|© 2006 Elnu Abenaki Tribe
Highgate man one of just 65 Truman Scholars: Reader first native Vermonter,second at
UVM to earn honor
By: Jessie Forand
St. Albans Messenger
HIGHGATE — Brent Reader, of Highgate Springs, is just 33 years old. However, his experiences
surpass those of many who are decades older. Now he has added a new milestone as one of 65
individuals nationwide – and the first native Vermonter – selected as a Truman Scholar.
The Truman Scholar award has been given to just one other UVM student. It is similar to a Fulbright
or Rhodes scholarship. It is given to top-flight students pursuing careers in government, the
nonprofit or advocacy sectors, education, or another public service field.
Reader, a 1996 graduate of Missisquoi Valley Union High School is a father of four, an Iraq veteran,
and a member of the Abenaki nation.
The son of Christopher and Linda Reader, husband to, Misty, and dad to four girls, ages 15
months to 12 years old, Reader once had aspired to enter the medical field.
He had attended UVM previously, said he hadn’t taken it seriously, and had left school. He was
married about a year later and started his family.
He worked at IBM and later at Ben & Jerry’s Premium Ice Cream, the latter sent him overseas to
help open a factory in Holland. He also spent two-and-a-half to three years as a co-instructor at
UVM, teaching Abenaki language and culture. Reader is among a select few who speak Western
Abenaki, a skill he learned from his grandfather.
It was while at UVM that Reader saw a television announcement about Vermonters being deployed
to Iraq. His father had served in Vietnam as a member of the Marine Corps. Many generations of
his family had served in the military. He saw former classmates on TV, as well as those his father’s
After speaking to his wife, he enlisted a short while later. In May 2005, he was deployed to Iraq with
Task Force Saber. He served as a combat medic, treating wounded soldiers. He was injured
himself, sustaining a traumatic brain injury after IED blasts.
When he returned home more than a year later, Reader found he was having a tough time.
Struggles at home
“Medics see a lot of stuff,” he explained.
Back home Reader worked in defense contracts for the military and taught at the Ethan Allen firing
range. But when he was medically discharged, he was not allowed to keep the Dept. of Defense
job. The Veterans Administration (VA) provided a disability pension for Reader because of his brain
injury, but he had always worked.
Not having a job, he told his wife at the time, was making him go crazy.
He was dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and worked with a psychiatrist provided by the
VA. A conversation regarding the veterans’ disability process – which does not allow vets to work
while filing a claim – disheartened Reader further. The filling process often takes up to 18 months
Reader found it hard to speak with civilian psychiatrists who had not undergone the experiences
that bothered him.
A counselor, Reader recalls, told him, “Well, you can cry and whine and complain about it or you
could do something about it.”
That had an impact on him. He said, “I’m not one to back down from a challenge, ever. I don’t like
being challenged but I always rise to the occasion – no one’s going to challenge me and not have
me do it.”
So, he called the VA and asked if he could go back to school. He wanted to become a veterans’
counselor. The minimum degree he would need, he found out, was a Master’s in social work.
He applied and was accepted into UVM’s social work program.
Reader turned down the Truman scholarship three times. Approached by different members of the
UVM faculty, he had explained he did not need the $30,000 offered to fund graduate school
because he was receiving help from the VA.
When the associate dean of the college of education and social services asked to see Reader, he
did as he was told. This time he decided he would apply.
Reader was selected as one of six being considered for nominations from the school. He underwent
an interview with UVM officials last fall and was one of two selected to represent Vermont.
A second application was required, much lengthier than the first, asking Reader to explain his
graduate plans and answer social questions. Nearly 600 applicants at that stage were whittled down
to 192 finalists.
Regional panels were set up and Reader traveled to MIT in Cambridge, Mass. to interview with
another group of judges.
“That was probably the most intensive interview process ever,” he said. Reader said the Truman
scholarship selection process is known for being tough, and the 20 minutes the interview took were
He said he spoke about the military and the Abenaki, his two greatest passions.
Later he found out that he had been chosen to receive the honor.
