Abenaki Heritage Weekend 2023

Abenaki Heritage Weekend poster

June 17-18 at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum

On June 17-18, 2023, citizens of the New England Abenaki community will gather at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to celebrate their history and heritage, and the public is invited! Organized by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, this free event is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. 

One of the highlights is the Native Arts Marketplace of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, where visitors can talk to artists, watch craft demonstrations, and purchase outstanding beadwork, paintings, jewelry, wampum, woodwork, leatherwork, drums, and other items. 

“The variety and quality of the work created by our Abenaki artists is outstanding,” said Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Executive Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. “Some of our artists create traditional art and some create contemporary art, often inspired by tradition. If you are looking to purchase a special gift or something new for your collection, be sure to visit the Native Arts Marketplace.”

Throughout the weekend there will be activities of interest to everyone. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy singing and drumming by the Nulhegan Drum — you may even be invited to drum with them. Children and adults alike should not miss storytelling by Abenaki author and historian Joseph Bruchac, and songs for the little ones with Francine Poitras Jones. 

Artists in the Arts Marketplace include Michael Descoteaux demonstrating the making of hand drums; Elnu Abenaki Elder Jim Taylor making wampum beads from whelk and quahog shells; and Linda Longtoe Sheehan weaving wampum, an intricate process using the shell beads. On Saturday, meet basketmaker Kerry Wood. On Sunday, visit the “Make and Take” table, where children can make a gift to bring home for Father’s Day.

A new special exhibit, Beyond the Curve: The American Abenaki Covid Experience will open during Heritage Weekend in the Schoolhouse Gallery, and will be on view all season. Artwork and stories by 20 American Abenaki artists illustrate the impact of the pandemic in the Abenaki homeland and the resilience of Abenaki people during troubled times. Meet the curator, Vera Longtoe Sheehan, for a gallery talk. 

Thanks to Vermont Humanities, Vermont Arts Council, and Vermont Department of Health for their sponsorship of the event. For more information on Abenaki Heritage Weekend, visit: AbenakiArt.org/abenaki-heritage-weekend.

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Our Turn: Sharing Community, Rutland Herald. May 4, 2023

Newspaper with News headline

Is Vermont being lobbied for Nuremberg Laws?

Race-based attacks and harmful stereotypes are putting Vermont’s Abenaki communities in jeopardy, and it needs to stop. This week is Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week, yet international special-interest groups are threatening state-recognized Abenaki tribes with cultural erasure in an effort to position themselves for recognition and rights within the United States.

Click here to read the full article in the Rutland Herald.

Abenaki Alliance: Is Vermont being Lobbied for Nuremberg Law? Brattleboro Reformer. May 2, 2023

This is an article.

Race-based attacks and harmful stereotypes are putting Vermont’s Abenaki communities in jeopardy and it needs to stop. This week is Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week, yet international special-interest groups are threatening state-recognized Abenaki tribes with cultural erasure in an effort to position themselves for recognition and rights within the United States.

Using their Canadian status as recognized First Nations, Odanak and Wôlinak in Quebec are using state and federally-funded universities and media organizations to promote their propaganda — threatening to rewrite 12,000 years of Native heritage in the Abenaki homelands now known as the State of Vermont.

Click here to read the full article in the Brattleboro Reformer

Stop Hate Toward Abenaki. Mountain Times. May 3, 2023

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Dear Editor

Race-based attacks and harmful stereotypes are putting Vermont’s Abenaki communities in jeopardy and it needs to stop. This week is Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week, yet international special-interest groups are threatening state-recognized Abenaki tribes with cultural erasure in an effort to position themselves for recognition and rights within the United States. Click here to read the entire letter to the editor.

Governor Recognized Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week. Saint Alban’s Messenger. May 4, 2023

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SWANTON — For the fifth consecutive year, Gov. Phil Scott has recognized May 1-7 as Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week.

Abenaki Alliance logo with mountains, water, and sun.The State of Vermont recognizes four Western Abenaki tribes: the Elnu Abenaki, the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation, the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, and the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi St. Francis-Sokoki Band.

“This week we celebrate andhonor the heritage and culture of the Abenaki people in Vermont,” Scott said in a press release. “Vermont is stronger for the contributions of Indigenous people.” Click here to read the full article.

