Criterion 83.7(b) requires that a predominant portion of the petitioning group comprises a distinct community and has existed as a community from historical times until the present.
Summary of the Proposed Finding
The PF determined that the available evidence did not show that a "predominant portion" of the petitioning group comprised a "distinct community" that has existed from "historical times to the present." Instead, based on the available evidence, the PF concluded, "the petitioner is a collection of individuals ... with little or no social or historical connection with each other before the early 1970's." The PF also concluded that these claimed ancestors' 12. did not maintain at least a minimal distinction" from the population of northwestern Vermont and the surrounding area from historical times until the present (Abenaki PF 2005, 44). Consequently, the petitioner did not satisfy criterion 83.7(b) at any point in time.
The PF evaluated the petitioner's case under criterion 83.7(b) over five distinct periods: (1) first contact to 1800; (2) 1800 through 1900; (3) 1900 through 1940; (4) 1940 through 1970; and (5) 1970 through the present (Abenaki PF 2005, 45-90).
During the first of these periods, from first contact to 1800, the PF concluded there was an Abenaki entity in or around northwestern Vermont through the late 18th century. However, the available evidence did not demonstrate that these 17th and 18th century Abenaki Indians were the petitioner's ancestors. 13.
During the second of these periods, 1800-1900, the PF concluded that the available evidence did not support the petitioner's contention that an Abenaki community, comprised of the petitioner's ancestors, remained in northwestern Vermont after 1800, or that the petitioner descended from an Abenaki group that migrated from Canada to northwestern Vermont in the 19th century.
12. The Department uses the term "claimed ancestors" because of continued uncertainty over what constitutes the petitioner's claimed historical community. In its 1986 petition submissions, the petitioner claimed its historical community in the 19th century included 25 "central" families, 30 "other" families, 131 "small" families, and 93 "ancestral" families, for 279 families overall. According to the petitioner, "[a]ll of the Central families, half of the Other and one quarter of the small families [ ... ] in the present membership" appeared in the Franklin and Grand Isle County records they referenced from 1790 to 1910. And "over fifty of the ancestral families" referenced had "known Abenaki Indian origins and/or ties to the 18th century Missisquoi Abenaki community" (SSA 1/17/1996 [Part B Appendix 1A]). The petitioner did not identify what those origins or ties were, nor did it explain why only 50 of the 93 ancestral families had those connections. In 1995, the petitioner, however, claimed only 20 "core" families for purpose of descent and not 93 as claimed nine years before (SSA 12/11/1995 [Second Addendum], 10, see criterion 83.7(e) for further details). See also Abenaki PF 2005, 56, 113, 128-132. The PF and the FD generally refer to those 20 "core" families as "the petitioner's claimed ancestors."
13. For further explanation of the how the petitioner did not connect to any pre-1800 Abenaki Indians in Northwestern Vermont, see the discussion of the register at Fort Saint-Frederic and the 1765 "Robertson's Lease" on pp. 44-45 of this FD and pp. 17, 93, 117-119, and 132 of the Abenaki PF.
The PF evaluated school records, church records, Federal census records, and vital records and, in contrast to the petitioner's claims, concluded that many of the petitioner's variously claimed ancestral families:
... came from unconnected points of origin, mainly from Quebec and other areas of Canada, and moved to northwestern Vermont over a very long time. Such a collection of disconnected individuals, never described by outsiders before the 1970's as a group with at least some minimal distinction from others, and unknown to most of its members, does not meet the definition of a community under 83. 1, which in part requires that a group's members be differentiated and identified as distinct from nonmembers. (Abenaki PF 2005, 56.)
