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. This is part one.
I am a Tribal Councilman and citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe of Southern Vermont which recently was granted State Recognition after years of battling with both the State & Federal Governments. I also descend from the Eastern Cherokee my Fathers people who reside in Kentucky.
Artist, Eastern Quillworker, & Wampum, I have been involved with various art forms since I was a small child, with the help from my recently deceased maternal Aunt she fostered the talent the Creator blessed us both with.
I am currently employed as a Graphic Designer designing Police, Fire, Federal, & International Law Enforcement badges; for past 28 years.
I currently reside in Rhode Island with my wife Claudine and two daughters, Ashley age 22 and Jillian age 16 along with our Golden Retriever Abby. My Tribal duties in Vermont do take me away from home many weekends throughout the year which my wife is very understanding. The many reasons are is it’s what’s needed to build a better future for the next 7 generations of my people; I thank her and my 2 girls for their patience and understanding.
I have been doing Eastern style quillwork for the past 26 years along with other various native related beadwork and crafts and most recently learning how to create wampum beads from quahog & whelk shells. My quill work began when I became more involved with Living History/ Native Interpreting at French & Indian Living History events. The Abenaki played an important role as Allies with the French during that period. As I became more proficient, my quillwork became more sought after by other Living History people as well as other Native people.
My quillwork has been featured in numerous articles and magazines & books; also my work has been displayed in the Mingei International Museum of Folk Art in San Diego, CA, and currently I have an Underwater Panther bag on permanent display in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, NY. My work has also have been in various local Art shows in RI as well.
I hope to continue doing quill work and to become more proficient in the wampum bead work as well, my hope is to pass this onto future generations of youth within my tribe along with possibly getting future grants to allow me to travel west to Washington State to share how to do quillwork and wampum making with Native Artists in the Communities there with the hope of learning some of their traditional crafts like Cedar Hat making and Cedar carving to share with my tribe Elnu and others here on the East Coast.
I am currently trying to organize a Multi-Eastern Tribal Canoe Journey on the Connecticut River beginning at its head waters in Canada to where it spills out into Long Island Sound. This Journey will be mirrored to the same one held annually out west in Washington by the Salish Coastal peoples. My hope is that this will be a Journey to inspire our youth to make them stronger physically, mentally as well as spiritually; this will be a journey for ALL ages. We along with others here in New England hope to have a smaller version to start with by sometime next year; I urge all eastern peoples / Tribes to contact us if they are interested in being part of this hopefully Annual event. We can be reached via Facebook at Kwinitekw Canoe Journey https://www.facebook.com/groups/248209231873305/ or my Email at [email protected]
Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage. Traveling Exhibit. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
Parley and Protocol: Abenaki Diplomacy Past and Present. Fort Necessity National Battlefield, Farmington, PA.
Parley and Protocol: Abenaki Diplomacy Past and Present. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Vergennes, VT.
First Light: Native American Artists from New England, The Flanagan Campus Art Gallery, RI
Traditional Sources, Contemporary Visions – Invitational Group Art Exhibit. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, Vergennes, VT
All My Relations: Faces and Effigies from the Native World – Invitational Group Art Exhibit. Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, Warner, NH
Like Breathing: Native American Beading and Quillwork. Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, Warner, NH
Quilled Underwater Panther Bag. American Museum of Natural History, NYC, NY
Arrow of the Spirit. Mingei International Museum, San Diego, CA
Jones, Paul R. “Quillworkers 2: The Tradition Continues.” Muzzleloader, Nov/Dec 1999, 40
Dubin, Lois Sherr. North American Indian Jewelry and Adornment: From Prehistory to Present Concise Edition, Harry N Abrams Incorporated, NYC, NY. 2003. 71
Vermont Abenaki Artists Association
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