First Week in May being designated Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week. NBC Channel 5

Newspaper with Press Release as header.

First week in May designated Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week

“We owe the Abenaki people of Vermont and indigenous tribes across this country an enormous debt, one that can never fully be repaid.” Click here to visit the NBC5 website and view the newscast.

Vermont Delegation Statement Commemorating Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week. Bernie Sanders/Vermont.gov. April 28, 2023

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“It is with great honor and respect that we come together to celebrate Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week, the centuries-old culture and rich heritage of the Abenaki people, and the descendants of the Western Abenaki Tribes that originally inhabited the land we now call Vermont. We owe the Abenaki people of Vermont, and Indigenous tribes across this country, an enormous debt, one that can never fully be repaid. Today we are incredibly fortunate that the four bands of Vermont – the Elnu Abenaki tribe; the Nulhegan band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation; the Koasek Abenaki of the Koas; and the Missisquoi, St. Francis-Sokoki band – have preserved and continue to share their traditions, from their art and music to their dedicated stewardship of their traditional homeland. During this week of recognition and celebration, and every day, we are honored to stand with the Abenaki Tribes of Vermont and Indigenous peoples all across the country.” Click here to visit Senator Sanders’ website.

Vermont delegation statement commemorating Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week. Vermont Biz. April 28, 2023

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Vermont Business Magazine Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), Senator Peter Welch (D-Vermont), and Representative Becca Balint (D-Vermont) today issued the following delegation statement in commemoration of Abenaki Recognition and Heritage Week which begins Monday, May 1 – Click here to read more …….

Vermont Native Communities Support the Vatican’s Repudiation of the “Doctrine of Discovery”

Long-awaited opportunity to move forward after 500+ years of cultural annihilation

Vermont Business Magazine On March 30, 2023, a joint statement (link is external) from Roman Catholic Church leaders formally acknowledged and took accountability for “the terrible effects” of more than 560 years of assimilation policies and the resulting “pain experienced by indigenous people.” Click here to read more . . .

Water is Life Teach In

Bookmark for Water is Life Teach-in.
Bookmark for Water is Life Teach-in.

The Abenaki Arts & Education Center is excited to announce the Water is Life Abenaki Teach-In on March 25, in Vergennes, VT.

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In this all-day workshop, Abenaki Arts & Education Center educators will inspire teachers with interactive, media-rich content that links 12,000 years of Abenaki history with 21st-century civic engagement. Participants will pursue a deeper understanding of the region’s diversity through the voices of the American Abenaki people.

From Lake Champlain to the Connecticut River Valley, the life-bringing waters of N’Dakinna (Abenaki for “Our Homeland”) were our earliest highways for travel. The water itself is important to the plants, fish, animals, birds, and other wildlife that are necessary to our way of life.

Presenters will illustrate the Abenaki relationship to water, awareness of water as a fundamental element necessary for all life, and concern that pollution of water can change our traditional lifeways and the health of all our relations, human and animal.

Participants will investigate resources, interaction with Abenaki culture bearers, and be introduced to culturally responsive and sustaining teaching strategies to effectively incorporate diverse narratives into their curriculum.

Registered teachers and homeschoolers will also be invited to attend additional virtual sessions, and be given access to additional bonus content.The program is presented in partnership between Abenaki Arts & Education Center, and Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, and supported in part by Vermont Humanities.

Four Abenaki tribes were recognized by the State of Vermont following an arduous process which included proving their ancestry and enduring community presence in Vermont. After reviewing tribal recognition applications and verifying the data, the Vermont state legislature voted unanimously three times to recognize the tribes. Gov. Peter Shumlin codified their legal status as Native American tribes for the Elnu and
Nulhegan Abenaki Tribes in 2011 and the Koasek and Missisquoi Abenaki Tribes in
2012. Their legal status as state recognized tribes is now codified into Vermont law.
The teacher training will be held at The Bixby Memorial Free Library in Vergennes, VT.
“The Bixby follows the Vermont Forward Plan and Vergennes City COVID guidelines.
Masks are welcome but not required. The library has industrial HEPA room air purifiers
installed throughout the building, eliminating unwanted dust particles, germs, and
contaminants” says Amber Lay, Assistant Director of the Bixby Library.

