Tag Archives: Vera Longtoe Sheehan

Decolonizing the History that is Taught in Schools Across the Abenaki Homeland

Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Elnu Abenaki Tribe, Director, Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, and Abenaki Arts & Education Center.

Originaly published by Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum on Jan 23, 2020. View original here.

If your not familiar with the term decolonization you probably recognize the Latin prefix de- meaning to reverse and the word colonization which refers to the process by which the colonial settlers move into and took control of Indigenous lands. Colonization is the brutal process by which one group of people overpowers another group of people, takes control of all of the resources and it generally causes irreparable loss and harm to the original inhabitants. The new government forces new laws and customs upon the group that is being dominated. In theory decolonization would return society in the Americas to its original state before colonization but that process would be nearly impossible and far too complicated because we cannot undo what has been done but we can help mitigate the damages that have been done to the Abenaki communities of the region. For me this work is about reclamation, truth, and education so this article will focus on my work developing decolonized educational resources for schools.

I began developing and presenting Native American programs in classrooms over twenty years ago because I knew there was a gap in what and how our children were being taught about American history and the Native American people of our region. The problem of Abenaki erasure in school curriculum is multi-dimensional. Over the years, there have been very few changes in how Native American culture is taught. Many of us grew up learning the same incorrect history as our children will and that same history is passed from one generation to another. We also rely upon history books that are out-dated and incomplete because they written from a single perspective so long ago . 

Adding to the dilemma is many of us grew up learning many stereotypes and myths about Native American people.

Therefore, with some exceptions, children are still taught that the original Native American inhabitants of N’dakinna (Abenaki for homeland) are no longer here which  was proven false when four Abenaki communities fought for and won state recognition in Vermont in 2011 and 2012. Therefore, it’s disconcerting when I ask children what they know about Native Americans and they always seem to use the past tense because they didn’t realize that Native Americans are still alive. 


After many years of doing programs at schools, museums, and historic sites, I returned to college where my Graduate research focused on “Abenaki Erasure and Continuity of Culture in Their Homeland.” The culmination of my studies is the Abenaki Arts & Education website which is a free resource that teachers and students can use to learn more about the continuity of Abenaki history and culture into the present day. The website includes recommending readings, articles, videos, and study guides to help people better understand our culture. Visitors can be assured that the resources have been vetting by knowledgeable Abenaki educators and culture bearers.

The colonization of the Northeast did not happen overnight, quite to the contrary it is a  long and complicated process, therefore reversing the history of colonization that is taught in our schools is also going to be a complicated process that cannot be done quickly or by one person. It will take all of us working together to make a difference. If your a teacher and homeschooler, consider attending our course “Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom, a 3-day professional development seminar that is taught by Abenaki educators and culture bearers and you can earn a certificate or credit through Castleton University. Teachers, parents, and caregivers can also expose their children to Abenaki culture through Abenaki exhibits, heritage events, and programs that are listed on the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association’s website. 

Vera Longtoe Sheehan with New England teachers during the first annual “Presenting Abenaki Culture in the Classroom.” Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Photo courtesy of Vermont Abenaki Artists Association.

Resources 

Vermont Abenaki Artists Association abenakiart.org/

Abenaki Arts & Education Center: abenaki-edu.org/

About the Author

Vera Longtoe Sheehan is an artist, educator, and activist who serves her community as the Elnu Abenaki Tribal Genealogist and the Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association where she leads the education team. She has a BA in Museum Studies and 

Native American Studies, MALS, and an Advanced Certificate in Public History from SUNY Empire State College. The combination of her experience and her education allows Vera to bridge the gap between the Abenaki community and mainstream society by creating and delivering educational programs, museum exhibitions, and events that preserve and interpret the vibrant culture of the Abenaki people. Additionally, Vera is a member of the Vermont Coalition for Ethnic Studies and Social Equity Advisory Working Group which is examining how Ethic Studies can be incorporated into K-12 curriculum.

Sen. Bernie Sanders Exhibits Abenaki Art in Office

For more information Contact: Vera Longtoe Sheehan, vera.sheehan@abenakiart.org

Image Courtesy of Diane Stevens Photography.

July 26, 2019 – Burlington, VT. – Abenaki art will be on display for the public in Sen. Bernie Sanders Washington DC office from now until November 2019.

Last January, Julia Santos from Senator Sanders office reached out to the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, and the senator’s representative requested that VAAA loan Abenaki artwork to be displayed in the senator’s office as part of an on-going exhibit dedicated to Vermont artists. When asked whether the senator was interested in displaying traditional or contemporary art, Santos suggested that the art represent the beauty of Abenaki culture.

“As the discussion continued, it became clear that the Abenaki people should exhibit a small collection of both traditional and contemporary artists so the art could tell the story of Abenaki continuity of culture in our homeland,” explained Vera Longtoe Sheehan who is the Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. “It was also important for the Abenaki language to be incorporated into the exhibit title yet for the exhibit name to be understood by a broader audience.”

