Do Vermont Abenakis want revitalization?
This is an interesting and critical question. In meeting with literally hundreds of community [incorporate] members and discussing Abenaki issues throughout Vermont, I would estimate that most 21st century, self-identified Abenakis are at least aware of their identity and are therefore competent at the Phase I "gathering tradition" stage; perhaps 10%-20% are more or less operationally aware of pipe, smudging, pow-wow, etc. protocols so as to be classed as culturally competent at the Phase II "Pan-Indian" stage. But I would estimate less than 1% know or care about enough of their distinctive and collective American Abenaki history and culture to be classed as competent at stages beyond Phase II.
The prerequisite to an evolving indigenous Vermont cultural revitalization is a desire on the part of political and cultural leaders to commit to an inclusive effort that reflects the unique history and symbology of the American Abenakis. In the 1988-1993 period, there was a sense, shared by leaders and laypeople, that the Abenakis should move forward, as a whole community, to reclaim their lost heritage from Euroamerican sources. This was they [sic] heyday of the Abenaki Research Project, which was crucial to the Federal Recognition Petition; the numerous meetings surrounding a planned "Abenaki Cultural Center" that evolved into the Tribal Museum and Cultural Center; plans for annual meetings that became the "Abenaki Heritage Week Celebration," and other successful initiatives. Unfortunately, the actions of Vermont, Massachusetts and Quebec Abenaki leaders in the mid 1990's effectively ground this cultural progress to a standstill. Self-proclaimed Abenaki spiritualists attacked the friendship that had begun to grow between Vermont academics and the Abenaki community, estranging vital allies in the search for information in the ethnohistoric record so important to the revitalization process. Vermont's Native neighbors, from Akwesasne to Pleasant Point, tried to help restart the
In the old days the voice of young people was vital in Abenaki councils in that it was they who would bear the brunt of the decisions made in assembly. On April 17, 2004, a conference called "The State of the Abenaki Nation" was held at Johnson State College. As part of the Conference, a panel of young Abenakis from different families and regions discussed their feelings about the future. Among many enlightening thoughts, they pointed out that young Abenakis have consistently wanted to understand their culture and heritage from local resources, not through books. Furthermore, young Abenakis are fully aware of and deeply appalled by the factionalism and infighting that plagues their elders.
If we accept the wisdom of the young in the design of a solution, then the task is clear.
First, the young, not their elders, must be the audience for future effective revitalization. Yet except for the example cited below, the young can only be accessed through their elders. Past practice (some examples cited above) indicates that community leaders, if they get wind of a new educational initiative that may undermine their authority, will certainly attempt to derail it. It is therefore extremely important that any proposed educational initiative be approved by a relatively broad group of adults more sympathetic to the young and education, and less sympathetic to power. This approval and access process has been the "weak link" in previous Abenaki ethnic engineering proposals. Most enlightened Abenaki children through high school at Missisquoi and elsewhere, tend to be in semi-organized or funded extracurricular groups under the watchful eye of adults generally linked to people who may be more or less defensive about their lore. An energetic public relations program, emphasizing the advantages of the revitalization plan, must precede any attempted educational initiative, and must be designed to be as non-threatening to entrenched power as possible. The repeated failure of adult-authoritative after school programming over the last three decades indicates that alternatives or enhancements to adult-generated programming must be sought. A possible alternative with great potential is empowering the youth to take a measure of control of their own revitalization. For example, Penobscot elder Watie Akins initiated the Abenaki Talking Circle, a program originally suggested by young Abenaki Brent Reader. The "Circle of Courage" Program is based on Lakota tradition of values; NOT Abenaki culture, heritage or values. The grass-roots cadre of high school college, graduate school, and young working Abenakis is not led by any adult, or even by any individual. It has advisors and coordinators, but no leaders. The programming and proposed activities are determined in council where all have an equal voice. This has led to beadwork instruction by master bead worker Cindy Gordon, dance practice, video screenings, participation in feature films by Alanis Obomsawin, and trips to other Indian reservations such as Akwesasne in New York. Such an endeavor may serve as a prototype for other, perhaps more organized initiatives.
It would enhance the revitalization process if youth-oriented ethnic engineering initiatives were designed in a format that was trendy or interesting for youngsters, yet understandable, but only marginally fashionable for their elders. For example, when not in session, the Abenaki Talking Circle communicates via e-mail, and posts data and imagery via the Internet, or "burned" CD's exchanging images and music. However, the Wobanakik Heritage Center, the Against the Darkness System and other adult organizations provide, by request only of the Circle, data, guidance and contact information that is then converted into usable data by the group. This independent low-level youth based and directed activity decreases the potential for subversion of the information and the message by the fixed adult leadership. This activity indicates that the
A combination of forces are converging in the early 2000's that point the way to a bright future for Abenaki renaissance: a mixture of
1) a geometrically increasing knowledge base of the Vermont Abenaki experience,
2.) traditional, adult-based teaching and programming,
3.) constantly augmented with grass-roots youth initiatives,
4.) enhanced by the increasingly powerful digital world of work-station and wi-fi portable computer, video cell phone, internet, interactive, High-Definition and standard video, computer and "play station-" type gaming, pod- and web-casting and 5.) the entirely untapped potential of "survival" type eco/cultural experiences, role-playing and period reenacting. Content, and audience are all in place. Data delivery systems are being refined. There is optimism that the ethnic engineering process discussed here will succeed. It is also possible that other solutions will present themselves. We all can hope.