For more information and to register for the teacher training please visit https://abenaki-edu.org/

Abenaki Arts and Education Association logo.



Abenaki COVID-19 Storytelling Project Memory Booth Blog

December 5, 2022 – We are so honored that Abenaki and other Native American Families are trusting us with their family stories about vaccines, disparity, and access issues they are experiencing. During storytelling sessions, we provide participants with many different types of art materials to help them express themselves. Here is an example of a process drawing that was created during a storytelling session. What do you see when you look at it?

We are looking for Abenaki or Native American artists, musicians, and community members to help express the impact of this pandemic ourselves and our local community through visual or performing arts, share stories of personal experience and perceptions about the COVID-19 global pandemic, vaccines, disparities, and access.

All artistic media are welcome: painting, collage, mixed media, carving, sculpture, fiber, weaving, pottery, poetry, photography, music, storytelling, dance, video, & more . . .

Contact Us!
If you are interested in submitting work or would like more information, email [email protected] or call (802) 265-0092.

November 15, 2022 – We are grateful to everyone who is participating in the Abenaki Storytelling Project. We’ve spent months collecting stories and artwork about the Native American COVID experience in Vermont. The stories are like legos that come in different sizes and shapes.

A pile of legos in many colors.

October 20, 2022 – Our team attended the Mending Ourselves, Together conference at the UVM Davis Center, Burlington and we share our community initiative with healthcare professionals interested in health equity.

August 19 – 20, 2022 – We set up a memory booth at the Nulhegan Heritage Gathering, Camp Sunrise Cub Scouting Camp. Community members created artwork and shared their COVID memories.

October 1, 2022 – Visit the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association’s Storytelling booth at the Indigenous People’s Day Rocks event in Stowe on October 8th. Mayo Farm Fields, Stowe, VT.

August 3, 2022 – We are excited to announce we will be gathering stories and artwork about the Native American COVID experience in Vermont at the Nulhegan Abenaki Gathering at Camp Sunrise Cub Scouting Camp. Stop by our booth and tell us your story. Artwork and stories will inform an upcoming traveling museum and digital exhibition.

July 15, 2020 – Are there incentives for participating in the Abenaki COVID-19 Storytelling Project Memory Booth? Recently, we were asked if there are any incentives for participating in Abenaki COVID-19 Storytelling Project Memory Booth. Individuals who participate in the Memory Booth may select their choice of either an I support the Abenaki t-shirt or an insulated drink cup. There are monetary incentives available for one-on-one storytelling or focus group storytelling sessions.

Insulated cup – incentive for participation in the Abenaki Storytelling Project
T-shirt – incentive for participation in the Abenaki Storytelling Project

June 20, 2022

VAAA’s Executive Director Vera Longtoe Sheehan did a presentation about the Abenaki COVID-19 Storytelling Project at the annual at Abenaki Heritage Weekend, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Vergennes, VT. After the presentation, people flocked over to the Memory Booth seeking more information. We collected stories and artwork from more than 18 Native American people!

A large group of people in the art pavilion for the Storytelling Memory Booth.

June 13, 2022

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. VAAA will have a Memory Booth set up at our annual Abenaki Heritage Weekend on June 18-19, 2022. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

Look for a Memory Booth near you.

Image of memory booth logo and link to Memory Booth Events page..

June 5, 2022

Like everyone else in the world, the Abenaki community has been greatly affected by the global pandemic and the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association is no exception. VAAA’s Abenaki Storytelling project will “allow us to explore this period of our history in a way that hasn’t been done before. Abenakis will tell and interpret their own experience about the pandemic and vaccination intake,” says VAAA Executive Director Vera Longtoe Sheehan.

May 25

We are excited to share the logo for our banners and website.

Storytelling Project logo

May 15, 2022

What is the Abenaki Storytelling Project?

The Abenaki Storytelling Project is a community-based arts and storytelling project that focuses on Native American strength and resiliency. The project is led by Vermont Abenaki Artists Association (VAAA), a Native American arts organization that serves the public by connecting them 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. VAAA uses insights from Native American arts and storytelling to uplift Abenaki voices and perspectives in the interpretation of museum exhibitions, education resources, and in health equity.

Links to other Storytelling Project Pages:

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Image of button for About the Abenaki Storytelling Project and link..
Image of memory booth logo and link to Memory Booth Events page..
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About the Storytelling Project

Image of rectangular shaped poster for the Storytelling project that says "Share Your Story!"

