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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

State of VT's Response to Petition for Federal Acknowledgment of the St. Francis/Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation of Vermont: Pages 141 to 150:

When Gordon Day was looking for native Abenaki speakers in the 1950's, the only ones he could find in Vermont were the Obomsawins (Day 1948-1973). This family did not pass on the language to its children though. According to the petition, Elvine Obomsawin consciously decided not to teach her granddaughter Nettie DeForge the language and culture of the Abenaki (Petition: 100). Jeanne Brink reports that her Obomsawin grandmother "didn't teach her children the Abenaki language, because she wanted them to be assimilated" (Montpelier Bridge 12/2000).

Cultural Practices Were Not Retained in Any Abenaki Community in Vermont
When Homer St. Francis wanted to re-create an naming ceremony, he turned
to scholar Gordon Day for instruction (Day 4/25/1990). There was no one in the re-constituted Abenaki community in Franklin County who knew the practice; it had not been retained. While the petition mention that some individuals in the 1980's remember seeing older men and women engaging practices that they attributed to being Indian, there is no evidence that these practices continued past the 1930's or that they were taught to later generations (see, e. g., Petition:95 (burial custom), 95 (cooking skunk), 96 (sweat lodge)). Thus there was a significant gap in the practice of traditional Abenaki culture. Pieces that have been revived since the 1980's are merely that--revival of a long forgotten culture. In the 1980's there was a "re-establishment of cultural gatherings," which had not been a part of the society before that (Wiseman 2001:167). The very fact that these gatherings had to be "re-established" demonstrates that they had died out. Moreover, the audience for these gatherings was as much the white community as the petitioner itself. The
pow-wows that began in 1990 sought to publicize the new presence of the petitioner to those who did not know about it (Wiseman 2001:168).

Membership in the St. Francis/Sokoki Abenaki is Loose and Fluid
The analysis of the community criterion for the Narragansett relied in part on
evidence that "one is born a Narragansett and one remains one for his entire life." The sense of community attachment is so strong that "even among members expressing some dissatisfaction with tribal politics withdrawal of membership is not considered a viable alternative" (BIA Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island 1982:10). Among the Narragansett, individuals have a strong sense of belonging to the tribal community all their lives. This evidence supported a finding in favor of acknowledgment on that criterion.
In contrast, other petitioning groups have been denied acknowledgment when they have been created by a fluid membership recruitment process. This was the case for the Southeastern Cherokee Confederacy, the Northwest Cherokee Wolf Band, and the Red Clay Inter-tribal Indian Band (BIA Southeastern Cherokee Confederacy 1985a:5).

All three are recently formed voluntary associations of individuals who believe themselves to be—and in some cases are—of Indian descent. Additionally, they are overtly multi-tribal. Their recruitment notices state that specific tribal heritage is not a consideration for whether or not a person may join one of the groups—only a certain blood quantum. (BIA Southeastern Cherokee 1995a:54).

As the BIA put it, this is the "direct antithesis of belonging to an historic tribal community through birth or marriage" (BIA Southeastern Cherokee 1995a:55).
The members of the St. Francis/Sokoki Abenaki of Vermont do not exhibit the clear sense of belonging to a tribe that the Narragansett display. It is difficult for outsiders, such as the State, to know very much about internal membership disputes, but some have crept into
the public view. In 1977, Chief Homer St. Francis threatened to kick people out of the tribe. Wayne Hoague, the first chief of the reconstituted Abenaki Tribal Council, filed a complaint with the State about the tribe's mishandling of funds. According to the Burlington Free Press:

In his complaint. Hoague said, "People who are card holding members (of the tribe) are being told by Homer St. Francis (present Tribal Council chairman) that if they don't like the way things are being done he will take their Indian cards away." (Burlington Free Press
1/ 17/1977).

