Native Americans Testify In Abenaki Recognition Bill
By John Curran Associated Press
February 16, 2008
Barre Monpelier Times Angus
MONTPELIER — American Indians should be the ones who decide whether Vermont clans, tribes
and bands are officially recognized, not the Vermont Legislature. That was the message given
Friday to a legislative panel trying to address shortcomings in a 2006 law that recognized Abenakis
as a minority population but not as a tribe.
Several Abenakis testified about how the Legislature should address the law, which didn't give
Abenakis the authority to label their crafts as Indian made, as sponsors apparently intended.
Lawmakers are entertaining an amendment under which the state Commission on Native American
Affairs would recommend to the Legislature whether to recognize a state tribe as Native American,
giving lawmakers the final say.
"I don't think the Legislature has that right to say who is and who isn't a tribe," said April St. Francis
Merrill, of Highgate Springs, chief of the St. Francis-Sokoki band of the Abenaki Tribe. "There
should be historical documents. There should be strict criteria and tribal roles for these tribes.
There shouldn't be oral histories," she said.
Howard F. Knight, Jr., 66, of Newport, a retired chief of the Koasek Traditional Council of the
Sovereign Abenaki Nation, said the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs should have
the power to grant formal recognition, not the Legislature.
"Knowing who and who is not a true craftsperson or artisan has always been the traditional way of
our people. That tradition should not be interfered with in any way by those who are not
knowledgeable as to our ancient, traditional ways," Knight said.
Vera Longtoe-Sheehan, of Westminster, a member of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe who serves as its
tribal genealogist and works as an artisan, said she has had problems with labeling.
"I cannot label things Indian-made or Native American made or say 'Granddaughter of ..' because,
obviously, that would be a problem with the federal statutes. The work I do is museum-quality work.
I've tried to get my work into museums through the years, but I've been turned down because I
can't say this is 'Indian made."'
State Sen. Hinda Miller, who chaired the meeting of the Senate Committee on Economic
Development, Housing & General Affairs, said the panel would have more hearings on the subject
before acting on the bill.
"Our children and our children's children are all going to be affected by what happens," Longtoe-
Sheehan told Miller.