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.

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.

Ways to Participate

  • Memory Booth events (15 minutes) 
  • Focus Groups (60 minutes ) 
  • Individual storytelling session (60-90 minutes) – 
  • Group of friends and/or storytelling session (60-90 minutes)  

Contact

For more information or to see if you qualify to be included, email [email protected] and type Storytelling Project in the subject line.

Check back for project updates!

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Click here to visit our News Room.
Image of memory booth logo and link to Memory Booth Events page..

Sponsored by the Vermont Department of Health

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Support the Heart of our Culture: Your Generous Donation Makes a Difference.

Join us in preserving and celebrating the Abenaki culture through your contribution, enabling us to continue our impactful programs, cultural events, educational initiatives, and the creation of new exhibitions. Every donation is a vital investment in the legacy we cherish.

Questions? Please contact Elisa by email [email protected] or call (802) 265-0092.


THANK YOU TO OUR SPONSORS, SUPPORTERS, & PARTNERS

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The 2024 Abenaki Heritage Weekend

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Thank you to everyone who attended our 2024 Abenaki Heritage Weekend!

With your support in celebrating Abenaki culture & community we were able to have a wonderful gathering full of language, dancing, music, sharing stories and much more.

About the weekend…….

Vermont’s Native American community for Abenaki Heritage Weekend and Arts Marketplace gathered on June 29-30 at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to explore Abenaki perspectives on life in the Champlain Valley. Activities included storytelling, craft demonstrations, drumming, singing, and more. Presented by Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, this event brings together citizens of the Elnu, Nulhegan, Koasek, and Missisquoi Abenaki Tribes.

The Open Door Clinic offered FREE health and wellness exams and was well attended.

As always, we are so thankful for the ongoing support from our sponsors and partners Vermont Humanities, Vermont Arts Council, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Abenaki Alliance, and the Abenaki Arts & Education Center.

Even though the weekend is over, you can still visit our newest exhibit, Deep Roots, Strong Branches, which will focus of Abenaki foodways, food security, and gardening throughout the centuries. The exhibit is in the schoolhouse at the museum.


When: June 29 – 30, 2024, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm

Where: Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 4472 Basin Harbor Rd, Vergennes, VT 05491

Cost: FREE

Directions: Click here for Google Map

About the 2024 Abenaki Heritage Weekend:

On June 29 – 30, 2024, citizens of the New England Abenaki community gathered at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to celebrate their history and heritage, and the public was invited! Organized by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, this free event was open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. Events scheduled for outside were moved inside when it rained, but the rain did not deter our 700+ guests!

One of the highlights of the weekend was the Native Arts Marketplace of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association, where visitors could talk to artists, watch craft demonstrations, and purchase outstanding beadwork, paintings, jewelry, wampum, woodwork, leatherwork, drums, and other items. 

“The variety and quality of the work created by our Abenaki artists is outstanding,” said Vera Longtoe Sheehan, Executive Director of the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. “Some of our artists create traditional art and some create contemporary art, often inspired by tradition. If you are looking to purchase a special gift or something new for your collection, be sure to visit the Native Arts Marketplace.”

Throughout the weekend there were activities of interest to everyone. The public was advised to bring a picnic lunch so they could sit and listen to singing and drumming by the Nulhegan Drum. Children and adults alike enjoyed storytelling by Abenaki author and historian Joseph Bruchac.


Following was the schedule for the 2024 Abenaki Heritage Weekend:

(subject to changes due to weather)

Following is information about some of the programs that were presented during the weekend:

Assigning Racial Birthright in Vermont 1900 – 1925

Join Prof. Frederick Wiseman as he discusses the early 20th century evidence for a significant Indigenous presence in the birth and other official records of Northwestern Vermont. Combining ethnohistorical research with genealogical standards of proof, Wiseman explores the bicultural social and cultural milieu that permitted state officials to judiciously pen an Indigenous Identity on various official Vermont documents. This new body of documentary evidence leads to a reconsideration of Northwestern Vermont social history and ethnicity just over a century ago.

