Circle of Courage

Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi

Image of Circle of Courage youth group.
Circle of Courage drumming at the capital.


This highly regarded after-school initiative draws on the writings of acclaimed Native American author Larry Brendtro (Reclaiming Youth At-Risk) who, with colleagues, first introduced this holistic model. While we (Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, St. Francis/Sokoki Band) believe in the tenets of belonging, generosity, independence, and mastery, these core values have been adapted to accommodate our own beliefs about children.

As we view children from an “at-promise” paradigm, conventional “at-risk” models are replaced by a strengths-based approach.

Through a model that utilizes our traditional dance and other customs, students learn the difference between tobacco as a sacred herb used for ceremonies verses the social convention of cigarette smoking. Ultimately, there is a profound sense that when a community creates a context in which youth can thrive, they will.

The Abenaki Circle of Courage Afterschool Program puts the concepts of belonging, mastery, generosity, and independence into practice.

Children master skills in Native dance and crafts, experience belonging through working together as youth leaders, practice independence in completing artistic projects, and exhibit generosity through community service.

Project Director, Brenda Gagne, is an Abenaki Community member.  Brenda directs the “Circle of Courage” after-school cultural program for both Native and non-Native students in Swanton and Highgate, Vermont. She has been honored by the State of Vermont’s Department of Education for outstanding service.

Jeff Benay is the Director of Indian Education Programs for Franklin County and former long-time Chair of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Native American Affairs.  He has worked with Vermont’s Abenaki for nearly 30 years.  


Brenda Gagne is the Coordinator of the Circle of Courage program.

Email: circleofcourage @

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