytelling by Nulhegan Chief Don Stevens and songs for the little ones with Dancing Blue Wolf.

You are invited to watch skilled artists demonstrate the making of Indigenous crafts. Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe will demonstrate the delicate process of stone carving. Chief Roger will also talk about local Abenaki history. Michael Descoteaux will demonstrate the making of hand drums. You can watch Elnu Abenaki Elder Jim Taylor make wampum beads from whelk and quahog shells, and Linda Longtoe Sheehan weave wampum, an intricate process using the shell beads. 

Frederick Wiseman, Ph.D., will present information about American Abenaki Health and Wellness, a topic of particular interest at this time. The American Abenaki have historically been the targets of genocide and systemic racism. This talk provides important insight into the issues faced by Abenaki people today. Vera Longtoe Sheehan will also introduce the Abenaki Covid Storytelling Project, is a community-based arts and storytelling project which is a new initiative in partnership with the Vermont Department of Health. 

A special exhibition, Nebizun: Water is Life, will be featured in the Schoolhouse Gallery. Work by Abenaki artists together with photographs and commentaries illustrate the dynamic relationship between the People and water in the Abenaki homeland, past and present. Water is essential for life and Nebizun (or Nebizon) is the Abenaki word for medicine. Meet the curator, Vera Longtoe Sheehan, for a gallery talk and conversation. 

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About Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA)

The VAAA mission is to promote awareness of state-recognized Abenaki artists and their art, to provide an organized central place to share creative ideas, and to have a method for the public to find and engage state-recognized Abenaki artists. For more information about VAAA, please visit http://abenakiart.org or follow us on Facebook or Instagram.

About Abenaki Arts & Education Center

The Abenaki Arts and Education Center provides authentic curriculum materials, programs, and other resources about Abenaki culture and history for educators and interested learners. For more information about AAEC, please visit https://abenaki-edu.org/ or follow us on Facebook.

About Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is an all-year hub for maritime education that uses the discovery and stewardship of Lake Champlain’s underwater cultural heritage and environment to inspire life-long learning. LCMM brings Lake Champlain’s storied past to life through replica vessels, active boat building, on-water ecology programs, nautical archaeology, collections and exhibits, and cultural heritage events. From late May through mid-October visitors explore LCMM’s 4-acre campus, antique boats, lake history, shipwreck discoveries, step aboard replica canal schooner Lois McClure at the waterfront, or visit 1776 gunboat replica Philadelphia II “on the hard.” Enjoy hands-on and on-water opportunities. Located at 4472 Basin Harbor Road, 7 scenic miles from Vergennes. Find Museum dates, hours of operation, events and reservations at www.lcmm.org or call 802 475-2022.