As visitors enter Sen. Sanders office they are greeted by the exhibit “Askwa n’daoldibna iodaliWe are Still Here” which features artwork by well-known artists from three out four of Vermont’s recognized tribes. Some of the highlights include: Amy Hook-Therrien’s, of the Koasek Abenaki Tribe, watercolor painting “An Aerial View of N’Dakinna” depicting the tribal homeland without borders; Jeanne Morningstar of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe’s wood-burned gourd, which tells the story of Gluskape shooting an arrow into the Ash tree and bringing humans into existence; a beaded Chief’s medallion by Lori Lambert, of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe bearing her tribal flag; Vera Longtoe Sheehan, of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, honoring all Abenaki veterans past and present with a woven bag in the colors of the “Red and Blue Men;” and the photograph Nature’s Palette by Diane Stevens’s of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe. This image won the Best in Color award in the Arts Alive Open Photography Contest.

Sheehan goes on to explain how Abenaki designs carry special meanings, especially when woven into wampum belts that are used in ceremonies. Linda Longtoe Sheehan, also of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, explains the images on the “Marriage Equality Wampum Belt” which bears the images of “two men together, a man and a woman together, and two women together.”

Last but not least, the acrylic painting 18th Century Abenaki Couple that was created by Francine Poitras Jones. This particular artwork was created by referencing an original 18th century watercolor painting of an Abenaki couple which is in the collection of the Montreal Archives.

“It is important that Abenaki artistry is displayed in the Capitol City of the United States of America. We are part of the original fabric that makes up this country.  We continue our governmental relationships with the US Congress delegations as did our ancestors. In this spirit, we must thank Senator Bernie Sanders for hosting our Western Abenaki display and recognizing the importance of indigenous people who still live and thrive in his home state of Vermont,” said Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe.

If you are unable to travel to Washington DC, VAAA has another exhibit is on display at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum in Vergennes, VT.  “Nebizun: Water is Life” draws its inspiration from Wabanaki (Native American) Grandmothers that have been doing Water Walks to pray for the water. Grandmother Dorene Bernard and others are currently traveling over 600 kilometers through the traditional territories of the Wabanaki Confederacy tribes (Abenaki, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Malecite). Their journey will take them from Nova Scotia to Nebizun, Maine in “a 53-day ceremony where we’re going to walk with the water, to pray for the water and pray for Mother Earth,” Bernard said.

As fellow citizens of the Wabanaki Confederacy, the Abenaki share their concerns for life bringing waters. “We want to show the Abenaki relationship to water and draw attention to water as a fundamental element that is necessary for all life and acknowledge how pollution can change our traditional lifeways and health,” said Vera Longtoe Sheehan who curated both exhibits.

About the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA)

Our mission is to promote Vermont’s Indigenous arts and artists, to provide an organized central place to share creative ideas and professional development as entrepreneurs, and to have a method for the public to find and engage our artists. For more information about VAAA please visit http://abenakiart.org or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.

For more information, contact:

Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Director Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (802) 579-0049

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Buy Native Art this Holiday Season

Buy Native - Low ResThere’s still time to buy Native this holiday season. Shop for one-of-a-kind holiday gifts from our local Native American artists at these locations and art markets:

Everyday. Half Baked and Fully Brewed. Main Street Lincoln, NH. Features art by Bernie Mortz.

Online. http://store.lcmm.org/SearchResults.asp?Search=abenaki&Submit=Search carries a selection of wampum jewelry by Linda Lontoe Sheehan and Twined bags by Vera Longtoe Sheehan.

December 1, 2, & 3, Vermont International Festival. Champlain Expo, Essex Junction

December 2, Grande Isle School Holiday Craft Bazaar. Grande Isle, VT. Ash Baskets by Kerry Wood.

December 2 & 3. Winter Indian Arts & Crafts Market. Institute for American Indian Studies. Washington CT. Gourds by Jeanne Morningstar Kent.

December 9 & 10. Winter Indian Arts & Crafts Market. Institute for American Indian Studies. Washington CT.Gourds by Jeanne Morningstar Kent.

December 16 & 17. Winter Indian Arts & Crafts Market. Institute for American Indian Studies. Washington CT. Gourds by Jeanne Morningstar Kent.

November is Native American Heritage Month

Did you know it’s Native American Heritage Month? The Vermont Abenaki Artists Association has partnered with several institutions to host events all over Vermont.