Chief St. Francis's method of dealing with Hoague was repeated in his treatment of another political opponent ten years later, as seen in the following news report of a tribal meeting:

There were allegations of misuse of funds and power tossed back and forth. One voice could be heard to say: "The bylaws say if the chief or anyone else is a nuisance, you can throw him out." Another voice, this one female, yelled: "Throw Joan (St. Pierre)." Someone apparently made a motion to that effect. The screamed yeas and nays sounded of equal volume but St. Francis announced that St. Pierre had just been kicked out of the tribe. (Rutland Herald 11/2/1987; compare Burlington Free Press 5/1977).

This was not simply ouster from a meeting; a year later, Joan St. Pierre was not allowed to vote at an Abenaki election, because, according to Homer St. Francis, she had been "thrown out of the tribe" (Burlington Free Press 10/10/ 1988).

There have been splinter groups that have left the tribe because they opposed the leadership. These included Homer's niece Connie Brow, who was instrumental in forming the Traditional Abenaki of Mazipskwik and Related Bands in 1995, as well as others in the 1990's (Burlington Free Press 10/29/1995, Wiseman 2001:181-86).
There are also examples of pan-Indian attitudes among the Abenakis in previous decades. According to the petition in 1982, "[t]he community, now as in earlier times, has always been receptive to Indian families from anywhere in the northeastern United States and
the border region with Canada" (Petition: 158-59). At that time, any Indian, no matter whether he or she was descended from a historical Abenaki group in Vermont, could be welcomed into the group.
In 1995, the Abenaki Tribal Council apparently instituted a major change in the tribal constitution's criteria for membership. This was undertaken specifically to improve the group's eligibility for federal acknowledgment (Burlington Free Press 11/7/1995). This change reflects vagueness as to the identity of the tribe, both now and in the past. It indicates a lack of certainty over the real shape of the tribe. Its composition was not fixed and identifiable; rather it was subject to alteration by the petitioner. The standards for evaluating Abenaki tribal identity over the years have changed depending on the circumstances. This is the opposite of a clearly defined community whose members know each other and who have been inter-twined as an Indian community since historic times.

There Were No Social Ties Between the Bulk of Petitioner's Ancestors and the Visible Abenakis in Vermont
In order to satisfy Criterion (b), the petitioner must demonstrate that the social ties that connect the community are broad reaching across family kinship groups. One case summarizes it like this:

Interaction must be shown to have been occurring on a regular basis, over a long period of time. Interaction should be broadly distributed among the membership. Thus a petitioner should show that there is significant interaction and/or social relationships not just within immediate families or among close kinsmen, but across kin group lines and other social subdivisions. Close social ties within narrow social groups, such as small kin groups do not demonstrate that the members of the group as a whole are groups connected with each other. (BIA Miami Nation of Indians 1992:5).
In meeting this criterion, the Narragansett provided evidence of an annual meeting to which members who lived outside of the core community returned (BIA Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island 1982:11). In addition, the Narragansett members showed that they knew a lot about other members. When asked about other members, they could relate where they resided, what their occupations were, how large their family was, and how active they were within the tribe (BIA Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island 1982: 10). In contrast, during John Huden and Gordon Day's forty years of contacts with the Obomsawins, no one in that family ever mentioned any of the Swanton people as fellow members of an Abenaki tribe.
There are also examples from the petition that reveal a lack of social interaction. For instance, "Leo St. Francis, Nazaire Jr.'s brother, remembers a band of twenty to thirty Indians who lived out in the meadow behind Slamon Farm" (Petition:97). However, as he recounted what he saw, he said "we didn't know all of their names." The petitioner describes these people as "totally unassimilated families [ ] who live[d] secluded without contact with the white society," and lived in the marsh (Petition:84). There was no social contact between the St. Francis family and those Indians in the meadow. These people were not known to the petitioner's ancestors by name; they were not part of the petitioner's community. This, and the fact that petitioner's ancestors (if they had any Indian blood) had intermarried with whites for so many generations, reinforces the view that petitioner became fully part of the French- Canadian society of Swanton (Petition:74).
Another aspect of community and social interaction that needs to be established is whether petitioner's ancestors in earlier decades, or centuries, interacted with the individuals identified as Indian at that time. This was a problem that defeated the Duwamish petition:
The petitioner's membership consists almost entirely of descendants from the families of marriages between Duwamish Indians and pioneer settlers. The marriage did not provide evidence, nor did the BIA's research find any evidence, that revealed that these families interacted with the historical Duwamish tribe or were cohesive themselves. (BIA Duwamish Tribal Organization 1996:6).