Always Coming Home (Book Reading and Signing)

Join us for the story of the first in the series of four graphic novels designed for understanding and healing ethnic American Abenaki intergenerational trauma. Always Coming Home is a short story set in an old farmhouse nestled in the Vermont Uplands of the third quarter of the 19th century, and establishes a therapeutic baseline of comforting family, traditional technology, subsistence, and ceremony. The multi-generational family works, learns, gossips, eats, hunts, ice-fishes and dances together in ways that are only now being fully understood in light of the results of new cultural, technological, spiritual and environmental discoveries about the 19th century Vermont Abenaki experience. There will be a book reading as well. A limited number of hot-off-the-press copies of Always coming Home will be available for signing in the Pavilion throughout the day.

Who are the American Abenakis of Vermont? Heritage through place, voice, and craft.

Who are the American Abenakis of Vermont? Heritage through Place, Voice, and Craft

Join Prof. Frederick Wiseman as he summarizes a neglected body of knowledge regarding written, genealogical, graphic, oral-historical, horticultural and material culture of the Vermont American Abenaki community. Using PowerPoint slides and demonstration, Wiseman discusses the high points of his decades of work on the three pillars of American Abenaki ethnic legitimacy: 1.) genealogy (also addressed in detail on Saturday), 2.) cultural continuity (a continuous historic presence in the region) and 3.) cultural competence (deep knowledge of local ancestral tradition). Some of this information is introduced in print in his two new books, Always Coming Home and American Abenaki Beadwork, as well as several new YouTube videos online.


Image of the book Dawn Land by Joseph Brucha on dried grass background.

Remembering The Dawn Land with author Joseph Bruchac (Book Reading and Signing)

The area we now refer to as Western New England has been the homeland of Native people for at least 10,000 years. Blending oral traditions, natural history, archaeology, cultural survival, indigenous language, and the living land itself, the author takes us back to that ancient time. The program will include discussion of the novel, its main characters, and the telling of some stand alone stories from the book.

American Abenaki Beadwork (Book Reading and Signing)

Join Prof. Wiseman at his table in the Pavilion as he introduces his new book, the first of a series of peer-reviewed publications detailing the unique arts of the American Abenaki Community. The book presents an entirely unstudied tradition of important and beautiful regional northeastern art, beginning around 1800 and persisting until modern times. Copies will be available for purchase.


The Abenaki Toddler’s Play Group

The children will lead a few drum songs accompanied by an elder. We will host a few storytelling sessions throughout the day. Free Indigenous-themed books will be provided at no cost to children that visit. HEART bags available by request. Contact [email protected] for more information.


Link for Accessibility information: ? For access questions, contact Elisa [email protected] or (802) 265-0092

For other questions, you may also email Francine at [email protected]


Vermont Abenaki Artists Association is supported by the New England Foundation for the Arts through the New England Arts Resilience Fund, part of the United States Regional Arts Resilience Fund, an initiative of the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with major funding from the federal CARES Act from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Kchi Wliwni (A Big Thank You) to our Supporters, Patrons, and Sponsors

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Historic Art

The Historic Indigenous Arts of Vermont and New Hampshire

 By Frederick M. Wiseman Ph.D.

Introduction

When we think of indigenous American craft arts, we immediately think of Navajo rugs and Tahono o’odam (Papago) basketry.  Or perhaps the woodcarvings of the Northwest Coast of North America.  Possibly one of the least recognized historical Native American crafts regions of North America is the Far Northeast, only a few books will mention baskets made by Maine or Canadian Maritime tribes.  However, Vermont and New Hampshire have a vibrant but little known artistic tradition stretching back over 10,000 years.  The oldest artistic works are made of stone, chipped or ground into beautiful but useful tools such as the clean, almost Art Deco-looking lines of Vermont Middle Archaic Period gouges, the tight design of Late Archaic lapidary jewelry, or the evocative rock-carved human face petroglyphs at Bellows Falls.  However, except for stone, and a few pieces of shell, there is little that remains, underground of this rich artistic tradition.  During the So-Called Colonial Era (1609-ca. 1800) the Indigenous Arts of our region are still little understood and seem to resemble those of neighboring tribes.  There are occasional pieces of 18th century quillwork-decorated leather craft or twined basketry residing in museums and private collections illustrating the precise work and artistic flair of the People.  Unfortunately, they are so similar to items made by our Penobscot, Huron and Iroquois neighbors that there has been little effort by art historians to find out what is specific to our region.


