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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Step 9 Forward Along the Yellow Brick Road of The Reinvented Abenakis of Vermont and New Hampshire:

Document 01: April 25, 1977. Indian Lecture Peaceful Despite Its Potential For Confrontation. Members of the alleged Vermont Abenaki tribe, Abenaki Confederation Chief Walter Watso, and representatives from the Vermont Sportsmen's Federation were on hand here Saturday to Gordon Day's lecture on "Culture of the Abenaki", yet the meeting was a peaceful one.
Walter Watso, who was appointed chief of the Sokoki, St. Francis, Becancour and Odenak bands of the reunited Abenakis Tribe, declared in a statement during the question session that the Abenaki had claim to more land than Day was allowing in his lecture. Day claimed tht he "would not be astonished" if that turned out to be true, be claimed as of this moment, they didn't have the actual evidence.

Document 02: May 16, 1977. Diversity of Indian interests expressed at final symposium. Abenaki tribal administrator Kent Ouimette struck out at the Vermont Governor's Office, the Press, and the Vermont Federation of Sportman's Clubs. Chairman of Humanities and Public Issues, Mrs. Oakes later expressed her "annoyance" and complained of a lack of a balanced presentation of the Abenaki issues. She said the speaker (Ouimette) attacked both the governor's office and the sportsmen's federation, and that those two groups should have been presented for rebuttal. But Jane R. Hanks, chairman of the Indian Heritage Committee and organizer of the month-long project, said that the whole presentation should not be judged by just one session--the only one attended by Mrs. Oakes. She said the Sportsmen's and Governor's viewpoints were presented at a session last month when ethnologist Gordon Day of Ottawa was the key speaker; he is considered the leading scholarly authority on the Abenakis.

Document 03: May 16, 1977 Page 15. Continuation of Document 02. Indian symposium. Kent Ouimette raised questions of aboriginal rights and of native rights of self- determination, which he said will be relevant to Vermont in the near future. Aboriginal land exists in New England he said, but it has not been fully identified. The Abenakis, Ouimette explained were a tribe of hunters and gatherers who had mixed with some of the early French explorers of Lake Champlain, so they did not "look like" other darker skinned tribes. They thus could be assimulated more easily. Yet those who kept their Indian identity found, when hard times struck Franklin County, Vermont in the 1960's, that they couldn't get any jobs. Unemployment among Abenakis grew to 60 to 75 percent, he said. After publicity surrounding the Wounded Knee incident, and the rising tide of Indian self-determination elsewhere, Abenakis began to re-emerge as a force in Vermont. Ouimette complained that Abenakis, who generally find work in seasonal construction jobs, are kept out of the cultural and social activities. When they re-emerged last year, he said, and there were hints that federal funds might be available, suddenly there were more Indians than anyone had imagined. So last January the tribe developed an enfranchisement procedure by which "legitimate" Abenakis were recognized. Based on genealogical records and the "gut" reaction of the tribe, members were either rejected, or accepted and given an identification card by a March 15, 1976 deadline. There are about 300 Abenakis thus identified, he said. Ouimette described the formal recognition extended last November by Gov. Thomas Salmon, and the revocation of that action January 29, 1977 by Governor Richard Snelling. "We really couldn't imagine the governor of Vermont being such a political animal that he would succumb to the strong pressures of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen," Ouimette said, "He did the easy thing," the Abenaki leader said, terming Snelling's move "executive genocide." The sportsmen's group is concerned about the Abenakis' request for unlimited hunting and fishing privileges, Ouimette said, complaining that the press, and in particular John Randolph's Vermont Sportsmen, had exaggerated the number of Indians that would be so privileged, and that the paper and other had "sensationalized" the situation. Ouimette siad there would be no more that 230 male Abenakis with these privileges. he noted that the Cree of Quebec have been given exclusive hunting and fishing rights. The Abenakis want only to be treated with "dignity and respect," Ouimette said. Asked what other goals the tribe has, he mentioned that they would like to change a reference to Indians i na textbook used in the Swanton school.

