Federal Census Records and Community
One of the criteria that petitioners must meet for federal acknowledgment focuses on community. The federal regulations, 25 C.F.R. 83.7 (b), require that
A predominant portion of the petitioning group comprises a distinct community and has existed as a community from historical times to the present.
This is a very difficult criterion to examine for the petitioner, because there appears to be no historical times from which to begin. However, assuming the historical times are the late 1700's, the only time there appears to be a community of Abenaki Indians in Vermont is prior to 1765, when Robertson's lease was signed. Instead of tracing the descendants of members of that community down to the present, the petition attempts to show a community by listing all of the people who may have surnames similar to today's members. The petition lists both people who have married in to the group, who are non-Indian, as well as those who may have Indian ancestry. This confuses the issue. In various forms of the petition submitted at different times, census records are used to show the appearance of persons from whom the modern-day community may descend.
In examining the federal censuses for all available years, and especially the 19th century, I find the ancestry of today's petitioner looking much like the rest of the communities that were predominantly French Canadian. Many had the same occupations, such as farm laborer, day laborer; many could not read or write English.
The several Federal censuses for communities in the 19th century show that the families are not only scattered about, but they do not appear to be interacting with one another. They were not distinct from their non-Indian neighbors. Few, if any, were identified as basket maker, broom maker, hunter, fisherman, etc., as found in other Indian tribes. Rather, their occupations were given as day laborers, masons, farmers or farm laborers. In the 1870 Federal Census, there were scant listings of anyone as basket maker. One found was that of Mary Francis, 23, who was living with Elizabeth Francis, 44, both born in Maine; Mary was listed as a basket maker. Another woman in the same household,
In recent findings, the BIA has said,
In this case, the DTO's [Duwamish Tribal Organization's] interpretation of historical events pertaining to its ancestors is not accurate or complete, even when the circumstances of contact are taken into consideration. For example, [petitioner's expert] does not give specific descriptions ofeach ofthe petitioner's isolated family enclaves which the writer says were widely distributed in the Puget Sound region. The PF [Proposed Finding] found that many Duwamish maintained contact with one another or those who moved to reservations, despite the impact of Euro-American settlement. However, these Duwamish were not the petitioner's ancestors. The petitioner's ancestors were not in contact with the Duwamish tribe.
(Final Determination for the Duwamish Tribal Organization, p. 18)
[T]he primary problem is that the petitioner is a group that was formed in recent times, specifically during the last two decades of the 20th century.
Descent From a Historic Tribe
One of the tribal acknowledgment criteria applied by the Bureau of Indian Affairs is 25 C.F.R. 83.7(e)(1), which says
The petitioner's membership [must] consist[ ] of individuals who descend from a historical Indian tribe or from historical Indian tribes which combined and functioned as a single autonomous political entity.
The problematic wording of criterion 83.7(e)(1), "who descend from a historical Indian tribe," may imply that any historical Indian Tribe will do. However, the last portion of the criterion, "which combined and functioned as a single autonomous political entity," clearly shows that the tribe must have functioned as a political entity. This means the group must have behaved as a political entity throughout time, since first contact. Though the petitioner may be able to show that its members descend from people considered Indians, the political entity was nonexistent. If there was a historical tribe of Abenaki, it was in Canada by the time of the formation of the United States.
The tribal acknowledgment process requires an examination of just who the present-day members of the petitioner are. Though the petitioner has submitted many community surveys, census surveys, etc., those materials include many persons who are not listed as ancestors on the Family Descendancy Charts submitted in 1995. Perhaps the petitioner was attempting to make a more all-inclusive list of Indians, but what they compiled was a more all-inclusive list of French Canadians and their non-
From all of the records, it appears that descent from an Abenaki tribal entity is not only non-existent, but impossible to document. That some families may have Indian ancestry is not in question; it is the tribal ancestry that is lacking.
In the 1900 and 1910 federal censuses, when self-identification was recommended to census enumerators, giving special attention to Indians and Indian tribes, the compilation of the total number of Indians for the entire State of Vermont listed 5 Indians in 1900, and 26 in 1910. In Franklin County, in 1900, not a single Indian was listed. In 1910, 5 were listed, but they were from one of the New York tribes and none of them were the ancestors of the
modern community of Abenaki. These Franklin county census records are significant,
Did the Eugenics Survey Identify the Petitioner's Indianness?
The Eugenics Survey of Vermont in the 20th-century included some of the ancestry of today's petitioner. It has been given a great deal of weight in the public statements of the petitioner as a reason for lack of evidence necessary for federal acknowledgment as an Indian tribe. Because the Eugenics Survey has been misinterpreted and misused by the petitioner, I comment on it here.