Below, are a few examples of older art traditions that have good ties to the VT/NH region and its immediate environs of southern Quebec.  These show a careful choice of material, excellent plotting out the eventual form, and meticulous care in decoration — evidence of a well developed craft tradition that its practitioners were very comfortable with.  Many of our 19th and early 20th-century craft arts seem to have its closest ties to the great multiethnic Indian Village of Kahnawake, south of Montreal, but other traditions especially basketry shows early artistic similarity to Southern New England, while cloth seems more similar to our Wabanaki brethren, showing that our area was a great crossroads of artistic ideas flowing throughout the region.

 Woodcraft

Image of Root club, stylistically similar to the Newport, VT example; early 20th century.
Root club, stylistically similar to the Newport, VT example; early 20th century.

Most Indigenous Vermont and New Hampshire wood craft is very utilitarian, and probably would not be classed as fine or decorative art.  However, some particular forms, such as crooked knives and root clubs have become accepted as valuable craft arts by art historians and critics.  We do see nice examples of these tools that have come from our area, but have a distinct stylistic look.  Root clubs, for example, did not seem to be made and sold in Vermont as tourist items, although very similar looking ones were sold for that purpose at Kahnawake.  These root clubs tend to be carved relatively simply with minimal decoration, usually of fine ink or watercolor delineating bird-like beaks and eyes, rather than the fine carved detailing and painted design demanded by tourist buyers. Instead, we have a documented example that seemed to be used in healing, and another that was used to keep order within a family, indicating that they remained, at least in part, internal cultural implements.

Image of Well designed crooked Knife. Birch Handle, ground-file blade and brass wire wrap. 19th century East side Lake Memphramagog.
Well designed crooked Knife. Birch Handle, ground-file blade and brass wire wrap. 19th century East side Lake Memphramagog.

Another well-designed and executed wooden implement is the crooked knife (often called “basket-knife” in VT).  These distinctive native-design tools seem as rare as root clubs and are almost always entirely utilitarian.  However, one crooked knife with a provenance just north of the Canadian Border in the Southern Eastern Townships of Quebec is finely crafted with beautiful incised and filled detail on the obverse and an artistically sweeping rake to the blade; thereby making a classic pieces of Northeastern Native art.  (Photo to the right)

Image of Twig decoy, Early 20th century, Fitch Bay (east of Lake Memphremogog) QC).
Twig decoy, Early 20th century, Fitch Bay (east of Lake Memphremagog) QC).

In the last 50 years or so decoys have emerged as a great vernacular art tradition, with many fetching many thousands of dollars at auction.  Although there are Vermont decoy carvers with Indigenous heritage their creations are not considered “Indian Art.”  However, a composite twig decoy from the same area as the crooked knife is so similar to the Cree “Tamarack Twig” decoys accepted as legitimate Indian Art that we will list it here.  This is a goose “shadow decoy” constructed of black or river birch twigs and bound with cotton twine.  A Nulhegan band elder remembered their use in middle 20th century cornfields around Lake Memphramagog to attract Canada geese to the shotgun.  When viewed from a distance, the decoy has a wonderful flowing stance, and as the elder said “looks like a goose to another goose..  (Photo to the right)

These few items are only an introduction to the richness of historic Indigenous woodcraft of our region.  Old bowls, spoons, wall-hangings, cups, walking staffs and even furniture remain to this day to grace museums and collections.


Fashion design

Image of Woman's cotton twill dress and red cloth sash ca. 1900 Connecticut River Valley, VT.
Woman’s cotton twill dress and red cloth sash ca. 1900 Connecticut River Valley, VT.

