...of the Koas in Newbury, even as she and fellow Abenaki acknowledged the bill was not quite what they had hoped for.
"It's not what we wanted," said Fred Wiseman of Swanton, tribal historian for the Missisquoi band of the Abenaki who helped negotiate the bill (and who created the recognition criteria for such bill) , but he added, "We're satisfied."
Sen. Hinda Miller, D-Chittenden, who started the renewed effort to solve the recognition conundrum, summed up why the issue is so difficult. "It's not only legislation and a bill," she said. "It deals with the hearts and souls of people."
Efforts to gain recognition as an American Indian tribe have eluded the Abenaki for generations. The federal government turned down applications for official recognition. (No, that is not true. There was ONLY 1 group...who applied for Federal Recognition. That Swanton, VT incorporate group took their application "off the BIA table" and merely some years later....put that same application for Federal Recognition "back on the BIA table"; and were subsequently denied Federal Acknowledgment because April St. Francis-Merrill, Federick M. Wiseman, nor John Moody could not validate their claims of being Abenaki let alone Native Americans regarding their submitted historical, social or genealogical documention) .
State recognition has seen fleeting success followed by bitter disappointment. Recognition granted in November 1976 was rescinded in early 1977. (Such State Gov. Proclamation/ State Recognition was rescinded because Gov. Thomas Salmon was attempting to give a Thanksgiving present back to the alleged and re-invented "Abenakis" led by then Homer St. Francis, Sr. WITHOUT any genealogical foundations as to their claims of being legitimately Abenakis) A 2006 law, heralded with a celebration on the Statehouse lawn, ended up not meeting federal rules that would allow Abenaki to sell arts and crafts as native-made. A 2008 effort to fix the 2006 law fizzled.
Last summer, Miller, a veteran of the 2006 and 2008 efforts, hosted a potluck dinner with representatives of four core Abenaki groups and several legislators to launch a new effort. Nothing like harassing the Legislature every other year eh. "Just like a child who keeps asking Mommy for a cookie, and hopefully Mommy relents and gives the cookie to the screaming child. The only problem is...once the cookie is gone, the child (these Inc.'d groups a.k.a. "VT Abenaki Alliance" will scream for more MORE MORE. State and Federally.
Driven by shared frustrations with the 2006, the four Abenaki tribes -- the Missisquoi, the Koasek Traditional Band, the Nulhegan Band and the Elnu -- had formed a coalition called the Alliance. The plan was to craft legislation that would grant recognition to those tribes based on their stature in Vermont. (Again, this statement is NOT TRUE, the State of VT Recognition of these 4 groups of alleged and re-invented "Abenakis," would be based solely on their INCORPORATE status with the state of Vermont, under the laws of the state; and NOT based on clear and convincing genealogical documentary evidence of these group's....or their members....actually being from the Abenaki Ancestors).
The Senate passed such a bill in March, sending it the House.
Ram runs into a firestorm
When Kesha Ram was elected to the House in 2008, she asked to be assigned to the House General, Housing and Millitary Affairs Committee in hopes of tackling the Abenaki recognition issue. With a father from India and mother of European descent, Ram said her own heritage and upbringing in California have given her a drive to fight for minority rights.
She said she studied up on the history of the Vermont Abenaki, but was sensitive to the fact that tthe issue long preceded her. "I knew some of this has affected their identity longer than I have been alive," she said.
She has no qualms, however, about raising concerns she had with the Senate bill when it arrived in her House committee. Have the Legislature grant recognition to four tribes would not meet the federal arts and crafts standards, she argued, because the criteria established was not specific enough.
Ram and her fellow committee members also heard complaints from other Abenakis who are not part of the Alliance that they would shut out if the Senate bill became law. The committee quickly became hip-deep in the complexities hat have made this issue so difficult to solve: There is deep-seeded mistrust among various Abenaki tribes about who is really Abenaki and who deserves recognition.