The Eugenics Survey (hereafter called the Survey) in Vermont was one of many eugenic programs of the 1920's and 1930's in the United States, especially on the East Coast. Established in 1925 in Vermont, the Survey was organized and directed by Henry F. Perkins, Chairman of the University of Vermont Zoology
While it is true that the Survey included some of the ancestry of today's petitioner, I do not find that they survey was directed toward Indians. I have researched the Survey in depth, and found that the ancestry of the petitioner was not targeted as Indian, but perhaps as French Canadian. Some of these French Canadians mentioned their Indian ancestry, but that was not the focus of the Survey.
In looking at communities from which to study the inhabitants, the eugenics program looked at the community of Grand Isle and reported that:
[There are] Two distinct classes. Quite old settlers (Democrats) and the French who have come in from Canada (Catholics). The French Canadians
(Eugenics Survey Papers, "Towns Suggested for Study, Grand Isle," p. 1)
Though some of the persons in Grand Isle that were French-Canadian may have had Indian ancestry, it is clear that they were not targeted as Indians, nor identified as Abenaki.
She says that Old Antione had Indian blood and had something to do with the Kickapoo. (Agent H.E.A. thinks that the above statement is probably rather doubtful except for the fact that Old Antione did have Indian blood and probably was related to some of the inhabitants of an Indian reservation in southeastern Canada.)
(Eugenics Survey Papers, "Phillips General History")
She came from an Indian Reservation Caughnewaga, sixteen miles from Montreal.
(Eugenics Survey Papers, "Phillips General History, Delia Bone, Generation II")
Interestingly, one of the writers on the Survey team used the term of "tribe" when discussing the above-mentioned families, but she used the term in the context of a family.
Peter Phillips and all his tribe were constantly traveling. They traveled all over northern and eastern Vermont, the Vermont border of New York State, the Vermont border of New Hampshire, and went as far as Belfast, Maine.
Though the term, "tribe" was used in that passage, nowhere in the entire papers of the Survey were the people ever identified as belonging to an Abenaki Tribe. Indeed the term "Abenaki" was never used, only "Indian," and that very sparingly.
Years later, after some of the claimed Abenaki descendants began their campaign for recognition as Indians, writers began writing about the Eugenics movement as including those of Abenaki descent. This story caught the attention of the media and received a great deal of coverage.
In 1991, Kevin Dann wrote that the Survey's purpose was "to gather information, as full and accurate as possible, that can be used for the social betterment in Vermont." (Dann, Kevin, "From Degeneration to Regeneration: The Eugenics Survey of Vermont, 1925-1936," 59 Vermont History 5, 8 (1991)). In the gathering,
[no] people represented a mobile, uncontrolled social group in Vermont better than the first two subjects of the Eugenics Survey investigations - the "gypsy" and "pirate" families. Principally of Abenaki and French - Canadian
(Kevin Dann, p. 14)
I found no evidence that these families were Abenaki. He added,
That the program of the Eugenics Survey was still largely a racist hereditarian endeavor was betrayed by the first section of the Third Annual Report, which was a list of English corruptions ofFrench names. Such corruptions, especially those whose spelling changed through successive generations, "might throw one offthe track for a long time. " Seemingly an allusion to the difficulty that the Eugenics Survey fieldworkers had with French names in their genealogical detective work, the publication of the list, accompanied by the statements that the Eugenics Survey had a cross index of ninety such names, was clearly intended to alert readers to the ethnic background of third and fourth generation Vermonters of French-Canadian descent whose ethnicity might not be apparent by their surnames. Indeed one of the names in the list was that of the family upon whom the Rector narrative was based. A strong current of anti-French-Canadian bigotry runs through the work of the Eugenics Survey.
(Kevin Dann, p. 15)
The Eugenics Survey of Vermont was disbanded in 1936, yet it smoldered on during WWII when a paper on mental deficiency was written. Statistics had been released following WWI that showed,
Vermont...had the highest number of rejections except Rhode Island of any state in the Union for nervous and mental diseases, mental deficiency, epilepsy, psychoses, neuroses...When returns from the induction centers in the present war gave us no better reports we became a bit panicky.
(Ainsworth, Lillian M., "Vermont Studies in Mental Disorders,"
, typescript, Vermont Historical Society, MS/613.94/Ai66.)
As time passed, the role of the Eugenics Survey took on more significance in writings about the Abenaki. Since the "emergence" of the Abenaki in the early 1970's, there were marked changes in the literature. In a history kit published by the Vermont Historical Society in 1998, an explanation was given for the absence of Abenaki history.
History books have long claimed that the Abenaki "disappeared" from Vermont. While some Abenaki did leave Vermont for Canada, many others remained. As the Abenaki began to speak French or English and adopted European dress, historians of the nineteenth century assumed that the Abenaki had vanished. The Abenaki families who remained in Vermont survived in a variety of ways. Some lived a nomadic life and were called "gypsies." Others remained on the outskirts of their communities and lived off the land as they had for centuries- hunting, fishing, and trapping.