The PF noted that much of the available evidence from the 19th century demonstrated that the Abenakis of Northern Vermont left the state by around 1800, it did not support the petitioner's assertions about the existence of its claimed 19th century community. Many ofthe 19th-century documents discussing Abenaki Indians referred to 18th-century Abenaki Indians, who moved to Canada, not Abenaki communities that existed contemporaneously with their 19th century authors. The following is an example of how the PF evaluated a document that the State of Vermont submitted:
In 1883, Hamilton Child, in the Gazetteer and Business Directory of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, Vt., wrote that in 1755, "the northern parts of Lake
14. The term community is defined as follows in 25 CFR83.1: "[c]ommunity means any group of people which can demonstrate that consistent interactions and significant social relationships exist within its membership and that its members are differentiated from and identified as distinct from nonmembers. Community must be understood in the context of the history, geography, culture, and social organization of the group."
15. This problematic "family-name variation" methodology is discussed as it applies to 83.7(b) on pp. 47-48, 58-61 of the Abenaki PF, and in general on pp. 133-139 of the Abenaki PF and pp. 46 of this FD.
The PF also noted that the population of Franklin County in 1880 was 30,225 but, in contrast to the petitioner's claims that 1,000 of its "Abenaki" ancestors lived in the area, the 1880 Federal census of Franklin County, Vermont, identified no one as "Indian" (US Census Bureau 1901). Much of the evidence in the petition suggests that the Abenaki Indians of northwestern Vermont migrated to Canada in the late 18th century and that there was no distinct "Abenaki" community in the 19th century in or near Swanton, Vermont.
For the period 1900 to 1940, the PF concluded the available evidence did not demonstrate that a distinct community composed of the petitioner's ancestors existed in or near Swanton, Vermont. The petitioner submitted various claims about the character of its early 20th century community. The petitioner alleged that it based its claims on the documentary record, but often submitted abstracts of documents to support those claims, rather than copies of the documents themselves. The PF encouraged the petitioner to submit photocopies of original documents, rather than abstracts of the documents (Abenaki PF 2005, 62). The State of Vermont., in contrast, submitted copies of original documents, and the PF observed that, "when these records are examined, they do not support the petitioner's claims" and that "the petitioner's arguments are often demonstrably erroneous when the original documents are examined" (Abenaki PF 2005, 64)
For this same period, the petitioner submitted a "catalog" of "artifacts" that the petitioner claimed helped demonstrate the existence of an early 20th century "Abenaki" community in and around Swanton, Vermont. The PF rejected the claims associated with these artifacts for lack of supporting evidence. One of these objects was a picture postcard of a man fishing in a boat. The postcard was captioned "Chief of the Wabanacus, Highgate Springs, Vt." However, the PF concluded that the provenance of this postcard was uncertain and the available evidence did not show that this man was an ancestor of the petitioner. The petitioner also submitted materials that discussed the manufacture of "Abenaki" baskets. The PF noted that the available evidence showed that other Indians or non-Indians might have made the baskets. In particular, the PF stated that "Western Abenakis from Odanak and Passamaquoddy and Penobscot [Indians] from Maine traveled to the large summer resort hotels throughout the region, selling baskets and other crafts to tourists," and that by the 1880's, these Indians "were beginning to manufacture baskets specifically for the summer tourist trade" (Abenaki PF 2005, 68). The PF also stated the available evidence did not show that "the baskets were made by members of a Swanton-based Abenaki community" (Abenaki PF 2005, 69). The PF also discussed evidence that the petitioner submitted describing a pocket watch with the inscription, "Presented to Arthur Stevens May 16
The petitioner also claimed that social and economic relationships linked its claimed ancestors during the early 20th century, but the PF concluded that the petitioner needed to substantiate these assertions with additional evidence74). The petitioner further claimed that its ancestors were victims of discrimination; however, these unsubstantiated claims did not demonstrate that the alleged discrimination occurred because its ancestors were Indian, or that the petitioner's ancestors comprised a community that received treatment distinct from other people in the area. In particular, the petitioner claimed that the Vermont Eugenics Survey persecuted its ancestors, calling them "river rats," "pirates,"and "gypsies," and even targeting them for sterilization because they were Indians. However, the PF concluded that these claims "are unpersuasive because there is no evidence in the materials that the claimed ancestors of the petitioner were targeted because they were Indians" (Abenaki PF 2005, 79). (Abenaki PF 2005, 79).
