Tag Archives: turtle island

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.

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 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.