Actually these alleged Abenaki tribes are still incorporated groups, sanctioned by the State Secretary's Office, and NOTHING MORE THAN THAT at this time, until it can be determined IF these or any of these groups are legitimately "Abenaki Tribes". A commission created by the 2006 law was riddled with paralyzing distrust. No, the only distrust that was coming from the VNAA (commission) was from the appointed Chairperson's and this so-called Alliance! There was no distrust coming from anyone else, other than the fact that the members of the VNCAA were fighting for fairness and transparency of the recognition process for all Native People's residing in Vermont. Kesha Ram also fought for "fairness and transparency" in the Recognition process "for the Abenakis".
Ram said the committee tried to turn to neutral sources for information, looking at other state's recognition laws and turning to anyone else for expertise. Everyone had a particular interest," she said. These efforts infuriated the Alliance, whose members suddenly felt they were being left out. Of course, the so-called Abenaki Alliance, like the screaming upset child, wanted their cookie, NOW, not later. It's called "instantaneous gratification" or Instantaneous Recogniton that this "Abenaki Alliance" wanted, without any protest or hesitation (or review) from anyone. Wiseman, a humanities professor at Johnson State College as well as tribal historian, siad his work as a scholar was under fire.
"I was angry, I was frustrated," said Wiseman, an outwardly calm man whose demeanor seems to match his name. Really, not according to what I have read, of his so-called "scholarly work." "My research was called into question for the first time in my career." Really? Because usually the "scholarly work" of any PhD is usually called into question repeatedly by others. It's called "Peer Review" and as an scholar, Wiseman Sr. should expect that his "scholarly work" would be called into question, by anyone.
Don Stevens, a Missisquoi Abenaki from Shelburne who is former chairman of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, sent an email to other legislators seeking to kill the bill Ram and the rest of her committee had rewritten before it reached the House floor. That was because he is April St. Francis-Merrill's "stooge" "puppet" and it was "I want it all, or NOTHING at all." The "Alliance" wants "instantaneous recognition" without genealogical evidence of their group or their members have to prove legitimately anything, especially where it concerns genealogical connection, to the Abenakis.
"We thought we had been hoodwinked," Don Stevens said. No, the only "hoodwinking" that has been going on (and continues to this day), is from the very so-called "Abenaki Alliance" that Mr. Donald Warren Stevens Jr. himself belongs to, and adovcates for.
Rep. Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury, a member of the House committee, said much of the anger was generated because a proposed bill circulated and was thrown out of proportion. It contained ideas about criteria for recogntion that hadn't yet been considered and weren't necessarily going to survive, he said.
The Alliance's angry reaction spread quickly on the Internet, with Ram as the central target. "I had a lot of hostility aimed at me that made it difficult to keep engaging," Ram said. "There were a lot of moments that were hard for me to handle."
It looked very much like the bill would die. It didn't.
The last 5 years
Despite their anger and sense of betrayal, Wiseman and Don Stevens said they kept coming back to the fact that they really wanted to find a way for Abenaki to sell their arts and crafts as native-made, a marketing advantage the federal government allows only for those in recognized tribes.
"My goal was to see this through," Wiseman said. Based on his own created recognition criteria and manipulation of the recognition process itself. "I've been in this game since 1993." There these people again, calling this Recogntion Process a game. Native Identity and Sovereignty Issues are NOT a game. Of course, to these 4 incorporations "it is a game" because they are already under the laws of the state of Vermont and or New Hampshire, and these groups want their instantaneous gratification of VT-NH State Recognition, the sooner the better for them, so these groups can suck more Grant Monies from any State or Federal sources that they can. It's grand to be paid-to-be-Abenaki these days. It's all about the $$$$. Selling their alleged Abenaki Culture and Heritage to the highest buyer.
Anyone who thought Ram would give up, underestimated her tanacity. She was surrouned by others who wanted the bill to succeed -- her own committee and her roommate in Montpelier, Rep. Kate Webb, D-Shelburne, who was attuned to the issue on behalf of constituent Don Stevens.
When the Alliance would no longer work with Ram, they turned to Webb and Reps. Michael Consejo and Carolyn Branagan, whose Franklin County districts include the Missisquoi Abenaki.
"There just was this incredible miscommunication about what people were doing," Webb said. "My role was to keep everybody playing."
