Thomas Obomsawin, PO Box 184, N. Stratford, NH 03590 603-922-5544 Richard O'Bomsawin, Awassos Street, Odanak PQ JOG-1H0 514-568-0869 Patricia Benedict, 123 Wayland Ave, Waterbury, CT 06780 203-754-0039
Fiscal Sponsor: Nidôbak, Inc., U.S. Federal Tax Identification # 02-0494095
Alsigunticook Nation of Abenakis requests funding to pursue a legal challenge to industrial forestry practices in the northern forest region of northern New Hampshire, western Maine and northeastern Vermont. This challenge will take the form of a claim against title to the headwaters area of the Connecticut and Androscoggin Rivers held primarily by Champion International and Mead-Oxford Corporations. We are a federally recognized group representing the direct descendants of the St. Francis Indians, or Odanak Abenakis, recognized historically as the Native people whose territory extends from the Kennebec River watershed in Maine to Lake Champlain and Southern Quebec.
Our vast territory has been systematically deforested over the past two hundred years. The last areas of wild land within that territory are in greater danger than at any other time in history. Industrial forestry is rapidly destroying what is left through massive clearcutting. Toxic herbicides are applied by helicopter to encourage growth of a biologically simplified monocultural forest of softwoods - the trees most desired for paper production. Drastic erosion, leaching of soil nutrients, water pollution and loss of sensitive species have accompanied this form of forest management. Years of effort by the environmental community have failed to bring about the fundamental changes in forest policy critical to the survival of the northern forest ecosystem.
The northeastern forest is central to Abenaki culture and way of life. Without its survival, in its natural complexity, our traditions and our identity as a people will not survive. We depend on the land, plants and creatures, and they depend on us to live responsibly with them. Until European contact, the forest and our people lived in harmony.
Our goal is to win the return of the remaining nearly wild areas of our territory through a legal challenge to illegal land title held by the region's largest landowners- the forest products industry. To ensure that any reclaimed land will be protected during our lifetimes and forever, by our descendants, we have made a commitment to any forest land returned to us which includes: (1) A ban all commercial logging activities on our territory indefinitely; (2) A ban on the release of pesticides and other pollutants; (3) restoration of polluted areas and aiding the natural return of all indigenous species; (4) Limiting hunting, fishing, gathering wild foods, fuel, and building materials to what is required for subsistence purposes only; (5) Limiting motorized access to the land. hi addition, Alsigunticook will not accept any settlement which exchanges money for land, our goal is to protect our land, not to sell it.
Cindy Hill, Esq., an experienced environmental attorney well versed in Federal Indian Law, has completed an initial assessment of existing land titles and formulation of
We request funding to complete legal research and litigate through the first Federal District Court (a flat fee of $50,000 US). At this time, applications for funding are pending to the Foundation For Deep Ecology and Sweetwater Trust. We are also seeking funding for grass-roots organizing, public education and administration for the implementation of this project.
Who are we?
We are direct descendants of the historic Saint Francis Indians, known today as the Odanak Abenaki. Our territory traditionally stretches hundreds of miles from the St. Lawrence river as far south as Massachusetts and from the Kennebec River in Maine the Lake Champlain, however, the past four centuries of European contact have left us a reservation a mere one mile by four miles in size. Close to the mouth of the St. Francis River in Quebec Province, this reservation is known today as Odanak. The traditional name for our village, and the St. Francis River, is Alsigunticook. The Alsigunticook Nation of Abenakis are members of the federally recognized Abenakis of Odanak who are banded together in our ancient tradition. Our Land Claims committee has been recognized and endorsed by the Chief and Band Council of Odanak. (see attached)
Abenaki tradition teaches that the natural world is sacred, and that we have a duty to protect the earth and our people. Our land, although it has been subject to gross exploitation since European contact began, is in greater danger now than at any other time in history. The last large areas of forest land are quickly disappearing because of the activities of a handful of large paper and lumber companies and individuals who value nothing except profit. Toxic herbicides are applied by helicopter to encourage growth of a biologically simplified forest of fir, spruce and jack pine, trees most desirable for paper production. The natural integrity of the forest is devastated, and thousands of species of plants and animals are extinct or in danger as a result of this management. The thin topsoil of our region, which took thousands of years to accumulate, is being washed downstream, and what soil remains is subject to severe nutrient depletion and other changes caused by exposure and the application of herbicides. Because the soil now lacks the capacity to support natural regeneration, the forest products industry in Maine has begun to apply municipal sludge and hazardous mill wastes to forest lands as fertilizer. The NH legislature is considering allowing the same practice. Water contamination is widespread, a direct result of industrial forestry practices.