The petitioner has not demonstrated that the ancestors who are listed in the Family Descendancy charts ever interacted with the early nineteenth century remnants of the Missisquoi tribe who are described in the petition. It appears they cannot show such interaction. Most of the first generation in the Family Descendancy Charts was born in Canada and did not come to Vermont until the 1840's or later (see Table 2 above). They could not have formed a social network or community with the individuals whom the petitioner claims were Indians in the federal censuses of 1790-1830 (Second Addendum).
The Duwamish case also explains the need for continuity between the community identified as a tribe in one decade and the community identified as the same tribe in a later decade. In that case, the BIA compared the names on the 1915 and 1926 membership lists to determine whether the latter group was a continuation of the former, or whether they were two separate groups. The findings' stated:

The 1926 membership list was very different from the 1915 membership list of Satiacum's organization. The individuals who appeared on both the 1915 and 1926 lists comprised only 21 percent of the 1915 membership and 19 percent of the 1926 membership. The disjunction between the 1915 and 1926 lists is revealed by the finding that only 6 percent of the members of the 1915 organization, compared to 66 percent of the members in 1926, have descendants on the petitioner's modern membership roll.
There were several differences between the 1926 members and the 1915 members which, considered together, show that the two lists represented two
different groups of people. (BIA Duwamish Tribal Organization 1996:7-8).

While the petitioner does not have two historic membership lists to use for comparison, there are various historic documents such as Robertson's Lease, the Durham Grants, membership
lists of Abenaki at Odanak/St. Francis, and the names of individuals who identified themselves as Indian in the federal censuses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Not a single one of these lists corresponds with the names of individuals listed as petitioner's ancestors in its 1995 Family Descendancy Charts. A detailed discussion of this appears in the genealogical analysis under Criterion (e) below. The necessary conclusion is that the petitioner is a different group of people from those known as Indian prior to 1930.

Summary of Failure of Evidence to Satisfy Criterion (b)
The evidence shows that petitioner's ancestors did not live in a distinct Indian community within the greater Swanton area. To the contrary, they interacted with the rest of the Swanton area community in the same way that French Canadians did. They held the same jobs, were members of the same clubs, went to the same Church, and were buried in the same place. They maintained no unique cultural practices or language. They were fully assimilated residents of Franklin County. By virtue of this assimilation, they had abandoned any distinct Indian identity, if they ever had any: "[A]ssimilation is simply a way of expressing the reverse of the existence of an Indian community" (Mashpee Tribe, 592 F.2d at 586).
The people who now claim to be an Abenaki community did not move to Franklin County all at the same time, nor did they come form the same place. There were no social ties that united the visible Abenaki the Obomsawins and those at Odanak—with the petitioner's ancestors. Despite the fact that they may now present the appearance of being united in a community, the evidence does not demonstrate a distinct community with active
social interactions in earlier decades. The BIA has rightly rejected petitions that simply compared the historical community with the present community:

Roe claims that it is necessary to look only at "endpoints," apparently taking the position that a Duwamish tribe existed historically and the petitioner claims to be the Duwamish tribe and so exists now. He assumes that similarities at the "endpoints" allow an assumption of continuity between the endpoint [But this is not valid.] ...past determinations have not accepted the comparison of "endpoints," as advocated in these studies, as relevant evidence Under the regulations.
The regulations require that contemporary evidence demonstrate continuous Community and political authority from historical times to the present. (BIA Duwamish Tribal Organization 2001:41).

And so, the BIA should reject the St. Francis/Sokoki evidence under Criterion (b) as insufficient to establish continuous community.