Running out of time as the Legislature;s adjourment neared, they kept playing even if they didn't particularly like all their playmates.
Within a week's time, they settled on a revised bill. it doesn't offer the immediate recognition the Alliance had hoped for. Instead, tribes may apply for recognition to a new commission, which will rely on a three-person expert panel to make recommendations for recognition to the Legislature.
"This is the second-best thing to direct recognition," Don Stevens said.
Consejo, who had fought to kill the House version of the bill at one point, said the final product is a good balance, which surprised him. "Against all odds, it was done with the cooperation of everybody. Most of us didn't think would happen," he said. What Rep. Consejo does not state, was that everyone was delighted with "this version of the Abenaki Recognition bill S.222 Amendment, that was passed by the VT legislature, at all.
Webb summed up the long process this way, "Hinda took the ball to the 50-yard line, Kesha took it all the way to the 5. Then there was a crowd of people who ushered it the last 5 yards."
Ram said, "The entire bill was a journey for me."
As Douglas signed the bill Friday, Don Stevens warned the governor that the journey isn't necessarily over. Of course not, the concocted "Abenaki Alliance" has more games to play with the politician and residents of Vermont assuredly in the future. "This is only half the battle," he said. "You have to appoint good people to the commission." What Donald Stevens Jr. actually was meaning, was that Gov. Douglas better appoint the "Abenaki Alliance" members onto the newly constructed VCNAA (commission) so that the "Abenaki Alliance" could attempt to continue "hoodwinking" the VT Abenaki Recognition Process and VT Legislator's. The game that the "Abenaki Alliance" continues to play goes on.....
After spending three years in the U.S. Army and a number of years in Hawaii and California as a sales executive, Dennis, his wife, and two children moved back to his hometown of Kirby, VT in 2006. Since that time Dennis has been an active supporter of the Second Vermont Republic and the entire Vermont independence movement.
Mr. Steele has a B.A. from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California. He has been the recipient of numerous academic and military honors. He participates frequently in community affairs. An avid hunter, Mr. Steele often processes the family’s meat himself.
Steele’s political philosophy can be summarized by the following statement, “The gods of the American Empire are not the gods of Vermont.” He is committed to the return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic as it was between 1777 and 1791. When he is elected governor, he will call a statewide convention to consider articles of political independence. He will simultaneously do everything in his power to bring home Vermont’s National Guard troops immediately.
The theme of Dennis’s gubernatorial campaign is “Imagine… Free Vermont.” He can be reached at email@example.com, tel. 802-748-3475, or P.O. Box 28, E. St. Johnsbury, VT 05838. His website is http://www.freevermontradio.org/.
Review the afore-mentioned website, its quite revealing. I am sure he would immediately upon becoming Gov. (or should I say King or Dictator of the Sovereign Republic of Vermont?) subsequently grant "instantaneous state recognition" to the "Abenaki Alliance of VT," just as I am assured that this man, watched "The Patriot" with Mel Gibson (in Blu Ray format) way too many times! Dennis Steele relocated out of Vermont, to California, married and had two children. Big Deal. IN MY OPINION, now he's promoting a militia seperatist movement within Vermont. He's got an agenda, and like any politician, the smile's, the Carhartt pants, and the persona (just like the "Abenaki Alliance"), such does not mask the whacked out political nuttiness of these sorts of people. He's just another late Homer Walter St. Francis Sr. running for Governor of Vermont. He also claims to be "Abenaki." He was born November 03, 1967 in Connecticut, his wife Amber Antoinette (nee: Sprouse) was born in California. The couple lived in Paso Robles, California, but now live in Kirby, Vermont. I relocated to Vermont where some of my "Abenaki" ancestors come from too. Big Deal. That doesn't make me "special," better than or less than anyone else, and because I might have an Abenaki ancestor in my family geneaology doesn't make me "special" either. Neither does it mean that Dennis Steele, politician and wanna-be Gov. of Vermont, has all the answers to the problems in our society, as a state, or as a country. He who assumes he does is a fool, in my opinion.