If the northern forest disappears, our culture, our traditions, and existence as a people will disappear too. The best efforts of Native and non-Native environmentalists to alert state and local governments to this critical situation have failed- the forest products industry is too powerful a force politically. Our territory must be protected and allowed to begin the long process of healing and regeneration. Our legal challenge to industry's ownership of our land is one of our only options. Our committee has identified an area of our illegally ceded territory that most closely resembles unbroken wild land, the northern forest area of eastern Vermont, northern New Hampshire, and western Maine.
Without the same connection to the land, European colonists and the parent governments only saw resources ripe for exploitation, including furs, minerals, timber and potential farm land, of an abundance not seen on their continent for millennia. The French were the first Europeans to contact the Abenaki, sailing up the St. Lawrence in the early 1500s. They were initially interested in establishing a trade in furs and in converting our people to Christianity. By the early 1600s.. the English had become a presence to the south. Their interest was in timber, especially the giant white pines, known to our people as Kchi Koasak. White Pine was especially valuable to the ship-building industry. For two hundred years white pines were cut until not one of the original trees were left, anywhere. The English government eventually established colonies to control the exploitation of our resources. The majority of Abenakis fiercely resisted this invasion of our territory. As a result, sizable bounties were placed on Abenaki scalps by the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the New Hampshire Colony. These bounties remained in effect throughout the 1700s.
By the mid 1700s, what is now southern New England was deforested and hundreds of thousands of Native People had been slaughtered or dead from disease. Many survivors had fled north to the Coös region and Alsigunticook (St. Francis/Odanak). Coös or Koas (named for the giant white pines that grew abundantly here) is a large region including northeast central Vermont, northern New Hampshire and northwestern Maine, and extending 50 miles into southern Quebec. This region remained under Abenaki control until the end of the 1700s. Abenaki families traveled freely within the territory, maintaining hunting and fishing territories in the Koas region. The name survives today in northern New Hampshire's "Coös County". Attempts at English settlement of Koas were beaten back repeatedly.
Fraudulent Land Sales
In 1790, the US Congress enacted legislation commonly known as the Trade and Intercourse Act. The Act made illegal any purchase of land from Indians except by the Federal Government, and was in part an effort to prevent any more wars with the Indian inhabitants. From that point on, purchase of Indian land by individuals and individual states was a violation of Federal law.
In 1796 four land and timber speculators approached an aging Abenaki leader by the name of Philip Metallak, known regionally by the white settlers as "King Philip". They induced him to sign a deed relinquishing title to the majority of the Koas region (see
During the early 1800s the deforestation of the Koas region was begun in earnest by the Connecticut River Valley lumber company. White pine was the first to be completely decimated, followed by oak, maple, birch, spruce and fir in order of profitability. Abenaki people watched in horror but could not prevent two centuries of assault on the integrity of the land of our ancestors. By the beginning of the twentieth century most of our territory had been completely stripped of timber. We estimate that most of the Koas region has been deforested at least twice, by a succession of different companies. At present, Mead-Oxford and Champion International are the largest landowners in the area. Champion International has recently announced the sale of all its Vermont holdings and 50,000 acres in New Hampshire. Both companies are currently clearcutting thousands of acres of forested land in this region.
The northern forest ecosystem is already struggling to recover from two centuries of deforestation. Industrial forestry has had a devastating impact on the natural recovery process because of loss of soil nutrients, altered soil microbiology, erosion of topsoil, water pollution, and loss of sensitive species.
Our people can no longer tolerate the loss of our land. Because all aspects of traditional Abenaki culture are intertwined with the survival of our northern forest homeland, our cultural survival is now at stake. Fish, game, berries, other traditional foods, and the water, are contaminated with toxic residues from aerial spraying and hazardous waste. Many of the plants our people have depended on for millennia for food, dyes, cooking utensils, medicines and other needs are disappearing. The areas where sacred plants once grew are filled with ruts and rocks from logging operations. Where can someone find a white birch large enough to make one of the canoes that this region is famous for? Or any tree with bark enough to cover a lodge? As these living things are gradually destroyed, so too is the knowledge and appreciation of their gifts lost to our children, forever. We recognize that the fate of our land is our fate, our only hope for fundamental change is to reclaim industry's title to the land they are destroying and implement a policy that will allow our forests to recover and regenerate.