Since the 1970’s, beaded clothing and fashion accessories of our neighbors to the East have become some of the most collected and valuable of any Native American art.  Fortunately, our regional styles have not seen such interest or even study by elite art collectors, and so the materials are still somewhat available and collectable by Indigenous museums and cultural organizations.  I find that some of the late 19th and early 20th century clothing used by basketsellers especially interesting.  It combines European materials such as cloth and ribbons with indigenous motifs to make a distinctive, but underappreciated fashion that I call “cut-cloth Fringe’ style.  We have several examples of this style from the Connecticut River Valley and Lake Champlain which seem to date from the 1890’s to about the beginning of the Great Depression.  The example that I share here is made from a tan twilled cotton with patchwork and ribbon-work detail below the neck and above the hem.  It is sturdy and technically well made, so much so that it is still worn for educational purposes.  (Photo to the right)

Of course everyone wants to know about “Abenaki Beadwork,” and unfortunately, pre-1900 Indigenous Vermont/New Hampshire beaded cloth is the most elusive craft art that remains today.  There is one late 18th/early 19th century beaded moccasin vamp or epaulet that was found in NW Vermont that is in a generalized style that may or may not be Vermont Abenaki, but was at least used here at one point. (Photo below).

Image of Beaded wool panel, Trade wool, silk ribbon, glass beads. Early 19th century, found in Swanton, VT
Beaded wool panel, Trade wool, silk ribbon, glass beads. Early 19th century, found in Swanton, VT
Image of Flat Bag with beadwork. Velvet, cotton liner, glass beads. Mid or late 19th century, probably Abenaki
Flat Bag with beadwork. Velvet, cotton liner, glass beads. Mid or late 19th century, probably Abenaki

Probably a more characteristic style is the mid 19th century “flat bag” or reticule described below.  It has a form related to the typical “tulip” or “inverted keyhole” bag sold by the Eastern Wabanaki people of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  However, the beadwork itself is distinctive and unlike that of the standard Wabanaki to the East, or the Iroquois styles to the west.  Unfortunately, it has not yet attracted interest of collectors, museums and academics, so it is uncertain exactly whether this is a “Montreal Area,” “Eastern Townships (Quebec) area,” “Vermont area” “or “New Hampshire area” style; or all of the above.  However, I believe that it represents the best candidate style for having been produced here in the mid 19th century. (Photo to the right)


Basketry

Image of Early 19th century ash-splint Basket. Vernon, VT.
Early 19th century ash-splint Basket. Vernon, VT.

The one craft art likely to show up in VT/NH antique shops is ash-splint basketry, and there are many styles and types.  I will illustrate two of the older more utilitarian types that were made before the ubiquitous “sweetgrass” and “cowiss” touristic souvenir baskets that are so common today.  Ash splint basket making in VT/NH basically went extinct in the 1930’s.  Baskets after that time seem to be made by expatriate basket sellers from Canada or Maine who sold tourist goods in places such as the White Mountains Intervale or the shores of Lake Champlain. (Photo to the right)

Image of Turn of the 2Oth century ash splint Basket
Turn of the 2Oth century ash splint Basket

The first early type is from the 1830’s and is more closely related to southern New England basketry, in its “varying splint” construction and the use of stamping and or painting on the wide splints as decoration.  it was probably used like a bandbox, for the storage of lightweight household and fashion goods such as yarn or hats.  The second basket, probably from the third quarter of the 19th century, still retains the varying splints, but now shows direct influence of basketry evolution to the East, in its checkerboard (rectangular) base and the treatment of the radiating splints on the lid.  Instead of being stamped, the wider splints are “daub-dyed” or pigment painted only on the outside before weaving the basket.  The later, turn of the 20th century dyed ash splints are dipped in dye and thus show the color both inside and out.  Both of these early basket styles are relatively uncommon in VT/NH and even less common with a good provenance placing them here in the 19th century.  (Photo to the right)

Image of two coiled horsehair baskets made with brown horsehair foundation and black hair ties left, and black horsehair and white hair ties, right. Probably early 20th century. St Albans, VT
Two coiled horsehair baskets made with brown horsehair foundation and black hair ties left, and black horsehair and white hair ties, right. Probably early 20th century. St. Albans, VT

Another important basket type is the coiled basket.  Even more elusive than early beadwork, coiled basketry is only known from two areas in the Northeast, the Passamaquoddies and a single family in Northwestern VT.  These are tiny items, made from carefully selected and prepared horse-hair, similar to the much more well known Thono O’odam tourist wares.  As with most local wares, there is no historical interest in these beautiful tiny baskets, and we await the continuation of this tradition by young members of the VT basket making family.


Interested in Learning more about the Indigenous Art of Vermont?