From the 1920's through the 1940's the Eugenics Survey of Vermont sought to "improve " Vermont by seeking out "genetically inferior peoples" such as Indians, illiterates, thieves, the insane, paupers, alcoholics, those with harelips, etc. ... As a result of this program, Abenaki had to hide their
("Abenaki in Vermont," A History Kit for Students and their Teachers, p. 31)
It is interesting that the kit made up to teach Vermont's children about the Abenaki does not mention that for at least 100 years prior to the 1920's, the purported Abenaki in Vermont did not identify as Indian on any public documents. They do not self-identify as Indian in census records or military records. It is incorrect to blame the Eugenics Survey for the denial of their culture to the public, and certainly incorrect to blame it for the denial of their identity to their children and grandchildren. The Eugenics Survey of the 1920's has been used as a tool to try to explain why the Abenaki have no presence in the 200 years of history from the time of the American Revolution to the time of the Abenaki "emergence" in 1972.
As time went on, the flame of the Eugenics Survey ignited. In 1999, Nancy L.
Gallagher wrote a book about the Survey. When writing about it she said,
The "Gypsy family " of Vermont was one of the first and most extensively studied kinship networks in the survey. Harriett Abbott's genealogical work had traced the family line back five generations to an ancestor from Quebec of "mixed ancestry with apparently very strong doses of Indian and Negro. " His descendants, Perkins claimed, retained "their ancestor's roving or Gypsy tendency. ... What is startling about the Gypsy family is that, over a period of four months, Abbott had been able to triple the number of descendants and relatives of these families, bring their numbers to 436. ... They bore a resemblance to the "inferior class" of French Canadians that Rowland E. Robinson claimed had "infested the state" and then mysteriously disappeared, but they also seemed a lot like the Native American nomadic families that nineteenth-century Vermonters had also called Gypsies. ... The descendants of the French Canadians who settled in Vermont, after moving back and forth across the border for seasonal work, represented, in Robinson's analysis, an "insidious and continuous invasion" of remnants of a defeated enemy.
Frederick M. Wiseman, in The Voice of the Dawn: An Autohistory of the Abenaki Nation, written in 2001, spoke of the Vermont Eugenics Survey, as follows:
Soon the lens of genocide was trained on the Gypsies, Pirates, and River Rats, as well as other ethnic groups. Employing the latest genealogical research and statistical record keeping techniques, the survey added new technologies to the list of ancient genocidal procedures used by New English authorities against the Abenakis. In addition, they provided social and police organizations with lists of families to "watch. " Unfortunately, the social gulf between elite Anglo culture and the village dwelling River Rats and Pirates was not so wide that they could entirely escape notice. Major Abenaki families at Missisquoi were especially at risk. The more "hidden" families and the Gypsies partially escaped unheeded - for a while. But then began ethnic conflict incidents as Gypsies and Pirates had their children taken from them. The theft of children and the hatred emanating from the burning cross and Ku Klux Klan rallies are still recalled by Abenaki and French Canadian elders in Barre, Vermont. Any family who still had thoughts about standing forth as Abenaki, due to the tourists' continued interest in our arts and culture quickly retired to obscurity as the tide of intolerance rose. We continually needed to be on our guard with the police, the tax man, and the school board, the eyes and ears of the survey.
(Wiseman, pp. 147-148)
Mr. Wiseman became a member of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi in 1987, and later became a citizen ofthe St. Francis - Sokoki band. (Wiseman, p.231)
In the papers of the Survey, clearly the Indians were NOT targeted, but French-Canadians were. The survey may have included some persons with Indian descent, and especially two families that intertwine with others of Indian descent. However, there is no documentation that these people were Abenaki. So how did the ALLEGED and RE-INVENTED Abenaki use the Eugenics Survey to their benefit?
2) By eliciting sympathy from Vermonters who were no doubt ashamed of their state's participation in the Survey. (This is an especially effective tool after WWII and Hitler's ethnic cleansing.)
3) By swaying public opinion towards allowing less documented facts and more
4) By influencing historians and others writing about them to include undocumented suppositions on the grounds that the Eugenics Survey had made real evidence scarce. Examples of this include:
a. Colin G. Calloway's The Abenaki in the Indians offorth America series. His information is mostly about the Maine Abenaki, but he generalizes it to apply equally to Vermont, as if one branch of Algonkians s equal to another. Generalizations are abundant.
b. Gordon Day's study of Odanak/St. Francis. It was quoted widely in the Abenaki Petition, but Day does not document the people in Vermont. He does mention that some have probably remained, but in his own journal, he notes that he went to Swanton, yet does not mention visiting with any Indians there. (Day, "Abenaki Journal," Dartmouth College, 1955).
As I examined the petition, and the genealogical and historical material, and compared it with my understanding of federally acknowledged Indian tribes, I came to the conclusion that this petitioner cannot satisfy the criteria for federal tribal acknowledgment. There is no continuity of community or political authority evident