Yesterday Reader, his wife, and other Truman finalists met with acting UVM president John Bramley
and other university leaders.
Reader explained that in addition to scholarship money, being chosen as a Truman scholar
provides incredible opportunities. It is the most notable scholarship in the social sciences, he said,
dedicated to finding people that are potential future change agents. Truman recipients attend a
leadership week where they talk about public policy and network. In exchange for the honor, they
dedicate three years to public service.
Truman scholars stay in touch with each other, Reader said. Many U.S. House representatives are
Trumans and having the scholarship in your corner can prove very helpful. Rather than lobbying at
the local level and moving up the chain, Truman scholars have important connections.
Reader’s focus, naturally, is on changing policy surrounding the treatment and healthcare available
“Take for example the veteran’s disability process. Usually by the time something from overseas,
whether it’s physical or mental, is bothering a veteran to the point where they decide to seek VA
help and they decide to file for disability, they’re usually pretty down in the dumps,” he said.
“Usually these veterans aren’t working, and they have no source of income.”
He would like to see policies that support veterans’ programming and nonprofit funding that would
provide a stipend – perhaps the equivalent of Social Security payments – for veterans making their
way through the disability application process.
If people are willing to serve their country, he continued, they should be taken care of once they
leave the military.
“I have so many friends that have either committed suicide or attempted suicide since we came
home from Iraq, and every time that happens, Serviceman’s Group life insurance pays out
$450,000, and that comes from the taxpayers,” Reader said. That is ten times greater than a
$40,000 per year stipend.
“It sounds dark and grim but it’s the truth,” he continued. “In 2007, 6,527 veterans committed
suicide. That’s 2.3 per week, per state for the year.”
Reader added that 1 percent of those graduating with master’s degrees in social work are also
entered in veteran’s healthcare programs.
“It’s a field that needs help, and it’s a field that’s near and dear to my heart. I had my own issues
when I came home from overseas and I served my country. And if I hadn’t had certain people there
in my life at certain times it could’ve been very dark for me, too,” Reader explained.
Reader will graduate in May 2013. If accepted, he will pursue his master’s at UVM as well. That
program would be completed in three semesters. Then he plans to work in veterans’ counseling,
perhaps at the VA or at another area veterans’ program.
After that he will pursue his doctorate. The glitch there is that UVM does not offer a doctoral
program in social work, so he will try to find a distance-learning program.
Having seen nearly all 50 states and many other countries, Reader does not plan to leave
Highgate. His family and home are there, and he loves the tiny town.
The eventual goal is to apply for professorship at none other than UVM’s social work department,
and to advocate for a military social work graduate student curriculum there. That would provide an
excellent platform for change in public policy.
“The sky’s the limit from there,” he said.
Emotional ceremony recognizes 2 bands of Abenaki
April 22, 2011
An emotional bill signing Friday at the
Vt. Statehouse. Gov. Peter Shumlin
signed a law giving state recognition
to two bands of Abenakis. The ceremony
was met with tears, thanks and song.
"The signing of two pieces of legislation by our governor essentially washes away that very bad
history and recognizes the culture that has been with us long before the European settlers moved
to a place we call Vermont," said Sen. Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans Counties.
"The education you are going to give to your kids, the education you are going to give to us and
the ritual and the deep understanding of the earth and love you have brought us is fantastic," said
Sen. Hinda Miller, D-Chittenden County.
"And I would like to say to other tribes we are not done and we will see you right here soon enough.
No Abenaki left behind. Remember those who came before us, remember their lives, remember
their words and look down upon us and cheer... We did... We did..." said Luke Willard of the Vt.
Commission on Native American Affairs.
The state recognition will allow the bands to sell Native American arts and crafts, and children can
apply for certain college scholarships. The state recognition is not a precursor to federal
recognition and it forbids the bands from opening casinos or making land claims.
Some in the Abenaki community question the process and legitimacy of the tribes.
Anson Tebbetts - WCAX News
Vermont recognizes 2 Abenaki tribes
April 22, 2011
MONTPELIER, Vt.—Years after the first Abenaki Indians sought to be publicly recognized in
Vermont, the state on Friday granted recognition to two tribes: the Elnu Abenaki, based in
Windham County and the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation in northeastern Vermont.