Finally, the PF observed a contradiction that repeatedly presented itself in the petitioner's documents. On the one hand, the petitioner claimed that its ancestors hid "underground" to avoid anti-Indian discrimination in the early 20th century; this, the petitioner argues, explains the paucity of documents attesting to the presence of an "Abenaki" community in or near Swanton, Vermont. On the other hand, however, the petitioner also claims that "many people" in the area knew and acknowledged a separate "Abenaki" community (Abenaki PF 2005, 67-68, 78).
For the period 1940 to 1970, the PF concluded the available evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that the petitioner or an antecedent group comprised a distinct community, or that others regarded them as distinct from other residents of Swanton, Vermont. The petitioner claimed that the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) club bar in Swanton became an "Indian bar" after World War II. However, the available evidence did not substantiate this claim (Abenaki PF 2005, 81)., and the Department encouraged the petitioner to submit additional information demonstrating the "Indian" character of the bar and the social functions associated with it (Abenaki PF 2005, 81).
The petitioner also made claims regarding the social importance of a wildlife refuge and the Swanton "hemp yards." Because the available evidence did not sufficiently support petitioner's claims, the Department encouraged the petitioner to submit additional evidence and explanation (Abenaki PF 2005, 81-82).
The petitioner also submitted four oral interviews it claimed showed the existence of a distinct "Abenaki" community. The PF noted these interviews identified a few people as informal leaders and discussed some of the activities people engaged in, such as hunting, fishing, and berry picking. However, the PF pointed out that the petition did not contain discussions of other
For the period 1970 to the present, the PF noted that, there "is no question that, after 1975, the group now known as the 'St. Francis-Sokoki Band of Abenaki' became active socially" (Abenaki PF 2005, 84). People from the SSA organized a number of activities, including "fish-ins," "Heritage Days" celebrations, a "College of Missisquoi" program at Burlington College, "Harvest Suppers," an "Operation Santa Clause" program, and a pageant. SSA members worked with the University of Vermont to rebury skeletal remains and grave objects. They also obtained funding to establish new headquarters and then [sic] opened a small cultural museum. In addition to establishing an SSA "council" in the early 1970's, members of the SSA established an organization called the Abenaki Self-Help Association, Incorporated (ASHAI), in 1975. This organization remained active at the time of the PF, and has provided various services such as tax preparation assistance and a food pantry. The SSA even established a relationship with the St. Francis Abenakis at Odanak in Quebec, Canada, although the nature of that relationship is uncertain (Abenaki PF 2005, 84-87). The PF requested further evidence from the petitioner about the structure and scope of these activities. In particular, the PF noted that the petition was missing 17 years of meeting minutes from the ASHAI, and requested that the petitioner submit these meeting minutes and other ASHAI documents (Abenaki PF 2005, 85).
The PF also noted that "[o]ne of the most consistent problems with the SSA petition is the lack of a definition of community membership" (Abenaki PF 2005, 87). When the SSA group formed in the 1970's, the membership criteria were apparently very open. The available evidence did not show how the SSA organization vetted claims of Indian ancestry. Instead, membership was "based on the approval of prospective members by the group's governing body" (Abenaki PF 2005, 87).