Criterion (c) —Political Authority
On order to meet the political authority criterion of 25 C.F.R. 83.7(c), petitioner must have "maintained political influence or authority over its members as an autonomous entity from historical times until the present." This criterion is rooted in the U.S. Supreme Court's statement in Montoya v. United States that a tribe must be "united in a community under one leadership or government" ( 180 U.S. 261, 266 (1901)). Among the aspects of political government which must be examined are the breadth of the group's authority. That is, can the leaders "mobilize significant numbers of members and significant resources from its
members for group purposes" (25 C.F.R. 83.7(c)(i)). Also, there must be "widespread knowledge, communication and involvement in political processes by most of the group's members" ( 25 C.F.R. 83.7(c)(iii)). One court described this criterion in this manner:

The people must "follow[ ], adopt[ ] and obey[ ]" the leadership. And the
leadership must be -controlling of significant elements in the lives of the people."...If no one follows, then the would-be leader is not leading anyone
and cannot sustain the claim to leadership. (Mashpee Tribe v. New Seabury Corp., 592 F.2d at 584).

The petition admits there was a lack of formal organization for most of the past two hundred years (Petition:86). Petitioner claims this is because family bands were the usual form of organization, with no further structure above them (Petition: 159-60). This has not been the case with the Canadian Abenakis, from whom the current petitioner supposedly broke off. They had clear chiefs in the nineteenth and twentieth century as demonstrated by documents such as the "Petition of the Abenakis of St. Francois Against General Emancipation of Indians in the Dominion" signed by Grand Chief of Abenakis in 1874 (Canada, Indian Affairs 1874) and the "Indian Distribution Paylists, Abenakis of St. Francis" signed by Abenaki chiefs in 1893 (Canada, Indian Affairs: 1893, see also Hume 1991:105). The inability of petitioner to point to any organization outside of family groups between 1780 and 1974 comports with the lack of community during that same extended time period.

Vermont Abenaki Silence in the Face of 1950's Caughnawagha Land Claims
One glaring example of the lack of political organization and influence in the
twentieth century is the absolute silence of any of the petitioner's supposed leaders in the face of the claims by Caughnawagha Iroquois to lands in Vermont. Organizing and protecting against the loss of tribal lands is a primary governmental or political function of an Indian tribe (Miami Nation v. U.S. Dept. of Interior, 255 F.3d 342, 346 (7th Cir. 2001)). Evidence that a group has been active in that area is useful in establishing proof under Criterion (c). The Abenakis had the opportunity to speak out in this regard in the 1950's, but
they were silent. Their non-action is similar to a situation addressed in the MaChris case in which the Indian Claims Commission awarded millions of dollars to "descendants of the
Creek Nation for the loss of aboriginal lands" (BIA MaChris Lower Alabama Creek Indian Tribe 1987:14, 27). The MaChris petitioners were "apparently unaware of this award and did not make application to share in its distribution, even though the claims payment was publicized in a local newspaper." (BIA MaChris Lower Alabama Creek Indian Tribe 1987:14). If a political organization had existed, then this would have been an ideal time for it to communicatemobilize them to make claims.

In Vermont, two Caughnawagha Iroquois Indian Chiefs came down from the Two Mountains Reservation in Quebec in 1951 and renewed their request to the Vermont State Legislature for compensation for Indian lands. 69. They addressed the State Legislature, which established a commission to investigate the Iroquois claim and present findings to the legislature. As a result, the Governor appointed Charles J. Adams in 1952 to conduct the Investigation (Burlington Free Press 4/20/1951, 4/19/1952; St. Albans Daily Messenger, 11/10/ 1952 ). The newspapers had front page stories and photos of the chiefs at the Vermont Statehouse.
One would have expected the Abenakis to speak up in the face of a claim to their own historic lands from a competing Indian group. Logically, either the Abenakis should have joined the claim or opposed it on the grounds that they were the rightful claimants. The only two people who spoke up were Elvine Obomsawin Royce and Gordon Day. They both contacted the attorney who had been assigned to investigate the case for the State. Both of them sought to inform Attorney Adams that the Iroquois had not been the historic tribe occupying Vermont-- the Abenakis were. However, they both informed him that the
69. This was a renewal of the land claims first asserted in 1798 (discussed above in section Nineteenth Century, Caughnawagha Claims to Vermont Legislature).

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