Charles Adams's notes of his conversation with Elvine Royce of Montpelier describe her as a "full blooded Abenaki," and state that "She seems to think that the Abenakis could refute claim of Iroquois" (Adams 11/21/1952). 70. His notes indicate that she directed him to contact the main body of the tribe at "Odanak, Quebec. Address of Abenaki reservation in Canada. Does not know name of chief." Significantly, Elvine Royce did not direct the attorney to speak to any tribal political leaders in Vermont; she told him to contact Quebec. The implication is that there were no leaders in Vermont.
Around the same time, Gordon Day wrote to Attorney Adams. His letter reads in part,
In the interest of fairness to the people of Vermont who are asked to pay for the claim and to rightful Indian claimants, if any, no action should be taken without thorough research into the history of Indian land titles generally in Vermont. The true story is not contained In any legal documents alone or in ordinary histories or casual historical commentary. It exists in fragments in the writings and minds of a few research archeologists [sic] and ethnologists who are not well known outside their own circles. (Day 12/28/1952).
He then suggested that Adam's contact Dr. William Fenton, Dr. Arthur C. Parker, Dr. William Ritchie, and Dr. A. Irving Hallowell. Day went on to inform Attorney Adams of the whereabouts of the current descendants of the Abenaki and Caughnawagha tribes:
Whatever the status of Vermont in pre-history, the only Indians whom white settlers found actually living in Vermont were Abnakis, whose descendants now live at Odanak, near Pierreville, Quebec. More aggressive claims by Iroquoian groups should not be allowed to prejudice any claim which the St. Francis Abnakis may have. (Day 12/28/1952)
70. Charles Adams later became Attorney General of Vermont; that may account for his papers ending up at the State Archives.
Creation of Abenaki Tribal Council in 1974
It was not until 1974 that a constitution was adopted and a formal organization for the St. Francis/Sokoki Abenaki was created 71. (Baker 1976:8, Wiseman 2001:156). Fred Matthew Wiseman, a member of the petitioner, observed that the creation of a tribal government was very challenging since none had existed before (Wiseman 2001:152). He said the new organization grew out of an awareness created by the "Red Power" movement of the 1960's (Wiseman 2001:152).
It appears that the primary purpose of the organization was to pursue claims against state and federal governments for recognition. It called this work "status clarification," and pursued it through activities related to membership, correspondence with other tribes, and appearances before government agencies (Petition: 129). Jane Baker's 1976 Report to Thomas Salmon said as much: "First and foremost is the campaign [by the Tribal Council] toward formal recognition by the State of Vermont which will render the
71. The petition says the Council was formed in 1975. but the other documents give 1974 as the date (Petition: 123).
formed for the purpose of self-government. Its focus was on obtaining benefits from the state obtaining and federal government through recognition. In the Duwamish case, an organization "which existed to pursue claims rather than to provide self-government" was found insufficient to satisfy Criterion (c). (BIA Duwamish Tribal Organization 1996:5, 10).
There is also a significant question as to whether the mid-1970s Abenaki Tribal Council was a voluntary membership organization or the governing body of a pre-existing governing tribal structure. Jane Baker described the Tribal Council as a "two year old membership organization" that issues cards "verify[ing] that the holder is an Abenaki Indian or descendant of Abenakis" (Baker 1976:11). She reported to Governor Salmon in 1976 that there were 1700 Abenakis in Vermont. However, she also stated there were only 400 card-carrying members (Baker 1976:11 ). Thus the Abenaki Tribal Council could not even count as members a quarter of the individuals claiming Abenaki heritage. Moreover, Wayne Hoague, the first chair of the Abenaki Tribal Council, stated in 1977 that there were only 176 adult voting members of the group, plus 120 children (Hoague 1/12/1977). In the 1970's support and membership in the petitioner's organization was not widespread. Even the petitioner concedes that the creation of a governing body for the group was artificial and unnatural:
Families and individuals long accustomed to taking care of themselves have only gradually come to reckon with the Tribal Council as a significant factor in their lives. (Petition: 126).
The newly created Tribal Council of the 1970's did not have political authority.
money was used, became a point of contention within the petitioner's group. In the 1970's, and again in the 1990's, many members of the group questioned whether the St. Francis/Sokoki organization really represented the views of the Abenakis in the region. There was not wholehearted acceptance of the new self-proclaimed tribal government.
The very first chair of the Abenaki Tribal Council, Wayne Hoague, became the first loud critic of the new organization. Although Wayne Hoague had been one of the original organizers of the new government, he stepped down from chair of the Tribal Council in less than one year (Wiseman 2001:152, 154). He was succeeded by Homer St. Francis who served from 1974 to 1980, and would later be chief again (Burlington Free Press 7/9/2001).
During the first time period that Homer St. Francis was chief, Wayne Hoague charged that leaders of the tribe were secretive and that tribe members are not told how the federal money is being spent. (Burlington Free Press 1/17/1977, Hoague 1/ 12/1977). As a result of Hoague's criticisms, he was ostracized from the St. Francis/Sokoki Abenaki organization. Not only did Chief Homer St. Francis and Kent Ouimette obtain his removal from the Governor's Commission on Indian Affairs, but they denied him membership in the tribe.