Below is a treatise on Abenaki Identity, prepared by request for the Vermont House General, Housing & Military Affairs Committee given as testimony for state recognition in 2006. This document may assist in understanding the identity issues embedded in the revitalization process.
(Please note: this analysis is from a scholarly, not a native rights advocacy perspective.)
2. However, this situation does not apply to Native Americans, who have to prove who they are, individually and collectively. Since the 18th century, American Indian identity has been in the hands of British-Americans. To qualify for the special civil liberties and opportunities afforded to other "classic," or self-identifying minorities, a person of native descent needs to be:
1.) an enrolled member (with enrollment criteria agreed to by Anglo bureaucracies),
2.) of a federal or state recognized tribe (with the tribal criteria controlled by Anglo bureaucracies). Merely saying that one has an "Indian princess" ancestor is meaningless and carries no legal weight. Since British-American political interests control Indian identity, other racist peculiarities abound, including
a. the apparent absence of any pejorative racial slur that applies to Natives.
b. the persistence of racial stereotypes in art/illustration (i.e. pie-plate eyes, big noses, buck teeth with regards to the Cleveland Indians, University of Illinois "Chief Illiniwink," etc. logos).
c. the pejorative casino Indian stereotype-- who is either too stupid to know he is being taken advantage of (i.e. the well-publicized scams done by the Democratic National Committee against Indian tribes in the 2003-04 presidential campaign, or the ongoing Abramoff scandal), or cagily deprives senor citizens of their life savings while state regulators look on helplessly (Connecticut government and media propaganda against the Mashentucket Pequot and to a lesser extent the Mohegans)
d. state officials are permitted to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer monies in an attempt to "prove" that local Indians are cultural and political frauds (i.e. Connecticut and Vermont Attorney Generals' Offices) to protect powerful political and economic interests; without any public outcry that this is a major human rights violation (as is being done in the prosecution of the Milosevic regime which "proved" that Serbian Muslims were ethnic Albanians, to deprive them of Serbian rights)
2. Other organized groups. There are many (I know of about 6) other groups of New England Abenakis, formed
1.) around charismatic individuals or
2.) in response to internal political squabbles at Missisquoi.
These groups have varying levels of cultural activity, ranging from the very active Cowasucks of North America, (Note: this group recently imploded!!) which have language programs; a library, a very fine newsletter, to very much less than that. They may consider themselves organizationally a tribe, clan, circle or non-profit organization. They have onl recently emerged, and are still below the anthropological and political "radar screen;" so they ac a well-known Euroamericans) -homelland, organized family bandor a alternative structure; and other cultural characteristics that draw serious study by anthropologists or the vaath of Vermonters. They are also quite unstable, splitting and coalescing at will, and suffer horrible internecine conflict.
3. Professional Abenakis. These are (generally) well-educated individuals without ties to existing American Indigenous political groups, cultural homelands or genealogies, who make their livelihood as being Abenaki Indians, usually as educators, storytellers and craftspeople. They are quite outspoken and influential, often aligning themselves with powerful Euroamerican institutions such as the University of Vermont or creating their own private institutes. Given the national scandals regarding people without documented native ancestry being hired as "Indian" (e.g. the Ward Churchill/University of Colorado controversy), it is probably appropriate for the suitable Euroamerican institutions to scrutinize unaffiliated Abenakis when they hold employment in Euroamerican organizations, or speak to Euroamerican agencies based on their ethnicity.
4. Assimilated Abenakis. These are people who recognize Abenaki ancestry, but prefer to define themselves as Vermonters or Americans. They generally do not participate in cultural activities, but are important because they pass on an Abenaki connection to their children, who may wish to enhance their native awareness in the future.
5. Abenaki Deniers. These are people who for various reasons (including the necessary denial of Abenaki identity during the Eugenics Survey ethnic cleansing of the 1930's) deny their native heritage. They are often great critics of Abenaki communities and their relatives who profess an Abenaki identity.