Hood - Lori Lambert

November 4 & 5, 10 AM to 4:00 PM – Native Heritage Weekend –  Fort at Number 4, Charleston, NH. For more information visit http://www.fortat4.org/index.html

November 7, Wearing Our History: Abenaki Artists Panel Discussion – Contemporary Abenaki artists and tribal members talk about the meaning of garments, accessories, and regalia in their own lives and in the expression of community and tribal identity. This program was created by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association in partnership with Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and Flynn Center for the Arts, supported in part by a grant from the Vermont Humanities Council. Pierson Library, Shelburne, VT. For more information call the library (802) 985-5124.

November 8, 2017, 7:00 to 9:00 PM – Wearing Our History: Abenaki Artists Panel Discussion – Contemporary Abenaki artists and tribal members talk about the meaning of garments, accessories, and regalia in their own lives and in the expression of community and tribal identity. This program was created by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association in partnership with Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and Flynn Center for the Arts, supported in part by a grant from the Vermont Humanities Council. Find out more about the event and panel at http://brookslibraryvt.org or (802) 254-5290. Light refreshments will be served. Admission is free.

November 9th – Time TBA – Decolonizing Native American Art Vera Longtoe Sheehan will discuss how Abenaki art and how it is similar yet different from what most the average American concept of art. Champlain College, Room TBA. Burlington, VT.

November 14th, 7:30 PM – 10 PM. An Evening with the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. At the Flynn for the first time, the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association shares a performance of both traditional and contemporary Abenaki music, storytelling, and drumming. Performers include Chief Don Stevens, Chief of the Nulhegan band of the Coosuk Abenaki, Nulhegan Abenaki Drum, who combine traditional Northeastern music with the sound of the big powwow drumming, and Bryan Blanchette, a Berklee alumnus who started singing at powwows over 20 years ago and who is currently writing and performing new Abenaki language songs. Tickets available through the Flynn online  http://www.flynncenter.org. Flynn Performing Arts Center. Burlington, VT.

November 15th, 10:00AM – Student Matinee: Vermont Abenaki Artists. The Vermont Abenaki Artists Association embodies the history, culture, and art of the Abenaki people. The artists preserve and pass on the traditional art of their ancestors and create contemporary artistic expressions informed by tradition. The Flynn presents the association for the first time as they take our student audiences on a performance journey including traditional drumming and singing and contemporary storytelling, while building new understandings about Abenaki culture. Tickets available through the Flynn online https://www.flynncenter.org/education/student-matinees/details.html?perf_no=15150&prefix=SMW18V

View the full list on the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association website

Abenaki clothing wears a rich history

By Melanie Plenda, Union Leader, September 22. 2017 5:47PM

Vera_ Tolba Jacket_lowres
Vera Longtoe Sheehan, co-curator of the exhibit Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage, with her painted tolba (turtle) jacket. (Courtesy of Diane Stevens Photography)

WARNER – Next time you see a person wearing a denim jacket or beaded earrings or bracelet, you might do well to take a closer look.

“This is sort of everyday wear that Native people would wear now, and it includes some kinds of things that non-Native people would wear too, but there’s just something about it that shows their native identity,” said Nancy Jo Chabot, curator of the Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner.

The new exhibit at the museum, “Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage”, documents the way in which garments and accessories that reflect Abenaki heritage have been – and still are – made and used to express Native identity, according to museum officials.

“You start to see that in little elements in modern clothing,” she said of the portion of the exhibit depicting the current era, “things that wouldn’t look out of place for any modern person walking down the road, but for a Native person have these very distinctively heavy Northeast design elements.

“That’s a crucial, important part of anything we do here at the museum: (showing) that Abenaki people are here, are living, and creating wonderful things. And this exhibit in particular is to show that the Abenaki people that were here, where we are on this land right now, are still here.”

Vera Longtoe Sheehan, an Abenaki teaching artist, activist and director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, curated the exhibit with Eloise Beil of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. This exhibit was unique, Sheehan said, in that it is the first traveling exhibit about Abenaki culture co-curated by an Abenaki person and that has been accepted in mainstream galleries such as the Amy Tarrant Gallery at the Flynn Performing Arts Center in Burlington, Vt., in addition to museums.

Among other things, the exhibit aims to answer the questions of what it means to be an Abenaki person in the modern world. The exhibit, which is composed of artifact clothing as well as clothing representative of an early time made by contemporary local artists,is the product of a decade-long collaboration among Lake Champlain Maritime Museum and Vermont’s Abenaki artists, community members and tribal leaders.

Like all native tribes, Chabot said, the challenges of understanding their tradition and culture and then making that work in the modern world are huge.

“For Abenaki in particular,” she said, “because there was a time in the early part of the 20th century that being identified as Abenaki Indian was dangerous. Speaking your language was dangerous. So families made conscientious efforts to hide that identity.”