This was reported by Mrs. Hoague:
When her husband reapplied for tribal membership—which requires a card issued by the council "they replied he couldn't prove he was Indian." Mrs. Hoague said.
"How can they say he's not an Abenaki if the rest of them are all related to him"" she asked. (Burlington Free Press 5/1977).
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).
The tribal elections of November 1986 72. [sic] were contentious, with emotions high in both the Lampman and St. Francis factions. It was also one of the biggest elections, with both sides doing lots of politicking and bringing voters to the polls. In order to assure the fairness of the election, a tribal election committee was formed, with three from each "side" and Ted Greenia, an "outsider" as head. The vote was confusing. April Rushlow, 73. a member of that committee, remembers the hours of counting and recounting and the problem with ballots that were incorrectly filled out. After the votes were tallied, St. Francis won by the slim margin of three votes. Former interim chief Lester Lampman and community members Joan St. Pierre attempted to have the results of the election voided, citing fraud, in that the incorrectly filled out ballots were not counted. St. Francis denied the recount, and the ballot box was sealed by the committee and stored in the tribal safe. (Wiseman 2001:160).
The new chief quickly consolidated his power. Before his two-year term had ended, he obtained a change in the Abenaki constitution to make him chief for life (Burlington Free Press 9/1-2/1989). St. Francis continued as chief until 1996 when he handed over the position to his daughter April Rushlow-Merrill (Burlington Free Press 7/9/2001). Further changes in the later years gave Homer St. Francis more control and more certainty that he could keep the role of chief in his family (Burlington Free Press 11/7/1995). A similar by-law allowing council members lifetime appointments was adopted by the MaChris in a case which found insufficient evidence of political authority due to the extensive control of the
72. This appears to be an error; the correct date of the elections was September 1987 as attested to by contemporaneous newspaper articles.
dominated by the St. Francis family and the subsequent changes in the constitution to perpetuate Homer St. Francis and his family members as chief are akin to the self-perpetuating council which existed in the Miami Nation. In that case the court said, the essence of proper tribal political authority is "bilateral political relations between tribal leaders and members." (Miami Nation of Indians v. Babbitt, 112 F. Supp. 2d 742, 750 (N.D. Ind. 2000)). The opposite is a "self-perpetuating council," where "[o]nly a handful of people did the organization's work, and they made decisions without consulting, or being influenced by, the members" (Miami Nation of Indlans, 112 F. Supp. 2d at 750).
In the case of petitioner, dissenters and people who were unable to break into the ruling group by election to the Tribal Council have repeatedly broken off to form other Abenaki groups (Petition: 131). The federal regulations state that the political authority criterion may be satisfied by evidence of "widespread knowledge, communication and involvement by most of the group's members." Exclusionary practices and the control of decisions by a small family group are contrary to the federal requirement, as borne out by the decision in the case of the Miami Nation, which was unable to demonstrate political authority under Criterion (C).
Attendance at tribal council meetings is one gauge of participation in governance. At the time the petition was submitted to the BIAgauged in the time the petition was first submitted to the BIA, only about 40-50 people attended tribal council meetings (Greenbaum & Wherry 1988:16). This is a small portion of the hundreds
73. She is the daughter of Homer St. Francis (Burlington Free Press 7/9/2001).
tribal organization is able to settle disputes between tribal factions (Miami Nation of Indians v. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 255 F.3d 342, 346 (7th Cir. 2001)). Where the organization is truly a tribe in which members live in community for generations, the tribal government must settle disputes in a manner acceptable to all. However, where the group is a voluntary organization individuals may join at will, the disputes need not be settled. Instead, the dissenters disassociate themselves from the group and form a new voluntary organization meeting their needs. That is what happened in Vermont. Voluntary organizations, especially those formed for the limited purpose of pursuing legal claims, do not satisfy the federal requirement for political authority (BIA Duwamish Tribal Organization 1996:10; Mashpee Tribe, 592 F.2d at 582, n.3).
The result of the 1987 election and the subsequent constitutional changes was a change of the group as people realized they were not being listened to by their political leaders. In the 1990's, many members of the St. Francis/Sokoki Abenaki group did not accede to the leadership of Homer St. Francis. They formed separate organizations. In 1992 the Northeast Woodlands—Coos Band was formed. Through recruitment that band grew to 700 members (Wiseman 2001:169). In the fall of 1995 three more bands were created.
The first was the Traditional Abenakis of Mazipskwik and Related Bands. It split off from the St. Francis/Sokoki band and took with it a number of officials and employees from
With all the dissension and creation of separate groups it is no wonder that an
observer from the Cowasuck of North America, which includes the Vermont Abenakis, said that Homer St. Francis "does not speak for the rest of the Abenaki, only his small group" (Burlington Free Press 10/29/1995).