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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

Memory Booth

The VAAA Storytelling Project will be hosting a Memory Booth at various community events around N’Dakinna (our homeland). The Memory Booth is a place where Abenaki people can create artwork and tell their stories to promote health and wellness. 

This year, we are processing our thoughts and feelings about the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines, disparities, and access.

Your artwork and stories will inform the creation of new digital content and a traveling exhibit that promotes Abenaki voices about this crucial topic.

Upcoming Memory Booth Locations

  • June 18-19 – Abenaki Heritage Weekend, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Basin HarborRd, Vergennes, VT 05491
  • August 19 – 20, 2022 – Nulhegan Heritage Gathering, Camp Sunrise Cub Scouting Camp, 2050 Sunset Lake Rd, Benson, VT 05743

Incentives

Participants will receive a free t-shirt or insulated cup as a thank you gift for their participation

Storytelling Project

The Abenaki Storytelling Project is a community-based art project that supports Native American strength and resiliency. Over the past several years, the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association has sponsored several exhibits to promote the constantly evolving story of the lives of the Abenaki in N’Dakinna (our homeland). We utilize Native American arts and storytelling to uplift regional Abenaki voices and perspectives in museum exhibitions, programs, and cultural heritage events. When people see themselves reflected in exhibitions, artwork, and programs it is good for the health and wellness of their community by giving them a voice, which helps them know that their history, culture, and memories are important; they are not alone, especially during a time such as the recent pandemic.

The focus of this year’s Storytelling Project is exploring how COVID-19 has affected the Abenaki community. Utilizing arts and storytelling, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA) will measure insights on COVID-19, vaccine-related perceptions, disparities, and access among the Native American population in Vermont and throughout N’Dakinna. These insights will be shared with the community of origin and the public through an online digital exhibition and a traveling exhibition in 2023-2024.

Contact

For more information or to see if you qualify to be included, email abenaki@abenakiart.org and type Storytelling Project in the subject line.

Check back for project updates!

General Eligibility Requirements

Participants must be:

  • Over the age of 18
  • Have an email address
  • Be reachable by phone
  • Be Abenaki, Native American, or Native American descent
  • Other restrictions may apply.

How to Participate

  • Memory Booth events (15 minutes) 
    • Abenaki Heritage Weekend – June 18-19
    • Nulhegan Abenaki Gathering August
  • Focus Groups (60 minutes ) 
  • Individual storytelling session (60-90 minutes) – 
  • Group of friends and/or storytelling session (60-90 minutes)  

Sponsored by the Vermont Department of Health

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