Throughout Indian Country, traditional Indian people have made the same decision, to organize and stop the destruction of our land before it is too late for us and our future generations. What industry does not understand is that they have been taking not only our, and our future generations' share of the Earth's bounty, but everyone else's share as well. Soon the last remaining forests will disappear, without being able to recover, leaving a very bleak future all races of people fixing in our country.
We would like to see our forests returned to their original balance, a process which may take many life-times to accomplish. To begin this healing, our land must be freed from the vicious cycle of profit-making. In 1996, representatives of a number of Alsigunticook families came together to discuss the severity of the situation, and to consider possible strategic approaches. We saw the necessity of a clear statement of our purpose, to ensure that our land will be protected from further exploitation during our lifetimes, and also forever, by our descendants (below). The second step was the formation of a Land Claims committee to pursue these goals. Our commitment to any forest territory returned to us is as follows:
1. Ban all commercial logging activities on our territory indefinitely.
2. Ban all release of pesticides and other environmentally harmful chemicals and substances on our territory. Restore polluted areas as thoroughly as possible.
3. Facilitate the natural return of all indigenous species of flora and fauna.
4. Hunting and fishing shall be for subsistence purposes only.
5. Gathering of wild foods, fuel, building materials, etc. shall be for subsistence purposes only and for producing traditionally made goods.
6. No new roads will be built on our territory. Motorized access to remaining roads will be severely limited.
7. Our land is not for sale: we will not accept money in exchange for land.
1. Legal Strategy
In early 1997 the Land Claims committee raised $1000 in donations from family members to retain Cindy Hill, Esq., of Middlebury, VT., a well respected environmental attorney who is also knowledgeable of Federal Indian Law. Ms. Hill conducted a preliminary investigation of the validity of land titles in northeastern Vermont, northern New Hampshire and northwestern Maine, and made recommendations on several strategies based on her findings. Under the relevant sections of US Federal Indian law, she found that transfer of ownership from the St. Francis Indians/Alsigunticook (the Abenaki at Odanak) to colonial era settlers was illegal, as is all title stemming from these transfers. Specifically, the "Phillips Deed" of 1796 and "Bedel's Grant" of 1798 are in clear violation of the Federal Trade and Intercourse Act, which states that any transfer of land title from "Indians" shall be negotiated by the federal government only and that transfers to individuals or states independently are null and void. In addition, she found that critical elements here resemble those in other precedent setting, successful land claim cases, specifically Passamaquoddy v. Morton (Maine) and Oneida Nation v. County of Oneida
2. Public Education:
Public Education is an additional, and crucial, aspect of the proposed action. Two distinct communities must be educated about our position and the reasons for the legal action being filed. Until now, the larger environmental organizations, the local northern forest communities, and the continent wide network of traditional Native American groups fighting for land protection have rarely communicated closely or worked together effectively. It is our intention to involve all three communities in the proposed action through clear communication about the impact of industrial forestry on the northern forest and about our goals through the media, in writing, and in person.
We believe that the economic, political, and environmental climate at this point in time is such that both local communities and the larger environmental community are potential supporters of our claim. After years of efforts at forest policy reform, both individuals and representatives of a number of environmental groups have indicated privately that they view our approach as a realistic option and would support us. The growing strength of the traditional Native movement to protect the earth has added to this level of awareness of the non-Native environmental community. Expanding this dialogue is essential to maintain this understanding.
A growing number of north country residents are very concerned about the destructive way forest lands are being managed regionally. Support for the proposed ban on clearcutting in Maine, for legislation against heavy cutting in Vermont, and the ban on herbicide applications in forestry in Vermont are all indicators of public concern about what is happening to the northern forest. The growing movement against herbicide use in forestry in New Hampshire is based in north country communities most affected by the spraying, and has been critical in raising fundamental questions about industrial forest management in this state. Alsigunticook Abenakis have been an active part of these movements. In addition, many members of northern forest communities have Native ancestors, identify as "part Indian", have passed down centuries of knowledge about the land within their families, and feel culturally connected to the fate of the forest. As long as our intentions are clearly communicated, there is significant potential for local support of our goals. Through communication and example, we hope to change the way all communities in our region live on the land we all depend on for survival.