A 17th-century style buckskin dress by Melody Walker Brook, part of the new exhibit of Abenaki clothing traditions at the Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum. (Courtesy of Diane Stevens Photography)

What she’s talking about is the time period from 1931 to 1963, when the Abenaki among others were targets of a government-sanctioned sterilization program in New Hampshire and Vermont. Some Abenaki fled. The ones that stayed, hid in plain sight, requiringd them to abandon openly practicing traditions that could identify them as Abenaki. To this day, many tribal elders refuse to admit publically they are Abenaki. As a result, some people believe the Abenaki no longer exist and it is one of the reason the Abenaki – while recognized in Maine and Vermont – are not recognized federally or in New Hampshire. According to government documents the Abenaki can’t prove they’ve consistently existed as a tribe.

“Now we’re in a generation, two generations after that,” Chabot said. “And a lot of people know they have an Indian heritage that are from New Hampshire and Vermont and are in that very challenging place where they want to learn more and are starting to understand some things that their parents or grandparents would do that they wouldn’t have explained years ago.

“So people go about that in many different ways. This is sort of reclaiming their culture. This particular exhibit does that through clothing. . Finding ways to find those cultural threads is very important.”

“In addition to relaying the message that we are still here, the exhibit should show people that we know our history and still practice our culture,” said Longtoe Sheeham. “However, artists don’t need to choose between being a traditional or contemporary artist. Many of us practice both. For instance, I made the Tolba (turtle) Jean Jacket that was designed with traditional designs but I also made the twined woven dress that connects my family tradition to thousands of years of our history.”
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The Mount Kearsarge Indian Museum, Education and Cultural Center, 18 Highlawn Road, is open daily May 1 – Oct. 31, Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday noon – 5 p.m. In November, the museum is open on weekends from noon to 5 p.m.

The exhibit will be on view in Warner until Oct. 29 and then it will be moving to The Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Conn.

For more information, visit the museum’s Facebook page, visit www.indianmuseum.org, call 456-2600 or emailinfo@indianmuseum.org.

Read the full story on the Union Leader website

Pocumtuck Homelands Festival celebrates Native American culture in Western Mass. (photos)

-841b683e86ab9eacBy Steve Smith, Special to The Republican

August 5, 2017 at 10:00 PM

TURNERS FALLS – The Pocumtuck Homelands Festival celebrated Native American culture with live music, primitive skills demonstrations, storytelling and more Saturday at Unity Park on the historic banks of the Connecticut River.

The festival featured vendors of Native American arts and crafts, and all were eager to share knowledge of their history and culture. Vera Longtoe Sheehan follows in the tradition of her ancestors, making twined baskets and bags. But it in her family, it is known as knotting. One basket of knotted milkweed took her an especially long time. “I stopped counting after 120 hours.”

The festival has attracted as many as 2,000 people in recent years, but occasional rain and the threat of thunderstorms may have discouraged some this year. “Everything is wet,” said Jack Kuehl, who makes canoes and drums. “The drums are wet and they won’t play; but everything will dry.”

Continue reading Pocumtuck Homelands Festival celebrates Native American culture in Western Mass. (photos)

Sessions for Teacher Training

Presenting Abenaki History in the Classroom Promo

When: Wednesday, August 2, 2017 from 9:30am-4pm

Where: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 4472 Basin Harbor Road, Vergennes, VT

Cost: $15 registration fee includes lunch and program materials.

Register: Eventbrite

Session Descriptions

Walk Through Western Abenaki History with Melody Walker Brook 

From creation to the present day, Brook will touch upon key events in Abenaki history to highlight their unique story in the Northeast.

Introduction to VAAA Educational Resources with Vera and Lina 

Explore VAAA educational tools, study guides, activity sheets and possible classroom visits by Abenaki culture bearers. Followed by a sample screening of some of our documentary short that teachers can show their students in their classrooms.

Using the Land, River, Forest, and Animals to Survive with Roger Longtoe Sheehan 

When talking about hunting, spirituality, and land use, it’s important to understand how they are all connected. Sheehan will guide us through seasonal lifeways from hunting moose, ice fishing, harvesting materials for survival. There will also be a display of equipment and other items from his private collection.

Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage Exhibition Tour with Vera Longtoe Sheehan 

Teachers will have the opportunity to further their knowledge of the intertwining historical and cultural concepts that they have been learning throughout the day, and to become more familiar with some of the materials available to the Abenaki people. The tour will explore how culture bearers express their identity through wearing regalia that shows their connections to the world, their community and their ancestors.

Coming Home: the Significance of Local Knowledge and Stewardship by Lina Longtoe 

Across Native American communities, what is the principle of the Next Seven Generations and how have Abenaki families communicated it to their children? Learn how to connect students to local plant life, then utilize them to create children’s toys and activities.

 Gardening and Foodways with Liz Charlebois

Liz’s discussion will focus on Northeast indigenous food varieties. She will talk about food sovereignty, growing practices and Three Sisters gardening. She will also discuss her seed keeping efforts.