Tweet Be the first to Tweet this!Submit to DiggdiggsdiggYahoo! Buzz ShareThis Gov. Peter Shumlin
signed the bills Friday, a step that could allow the tribes to sell their crafts as Indian-made and seek
federal education grants but means much more.
"Today we have stepped out of the darkness and into the light," said Don Stevens, of Shelburne,
chief of the Nulhegan Band, who along with others later celebrated with drumming on the
At least 1,700 Vermont residents say they are direct descendants of the Western Abenaki tribes
that inhabited all of Vermont and New Hampshire, and parts of Maine, Quebec and New York, for
hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans, according to a Vermont law that set up a
process for state recognition that passed in 2010. They include the Missisquoi and Cowasuck
Abenaki who farmed the river floodplains of Vermont at least as long ago as A.D. 1100s, the law
But in the 1930s, many Vermont residents of mixed French-Canadian and Native American
heritage, as well as poor, rural whites, were placed on a state-sanctioned list of "mental defectives"
and degenerates and placed in state institutions. Some had surgery after Gov. Stanley Wilson in
1931 won enactment of a sterilization law.
"Today marks a turning point, the signing of two pieces of legislations by our governor that
essentially washes away that very bad history and recognizes the culture that has been with us long
before the European settlers move to place that we now call Vermont," said state Sen. Vincent
Illuzzi, who has pushed for state recognition.
In signing the bills, Shumlin told a group of children surrounding him that his great-great-great-
grandfather was a native American man who could not talk about his heritage.
"So his photo stands in my living room as their tribute to an extraordinary man who could not talk
about his identity and today we sign these bills so that you can be proud of yours," he said.
In years past, the state has been reluctant to recognize Abenaki, fearing it could bolster one tribe's
bid to win federal recognition, which opponents said could lead to land claims and gambling
casinos. The Vermont attorney general's office also had questioned the St. Francis/Sokoki Band's
heritage in Vermont and opposed federal recognition, which the band was denied in 2007. Now that
band and at least one other one are seeking state recognition.
In their applications for state recognition, the tribes met certain criteria documented by membership
and records, which show they are descended from identified Vermont or regional Native people,
according to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, which recommended that the
Legislature grant recognition to the two tribes, under the new state law. The applications were
reviewed by independent scholars, the commission said.
But some in the Abenaki community have questioned the process for recognition, the experts and
the authenticity of the tribes.
"Vermont legislators passed a law establishing vague criteria that most any social club could pass
for recognition as an 'Indian tribe,' violating our rights for the sole purpose to 'sell crafts,'" said
Denise Watso of Abenaki First Nation in an email.
Illuzzi said critics have been unable to explain to him why it would hurt the state to recognize what
he described as tribes "that have existed here for generations but have been required to go
underground because of the eugenics movement and other anti-Indian sentiments of the past.
"Until they convince me otherwise I'm on board," he said.
Stevens said it's time for Abenaki people to put aside their differences and work together.
"People have different reasons for trying to oppose recognition. There's a lot of lateral violence out
there against different minority groups. All I have to say to any opponents is it's time to heal. The
nation needs to heal. Let's stop the white man's bickering and let's heal our nation and work
together," he said.
Vermont Grants Public Recognition To 2 Abenaki Tribes
‘Turning point’ In Legacy Stained By Eugenics Law
Lisa Rathke, Associated Press
April 23, 2011
MONTPELIER — Years after the first Abenaki Indians sought to be recognized publicly in Vermont,
the state yesterday granted recognition to two tribes: the Elnu Abenaki, based in Windham County,
and the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation in northeastern Vermont.
Governor Peter Shumlin signed the bills yesterday, a step that could allow the tribes to sell their
crafts as Indian-made and seek federal education grants but means much more.
“Today we have stepped out of the darkness and into the light,’’ said Don Stevens, of Shelburne,
chief of the Nulhegan Band, who along with others later celebrated with drumming on the State