Based on her initial investigation, Ms. Hill has expressed interest in representing Alsigunticook Abenakis in the proposed action. She has agreed to represent us through to the end of a definitive judgment of the first circuit US Federal District Court
As a traditional and sovereign group, Alsigunticook is not and can not be incorporated in any state or province. For the purposes of this request, Nidôbak, Inc., a New Hampshire non-profit corporation, has agreed to act as our fiscal sponsor (please see attached letter).
Initial Investigation and recommendations on the feasibility of a Claim of Rights and Title by the Alsigunticook/Abenaki Nation to unceeded forest land in northern Vermont, New Hampshire, northwestern Maine and southern Quebec.
Litigate through first Federal District Court (approx. 3 years): 25,000
Filing Fees and related court costs.: 25,000
Media informational announcements, and
Press Conferences: 20,000
Consultants (per year)
Media Coordinator: 12,000
Newsletter Coordinator: 12,000
Project Coordinator: 16,000
Newsletter Publication and Distribution: 2,000
Computer Expenses: 3,000
Supplies: 2,000 Networking
Grand Total: $148,000
COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
September 14, 1998
P.O. Box 184
North Stratford NH 03590
Thank you for the update on the Abenaki land issue, as to liability of court costs; yes, it is possible that, should the case be lost, the other side would seek court costs. Although it is unlikely that a court would order all the individuals involved in this type of action to actually pay it is indeed possible (as opposed to probable.)
There is also a possibility of a counter-suit, popularly called a SLAPP suit (although I can't recall off hand what the acronym is for) alleging things like tortuous interference with private contracts. You will have to collectively decide whether it is time to take the rope in your teeth and jump over the side. I do feel strongly about the merits of your claim, but make no mistake about it - it may hurt, and it involves taking big risks.
As to the NARF materials, I get the sense that any funding from them would come with serious strings attached. My experience with this type of funding resource. Albeit in other areas of law, has not been favorable, even if specific requirements are not stated up front they tend to appear later coupled with the threat to withdraw funding. I would guess that straight-up fund-raising from a variety of diverse sources, so that everyone involved and benefitting from the suit would have a stake in it, would be best in the long run. Do you have a head count on the number of people in the families listed? Even $20.00 from each person would get this action underway, without being indebted to an outside organization. I realize this is easier said than done, but it's one possible solution. I suspect once we got filed, other donations would come in. Keep me posted.
Why wasn't Metallak one of the signer's on his alleged father Old Indian Philip's Land Grant of June 28th 1796?
Metallak was well known to MANY people, non-native and native throughout the geographical area.
Why didn't the alleged fact, that Metallak was "the son of" Indian Philip of Coos County, New Hampshire?
According to Winifred Yaratz book page 2 (of which I have labeled as "Z19.jpg" "someone" has alleged that Metallack and Antoine Phillips Sr. were siblings. Both were the children of Old Indian Philip and his wife Molly Messel/ Missile (Marie Mitchell). So, Metallak was born in ca. 1730. If Antoine Phillips were a son of Old Indian Philip, born in ca. 1787, that boy would have been around 8 to 10 years old. Yet, both women who were documented Angelique Joseph (Mooseleck Sussop) and Mary Messell, were both in their elderly years, seemingly far past their child-bearing years of life. So again, a lot of supposition and conjecture and not much substantiation or convincing evidence that Antoine Phillips Sr. born in ca. 1787 was the son of Philip the Indian, who signed the Land Grant of June 28th, 1796. Of course Metallak, could have been "away" (it is written in Alice Daley Noyes book Prince of Darkness on Page 63) that in 1800 Louis Wawanolette "wintered at Double Pont in Salem, VT with Metallak". In all the writings concerning Old Indian Philp of Coos County, Metallak, or about these two women, it would appear that no one mentioned or indicated "young people" living with or around these "elderly Abenakis". Why not? Old Phillip "the last of...." Metallak "the last of...." Well, people get the picture.... Where were the Upper Coos Abenakis? Apparently they went to Odanak, Quebec, Canada and points west.... BEFORE June 28, 1796 and "old Indian Philip" and Metallak were simply Native People who were left behind in the Coos region, to live out their remaining elderly years.