Document 04: June 29, 1977. Nashua Telegraph Newspaper. Vermont Head Of Abenaki Indians Reviews Situation. "With the help of a genealogist, lines of descent and backgrounds are being traced. With more than 326 Indians already identified, Ouimette estimates the total Abenaki population in northern Vermont will peak at about 500. What it comes down to is this, Ouimette says. We'd like to win the next war. And we'd like to do it with Springfield rifles if that's what the other side is using. The battle has begun. The Abenakis are arming themselves, not with rifles, but with grant proposals. They are negotiating for their future.

Document 05: October 22, 1977. Montpelier Memo. Dessent: newest foe of Abenaki rights. Political dissent is considered a healthy aspect of the American democratic system, but it can have a disasterous effect on minority groups who must be unified for their cause....But a recent political split with the tribe, which appears irreconcilable at this point, will surely not make matters any easier. Kent Ouimette, who had helped St. Francis oust Wayne Hoague, himself decided to split off from St. Francis’s group. He left his position as administrator of the St. Francis band and joined the “Missisquoi Council,” headed by Chief Arthur ‘Bill’ Seymour (Burlington Free Press 10/21/1977). Ouimette wrote to Governor Snelling, saying, "Some of us have found that the present governmental structure of the St. Francis band is incapable of protecting the constitutional rights of the individual, to say nothing of aboriginal rights." (Burlington Free Press 10/21/1977). In fact three of the original organizers broke off in 1977 to form separate groups claiming to represent Vermont Abenakis (Wiseman 2001:157). In 1979, another dissenter, Richard Phillips, also broke away and formed a separate group, The Eastern Woodlands Band of the Abenaki Nation (Petition:131). On September 13, 1977, Homer St. Francis, chief of the Abenaki Tribal Council, fired Kent Ouimette from his job as administrator of the council. Both Homer St. Francis and Kent Ouimette agree that the firing was due to "internal politics," but that is apparently all they find in common about the sistuation. A group of Indians then began to discuss "alternatives," and on September 28, 1977 Ouimette said he recieved a letter from Homer St. Francis that he had been "banished" from the Abenaki Indian Nation of Vermont. He said he was told he had 30 days in which to appeal. Ouimette said he considered the banishment a "joke", because he said there was no explanation given, nor is there an provisioin with thin the Abenaki laws which allows for the exile, or banishment, of any member. "It's like being banished from your race," he said. Subsequently, a number of Indians formed the Missisquoi Band of the Abenaki Nation, and chose Ouimette as their spokesman. Again, like I said before on this blog, its like a "Herpes Virus syndrome type dynamic" that keeps happening. "Groups" which Incorporate, disagreements happen, the "Group" which Incorporated, and another split-off "Group" of alleged Abenakis create another "Inc." "We considered the leadership of the other tribe to be a power hungry mob, a dictatorship," he said. "We had to have an alternative for the Abenakis to maintain their identity without being subordinate to an oppressive government." Ouimette said he may have been banished because he was considered "dangerous" since has said he often objected to the council's politics and was "the most public person." However, Ouimette said the banishment was indicative of any number of incidents which led to his disillusionment with the Abenaki Tribal Council. Homer St. Francis and his group, however, claim they are the only legitimate leaders of the Abenaki Indians in Vermont. At a meeting this week with the Indian Affairs Commission, Homer St. Francis produced a statement from Abenaki Chief Walter Watso of the Odanak reserve in Quebec. Walter Watso said that only St. Francis group represented the "true" Abenaki Indians of Vermont. Kent Ouimette, however, said Walter Watso was only interferring with the internal politics of another tribe, and had no authority to declare who was a true Abenaki. According to Ouimette, the main differences between the groups are their attitudes. He said the Abenaki Tribal Council has a more "vindictive" approach. "We're more concerned with restitution that retribution. We're not interested in getting even with society."

Document 06: October 26, 1977 Bennington Banner Newspaper Page 07. Abenakis Accuse Snelling. Vermont's Abenaki Tribal Council has accused Gov. Richard Snelling of trying to make political hay by pitting Indians against Indians. In a statement released Tuesday, the council said the Abenaki Indian Nation has 400 to 450 members--not the 200 that Snelling has estimated. The council also said there are 1,700 Indians in the entire state. The council and the governor have been at odds over whether the Indians are getting enough help from federal authorities. Snelling has said the Abenakis are doing well in getting federal assistance, but the council says the governor is trying to take political advantage of dissension among Indian leaders.

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