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ELNU Abenaki
Gov. Douglas Appoints Native Recognition Commission
Terri Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer
September 4, 2010

A new Native American Commission was appointed Friday amid hopes that it will avoid disputes that
paralyzed its predecessors and find a way to allow Abenaki to achieve long-elusive official state

Nine members were appointed by Gov. Jim Douglas after the Legislature passed a new law this
year ordering the commission to be reconfigured and giving the new panel a process to recommend
official state recognition for individual Abenaki bands. Official recognition would allow artists in the
bands to sell their wares as native-made.

“I’m very encouraged,” said Donald Stevens, a Missisquoi Abenaki who served as chairman of the
previous commission and helped push for the new commission. “I think you’ve got a great mix.”

Stevens had warned Douglas when he signed the law in May that the new process toward granting
recognition wouldn’t work unless he appointed good people to the panel. The new commission is
particularly notable for the number of young members, said Fred Wiseman, Missisquoi historian
who also pushed for the new commission. Wiseman’s son, Fred W. Wiseman, is among the new
members. He noted several others are in their 20s and 30s. “The young people, I don’t think, are
quite as jaded,” he said.

The commission was created in 2006 with a state law that was supposed to grant Vermont Abenaki
official status, but the law didn’t meet the criteria of the federal law and the commission was
hampered by mistrust among Abenaki bands. The bands overcame strong down-to-the-wire
disagreements to reach an agreement on the new law this year. Some Abenaki distrust claims of
heritage by others, generating fears that some would seek to block recognition for other bands.

The new law sets out a process by which the new commission will turn to a panel of three experts to
study bands’ applications for official recognition. Based on the experts’ advice, the commission will
make recommendations to the Legislature on who should be recognized. The Legislature would
make the final decision.

The new law expanded the commission from seven to nine members; required members to be
residents of Vermont for at least three years; and set the panel’s makeup to be diverse
geographically and by native affiliation. The panel will elect its own chairman.

The result with Friday’s announcement was a mix of members affiliated with the Elnu, Missisquoi,
Nulhegan, Koasek bands, along with unaffiliated and one non-Abenaki Native American. It includes
the chief of one band and members off all the bands that were part of an alliance that the larger
bands have formed as well as members who are not part of the alliance.

“I think you won’t see the fighting that’s been happening over the last few years,” Stevens said.

“It’s going to be a good group of people who work well together,” said Wiseman, who hopes to serve
on the expert panel that will advise the commission.

He said several bands are working to prepare their applications for recognition in time for next
legislative session. “I know several of them are busting their butts right now,” he said.