Vermont Indian Commission Chair provides final perspective
May 20, 2010
Kwai Kwai Nidobak! (Greetings, Friends!)
I owe gici oliwni (great thanks) to everyone who helped make my tenure as a Member and then the
Chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs (VCNAA) as productive as I was able
to make it. In particular, while the counsel and comfort I received at low points was deeply
appreciated, the constructive criticism I received when I made mistakes was even more helpful in my
In my role as Commissioner, I have done my best to promote and practice a fair, open, and
democratic process. This has always been my approach, and I believe that this played a part in
Governor Jim Douglas appointing me to the VCNAA and then to the lead role as Chair.
As I said after that promotion, I did my best to “create a door so other people can walk through it.” I
also noted: “If the bands get recognition and the Commission gets empowered, then I’ve done my
I have pursued these goals over the decades of my work for N’dakinna (Vermont) Native Peoples. I
and many others were very upset that S.117 didn’t pass the muster of the Arts and Crafts Board of
the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The minimal acknowledgement of Abenaki as Native Americans that
the 2006 bill granted was only half a loaf.
This year’s work on S.222 has, I hope, given us another quarter of a loaf and gotten us that much
closer to what we need and rightfully deserve as Indians. Although this law still leaves much work to
be done, it does give N’dakinna’s aboriginal Peoples a clear process for gaining recognition,
something the previous law did not.
It seems clear from what I’ve seen and heard that there is a great deal of energy and perseverance
from both the State of Vermont and her Natives that the holes will be filled in a thoughtful and
Likewise, as new people apply to reform the Native Affairs Commission, I hope that they are chosen
for their dedication and driving vision to better all aspects of Vermont Indians’ lives. I believe that it
is crucial that the incoming Commissioners want to help heal wounds and dysfunctions in the Native
To be strong Peoples, we must stand up for each other and not pursue deep-seated acrimony and
vendettas. When we do this, we play perfectly into the wishes of those who would keep us from our
just rights. Getting us to betray and denounce our relations fractures us into smaller and smaller,
often isolated, groups that are more easily manipulated.
An illustration of this is the example of what drew me back into Abenaki activism. In 2008, out of the
blue, and two years after S.117 passed and I retired from the political scene, I got a call from the
BIA’s Arts and Crafts Board. The lawyer on the other end of the line wanted me to give up the
names and other information of Vermont Abenaki craftspeople. He was after Abenaki individuals he
could add to his prosecution list for creating crafts that in any way identified as Indian.
At that time, another Indian recognition bill, S.369, was being considered in the Legislature. This
was meant to fix the problems of S.117, particularly the BIA decision that it did not pass muster for
arts and crafts laws.
I told the BIA representative that I thought it highly inappropriate for the federal government to be
antagonizing the situation while our State was doing its best to remedy the problem. I also told him
that there was no way I was giving him names and that if he wanted to pursue the matter, he
needed a court order.
Immediately, I let the VCNAA know about the incident, and slowly I let my work for my fellow Natives
expand to include politics again. The trust people invested in me as I walked the path from there to
here humbles me. I hope that what I have been able to give back was worthy of that support.
In order to enable the Native American Commission to have a new, level playing field, I encouraged
wording in S.222 to bring about the needed change of the sitting Commission. One has power by
giving it away.
When the new Members pick up the torch of the VCNAA’s work, I hope that there are many young
people as well as Elders. Including people from around the State and from different groups is also
important. In this way, we would have the intrepid go-to-it-tiveness of the up and coming generation,
most of whose lives are still in the future. We would have the wisdom and long view of the Old Ones
who have seen many things, including the need to live in a way that is healthy and sustainable unto
the Seventh Generation. And we would hear the voices of the many varied cultures of our Peoples
and places. Many new voices can make for better conversation.
As for myself, although I now leave as your Chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American
Affairs, I hope to continue working with all of you for a better day for all indigenous Peoples. I will
also continue my long-standing role as a representative and activist for the Moskitia Communitarian
Nation on Central America’s Atlantic Coast; and I will remain a participant, as I am able, with the
United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples.
Again, oliwni (thank you) for this opportunity to serve you, and get to know so many of you so much