6. "'Wannabies" These are people without native genealogy, cultural ties or history who wish for various psychological, social or economic reasons to assume an Indian identity Oh, really? This sounds A LOT like Swanton's " St. Francis/Sokoki bunch that Fred M. Wiseman's belongs to, advocates for, and supports in his holier-than-thou we-are-historical-because-we-have-been-around-longer-than-any-incorporated-group nonsense. As with other con artists, they are often quite persuasive and well versed in "Indian lore," and are therefore hard to expose UNLESS of course, one has a Ph.D who works for Johnson State College who makes B.S. up as he goes along, buying stuff off from eBay.com and having his College students create "reproduction" "Abenaki" "artificats". However, anthropologists and sociologists who study this phenomenon, have shown that an over-emphasis on spirituality (often a generalized "pan Indian" form of religion), an avoidance of working closely with well established native organizations, and inappropriate overuse of native protocols ("Indian" naming, clothing, behaviors, etc.) are indicators. Missisquoi and perhaps other native organizations have well developed and implemented rigorous enrollment criteria to prevent wannabes from achieving an unwarranted Indian identity. The contradictions and distortions coming from Frederick M. Wiseman Ph.D are so many, it's beyond my person not to laugh. Even IF his statement were even remotely truthful, then Carol Nepton wouldn't have send so MANY people who claimed to be "Abenaki" letters requesting further genealogical documentation to support their claims! It has been the tradition of Anglo governments to empower native tribes to police the legitimacy of their own tribal rolls. Fred M. Wiseman Ph.D just LOVES to repeatedly use that word "ANGLO", doesn't he?!
Implications for recognition
I hope that this has given a perspective on the Indian identity issue that can be applied to the question of Abenaki recognition. For civil/human rights purposes, it is probably appropriate to cast a "wide net" to
Potential Non Abenaki members of the Native American Commission
Since all other nations represented in the state are state or federally recognized, there is no question regarding the identity of non-Abenaki Indians residing in Vermont. If the membership in the Commission is to be opened to citizens of other Indian nations, they should certainly provide documentation of enrollment in their federally recognized tribe.
Abenaki decorative artists do not currently meet the criteria of the 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act; in that they must be enrolled or certified by State or Federally recognized tribes. This problem extends beyond the decorative arts such as basketry, birch-bark canoe building and jewelry-making to the performing arts. For example, the Schemitzun Pow-Wow of the Mashentucket Pequot Nation does not accept competition dancers from the Abenaki community. The Pequots require documentation of enrolled membership in State or Federally recognized tribes. A young Abenaki woman [Takara nee: Matthews] who has won many competitions, including the Dartmouth Pow-Wow; will not he able to compete in the Schemitzun "young adult" category this August 24-27 in Connecticut. However, through S.117, there is now a mechanism by which artist certification may occur.
The new Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs has the statutory power to permit Vermont Abenakis be certified as Indian artists under the 1990 Indian Arts and Crafts Act. Below is the relevant section of the 5.117 recognition bill that addresses that issue:
S.1 l7 CHAPTER 23. § 852. VERMONT COMMISSION ON NATIVE AMERICAN AFFAIRS ESTABLISHED: AUTHORITY
(c) The commission shall have the authority to assist Native American tribal councils, organizations, and individuals to:
(2) Permit the creation, display, and sale of Native American arts and crafts and legally to label them as Indian- or Native American-produced as provided in 18 U.S.C. § I I 59(c)(3)(B) and 25 U.S.C. § 305e(d)(3)(B).
This section of the 5.117 state law refers to the federal statutes (listed below) regarding the Indian Arts and Crafts act of 1990 and the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. In order to see bow this will work we need to look at the applicable sections of the Arts and Craft Act, and the empowering legislation surrounding it. As pointed out above. the §853(a) "The state of Vermont recognizes the Abenaki people" part of the S.117 bill does not address these aspects of the Arts and Craft Act at all.
Actually, it is obvious that a "non-enrolled Native/Abenaki artist" could actually have the strength of genealogical data for enrollment, yet chooses NOT to enroll into a mere "Abenaki" INCORPORATON which attempts to pawn itself off as a legitimate "Abenaki Tribe or Band" when IN FACT it never was, never legitimately is, and never will be, an "authentic" Abenaki Tribe or Abenaki Band in the first place. That's why these incorporation's "representatives" and "supporter's" sit on the present day Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs there in Montpelier, Washington County, Vermont. These legislature's of VT and NH "BS Filters" are stuck under their desks, while these politicians play stupid, and forget to do their homework, on this Professor Wiseman and his "Alliance" cronies he attempts to validate with his BS.
Indeed, Mr. Ph.D Wiseman helped create the criteria for S.117 and S.222, which was subsequently even further altered by the likes of Hinda Miller and Vincent Illuzzi, so that ALL these INCORPORATIONS of dubious questionable "Abenakis" could simply sit on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs, with their buddies from the Dept. of Historical Preservation ... and subsequently grant themselves their own recommendations for "Legislative Recognition" for the very Reinvented and Alleged "Abenaki" Incorporation's that these people actually belong to! Slapping each other on the backsides for "pulling it off".