Sunday, 15 April 2007
Abenaki Seek Clearer Rules on Selling Crafts
Burlington Free Press
Published: Sunday, April 15, 2007
By Terri Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer
MONTPELIER -- Frustrated because they believe a year-old state law doesn't fill one of the chief goals the Abenaki sought, members
of a state commission are turning back to the Legislature for help.
A law recognizing Abenakis as a minority population in Vermont doesn't go far enough to meet federal laws governing the marketing
of arts and crafts as Abenaki-made, said Mark Mitchell, an Abenaki from Barnet who is chairman of the Vermont Commission on
Native American Affairs.
Although the law states that one of its purposes is to help American Indians in Vermont sell their arts and crafts as native made, it
speaks in general terms about recognition of the Abenaki.
The law reads: "The state of Vermont recognizes the Abenaki people and recognizes all Native American people who reside in
Vermont as a minority population."
William Griffin, chief assistant state attorney general, has told the commission that it doesn't need to recognize specific tribes, but
instead can set up a protocol to approve individual artists.
Mitchell disagrees with Griffin, contending such a system would put artists at odds with the 1990 federal law that's designed to protect
the integrity of American Indian artwork by stipulating that only those from officially recognized tribes may sell their work as such.
Meredith Stanton, executive director of the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Board, backed up his claim.
"This individual recognition is not in keeping with what we've dealt with," she said. "The state of Vermont's approach is not typical of
how other states recognize tribes."
"This recognizes that there are Indians in the state of Vermont, but it doesn't tell anybody who they are," said Ken Van Wey, program
assistant at the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. "If pretty much anyone with a driver's license who goes through one or two hoops can be
an artisan, it would dilute the value."
Mitchell hopes he can persuade legislators to go back and specify that the commission is vested with the authority to recognize
specific tribes. That language was in the bill early in the process last year, but was removed before it passed over concerns that
granting recognition to tribes could give the tribe a new argument for federal recognition, which some fear could lead to land claims
that have been made in other states.
"I realized once it got changed it wouldn't amount to anything," said Sen. Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex/Orleans. "That's why I wasn't jumping
up and down with exuberance when the bill was signed into law."
Rep. Carolyn Branagan, R-Georgia, is having an amendment to the law drafted, but said she doesn't think it's needed. "I thought what
the bill did was enough," she said. "I'm hoping a solution can be worked out. An amendment is a last resort."
"We tried very hard to make it so the commission could take the steps appropriate," said Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, the
sponsor of last year's legislation. "This is a very complex issue in terms of law and there's a very human side to it that's very
emotional," she said.
Despite the shortcomings he sees in the law, Mitchell said he thinks it's been beneficial. "I look at it as a good law," he said. "The
biggest thing it's done is a more healthy dialogue between the native community and the state. Your voice is heard a little more today.
There is no dispute of whether the Abenaki people exist in Vermont."
Contact Terri Hallenbeck at 229-4126 or email@example.com