Abenaki Storytelling Project Memory Booth in Benson August 20, 2022

The Abenaki Storytelling Project, a community-based arts and storytelling project that focuses on Native American strength and resiliency, will host a Memory Booth at the Nulhegan Abenaki Gathering in Benson, VT on Saturday August 20, from 10-5. The Storytelling Project’s Memory Booth, developed by Abenaki community members to help process their COVID-19 experiences, will be gathering input from Native Americans in Vermont. The Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe welcomes the public to attend the Gathering, which features Abenaki vendors, drumming, singing, dancing, and activities such as storytelling and games. The event is held rain or shine.

“Abenaki artists will set up a Memory Booth where families can share their stories and artwork at the Nulhegan Abenaki Gathering,” says Vera Sheehan, VAAA Executive Director. “Working over the past several months with Abenaki community members, we developed the Abenaki Storytelling Project to explore this recent period of our collective history in a way that hasn’t been done before.” Memory Booth participants will receive an Abenaki Artists Association t- shirt. They can also mark the occasion with a photo taken on site. Sheehan went on to explain, “For this project, VAAA’s team of trained artist facilitators are collecting stories and process drawings using Abenaki methodology and worldviews. Interpretation of the artwork and stories will inform an upcoming online digital exhibition and a traveling museum exhibition. It’s important for Native American people to see themselves and their communities reflected in exhibitions.”

VAAA began collecting Native American stories and artwork in June at the Abenaki Heritage Weekend in Vergennes, VT. The project continues at the Nulhegan Abenaki Gathering when community members can stop by the Storytelling Project’s Memory Booth to learn more about the project or to share stories and artwork.

Memory Booth participants will receive an Abenaki Artists Association t-shirt. They can bring and share a digital photograph of themselves wearing protective masks or mark the occasion with a photo taken on site. Additional opportunities to participate in the project through focus groups and extended one-on-one storytelling sessions will be posted on the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association’s website and on Facebook.

Visual artists interested in submitting work to be considered for the online and traveling exhibition can contact Abenaki@abenakiart.org for more information. Additional opportunities to participate in the project through focus groups and extended one-on-one storytelling sessions will be posted on the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association’s website and on Facebook. 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.

Sheehan says the VAAA uses insights from Native American arts and storytelling to uplift Indigenous peoples’ voices and perspectives. “Like other populations in Vermont, health disparities and social and historical injustices have taken a very real toll on our lives,” said Sheehan. “This project is a unique way for the Abenaki people to process, interpret, and share their own experience about the pandemic and vaccinations, and health access and other disparities – experiences that we hope will have a strong influence on the state’s efforts to build a culture of health equity.”

Ruth Steinmetz, a Health Department communication officer who focuses on health equity, said her agency has made achieving health equity a top 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. We can then tap into this
information to help us to more effectively support the health and wellbeing of the Abenaki community, and all people in Vermont.”


To learn more about the Storytelling Project, please visit
abenakiart.org/blog9/storytelling-project/


To learn more about the Nulhegan Gathering, please visit
https://abenakitribe.org/heritage-gathering


Find out more about Health Equity in Vermont at
healthvermont.gov/health-equity

An Interview With Jim Taylor – Part 3

Image of 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 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.

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