Sunday, March 2, 2008
Abenaki Voice Opposing Views On Recognition Issue
Published: Saturday, March 1, 2008
By Terri Hallenbeck
Burlington Free Press
MONTPELIER -- Should legislators single out a few better-known Abenaki groups for recognition
or should all groups go through the same application process?
That was the dilemma put before legislators Friday as they try to find an elusive solution to a
highly emotional, long-standing problem.
"I think the Missisquoi have proved themselves t o the state of Vermont," said April St. Francis
Merrill, chief of the Swanton-based Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi St. Francis/Sokoki Band.
She asked the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee to grant
recognition to her two bands and the Koasek because they are particularly well-documented in
That would go against the recommendation of the Vermont Commission on Native American
Affairs, which would have all bands go through an application process to gain recognition. "To
give recognition to two tribes only gives them prestige, control and raises them to a level of
power over other Abenaki family bands," said Judy Dow of Essex, a commission member who is
from the Winooski family band of Abenaki.
Legislators are seeking to fix a 2006 law that was supposed to grant state recognition to
Abenaki in Vermont, but because it did not recognize specific tribes fell short of federal
requirements governing who may sell arts and crafts as native-made. Helping Abenaki market
their work as such had been one of the main goals of the recognition law.
Friday, the Senate committee brought in members of various Abenaki bands to lay out their
differences over proposals to amend the law. Committee Chairman Vincent Illuzzi,
R-Essex/Orleans, said the comments boiled the issues down. When the Legislature reconvenes
after a weeklong break for town meeting, the committee will have to make a decision, he said.
Merrill said she doesn't trust the commission to decide which bands should be recognized and
refused to be represented on the commission because members were not required to prove
their heritage. Since the 2006 state law, she said, new bands of Abenaki with tenuous
authenticity have popped up.
Merrill said her band had state recognition once -- in 1976 -- and therefore has proven its
connection to the state. That recognition was rescinded the next year, and her band's efforts to
achieve federal rec ognition failed.
"We represent the majority of Abenaki citizens in the state of Vermont," said Nancy Millette,
former chief of the Newbury-based Koasek Traditional Abenaki Nation. Other bands would go
through the proc- ess of applying for recognition laid out by the Vermont Commission on Native
American Affairs, she said.
"We are not saying there are not other bands. We are not saying they don't deserve
recognition," Millette said.
Merrill's and Millette's proposal to grant three bands outright recognition set off an angry e-mail
exchange among other Abenaki in recent days and brought a vehement response in front of the
"April's and Nancy's groups are not the majority of Abenaki in Vermont," Dow said. "Centralized
tribes were not part of our life ways but merely a construct developed for Indian groups to abide
by the rules of the colonizer."
"I will not watch two bands be slid under the radar," said Luke Willard of the Nulheg an Band of
Abenaki, which he said represents 141 households in Essex and Orleans counties.
Contact Terri Hallenbeck at 229-1297 or firstname.lastname@example.org