Wabanaki Beadwork 1850-2000

Late Period (1890-1970) Indian Baskets In Vermont

Kerry R. Wood

Enrolled Citizen of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation

Juried Artist since 2016
Kerry Wood processing splint for basketmaking.
Kerry Wood processing splint for use in basketmaking.

Kerry Wood/Kalli Abazi is a citizen of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation.  In 2016 she completed a 3 year apprenticeship program with Jeanne Brink through the Vermont Folklife Center Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program for making traditional Black Ash and Sweetgrass baskets. 

Elvine Obomsawin, Kerry’s Great-Grandmother, and her family made and sold baskets to tourists in Vermont in the early to mid-1900’s. Jeanne Brink is also Kerry’s cousin, and hearing the stories from their Obomsawin family heritage while learning basket making brought her past alive! When she is making baskets, she feels a deep connection with those who have gone before her, and is at peace and connected. Her husband helps prepare the ash by harvesting the ash trees and, with their son Aaron, pounds and splits the ash. The family works together to create the materials for baskets from the harvest of the tree to the final project.

Kerry has baskets on display at the Vermont Maritime Museum, The Abenaki display at the Burlington Airport, and at the Bennington Museum. Black Ash and baskets remain a critical aspect of Abenaki culture and heritage. They are part of Ndakinna, our land. Kerry teaches Abenaki people and others the history and craft of Abaznodaka as well as the language of the Abenaki people, Alnôbaôdwa, so the culture and heritage will continue. She is also collaborating with people across Vermont to help combat the impact of the Emerald Ash Borer, which threatens the very existence of the Black Ash trees. Basket making is part of the Abenaki soul and heritage, and it is critical to ensure it is never lost.

Contact

Email: [email protected]

Traditional Abenaki Basket
Image of ash and sweetgrass basket.
Ash and sweetgrass basket
Image of ash basket by Kerry R. Wood.
Ash Basket

Demonstrations (as an Apprentice with Master Basketmaker Jeanne Brink)

2016

  • Dartmouth Powwow, Dartmouth College
  • Native American Program, Dartmouth College
  • Vermont History Exposition, Tunbridge, VT

2015

  • Abenaki History Day, Hartford, VT
  • Dartmouth Powwow, Dartmouth College, NH
  • Native American Program, Dartmouth College, NH
  • Saratoga Native American Festival, Saratoga, NY

2014

  • Dartmouth Powwow, Dartmouth College, NH
  • Native American Program, Dartmouth College, NH
  • Vermont History Exposition, Tunbridge, VT

Awards

2013, 2014, 2015 

  • Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program, Vermont Folk Life Center. Middlebury, VT

Affiliations

  • Vermont Abenaki Artists Association

Joseph Bruchac

Enrolled Citizen of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation

Juried Artist since 2018
Image of Joseph Bruchac

Joseph Bruchac lives in the Adirondack Mountains of New York in the house where his grandparents raised him. An enrolled citizen of the Nulhegan Band of the Abenaki Nation, much of his work draws on his native ancestry.

He and his sons, James and Jesse, work together in projects involving Native language renewal, traditional Native skills, and environmental education at their Ndakinna Education Center (www.ndakinnacenter.org) on their 90 acre nature preserve.

Author of over 180 books for young readers and adults, his experiences include teaching in Ghana, running a college program in a maximum security prison and 40 years of teaching martial arts.A featured storyteller at numerous festivals, including the British Storytelling Festival, Clearwater, Corn Island, and the National Storytelling Festival, his Keepers of the Earth books (co-authored with Michael Caduto), which use traditional Native American stories to teach science, have over a million copies in print.

“His novel CODE TALKER, about the Navajo marines in World War II who used their language to create an unbreakable code, was named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 best books of all time for young adults.”


Contact

Address: PO Box 308, Greenfield Center, NY 12833

Email: [email protected]

Website: Website: josephbruchac.com (A list of his book awards can be viewed here.)


Image of book cover for The Arrow Over the Door.
Book cover for The Arrow Over the Door
Image of cover for Honor Songs by The Dawnland Singers.
Cover for Honor Songs by The Dawnland Singers

Affiliations:

Vermont Abenaki Artists Association

Ndakinna Education Center

Blog

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Frederick M Wiseman Introduction When we think of indigenous American craft arts, we immediately think of Navajo rugs and Tahono ...

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