The number of SSA members also varied without explanation. In 1982, the petitioner claimed 1,685 members, and in 1995, the petitioner claimed 1,248 members. The petitioner did not submit its membership rolls from 1975 and 1983 in time for the Department to evaluate them for the PF. The petitioner did not explain the circumstances and criteria that influenced the composition of its membership lists. Consequently, the PF concluded that it was "nearly impossible to determine continuity for the group since 1975," and that the "lack of a consistent standard of membership and the difficulties in identifying members on the group's membership lists make it impossible to define what the petitioner means when it refers to 'the community'" (Abenaki PF 2005, 88-89). The PF encouraged the petitioner to provide more information that
For the period following 1970, the PF noted that despite the SSA's various activities, the available evidence was insufficient to demonstrate that the group within the meaning of criterion 83.7(b). The PF concluded that the SSA's "social and cultural activities are of recent introduction, and there is not enough information to indicate that these events are of more than symbolic value to the group as a whole, rather than to a few involved members" (Abenaki PF 2005, 90). The PF also reported that although the SSA arranged events that allowed members to congregate, "the petitioner has not demonstrated that a significant portion of its membership regularly associate with each other" (Abenaki PF 2005, 90).
Comments on the Proposed Finding
On November 1, 2005, the Department received copies of two additional membership lists from the petitioner. One list is labeled as a 1975 list, and the other labeled as a 1983 list. The petitioner did not certify either of these lists as a submission. The Department received these documents too late to incorporate into the PF and instead considered them for the FD.
On May 15, 2006, the Department received a letter from the petitioner, which April St. Francis-Merrill, the leader of the SSA petitioner, and six additional council members signed. The letter requested an extension of the comment period, but also included four brief essays that constituted a partial response to the PF. These four essays came from Fred M. Wiseman, who is identified as the chair of the Department of Humanities at Johnson State College, are principally about 20th century material culture, and Wiseman addressed them to criterion 83.7(b). The essays are entitled: "The Case of the Missisquoi Abenaki Baskets," "The Case of the Missisquoi Tapered-Lead Fish-Spears," "The Case of the Abenaki Pocketwatch," and "The Case of the `Chief of the Wabanacus' Post Card."
On August 22, 2006, the Department received comments from the governing body of the petitioner, many of which relate to criterion 83.7(b). These comments included a set of four Internet essays entitled "Abenaki History," the DVD video entitled "Against the Darkness," an unannotated map of Swanton, Vermont, and a collection of meeting minutes from the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's.
On May 15, 2006, the Department received comments from John Moody. His submission included nine pages of comment and discussion. He also submitted ten pages of photocopies of primary sources, more specifically, an excerpt from the Journals of the Continental Congress, an 1835 newspaper article from the Green Mountain Democrat, an excerpt from a 20th century Vermont Eugenics Study "Pedigree" file, and three letters from Dr. Gordon Day, an ethnologist at Canada's National Museum of Man. Two of these letters do not address the PF, but the third appears to do so.
For clarity, the FD will present its findings for criterion 83.7(b) using the five periods of analysis in the PF. These five periods are: (1) first contact through1800; (2) 1800 through 1900; (3) 1900 through 1940; (4) 1940 through 1970; and (5) 1970 through the present.
Social Community, First Contact through 1800
In its August 2006 submission, the petitioner included comments that pertain to the Abenaki Indians in the period before 1800. These comments include the set of Internet essays from the "Manataka American Indian Council"' on Abenaki history and culture during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Despite the fact that these essays contain much specific information, they contain no citations or bibliographies. The only attribution on the documents states: "From the Archive of Little Mother," and "Our thanks to Blue Panther, Keeper of Stories." These essays do not contain standard citations or bibliographic information that identify their sources. The Department issued a notice on March 31, 2005, which, among other things, provides guidance for how acknowledgment researchers should handle evidence. The notice, "Office of Federal Acknowledgment; Reports and Guidance Documents; Availability, etc.," says:
Section 83.6(a) of the [25 CFR Part 83 Federal acknowledgment] regulations states that a petition may be "in any readable form that contains detailed, specific evidence." In some instances, materials submitted by the petitioner or a third party are poorly organized, do not identify the sources or even the nature of the documents provided, or cannot be identified from the source cited in the text submitted by the petitioner or third party. The Department may consider such materials, either in whole or in part, as not being in a "readable form" within the meaning of the regulations, and acknowledgment researchers shall not expend more than a reasonable amount of time attempting to identify the source or sources of the document materials. (70 FR 16515)
Because these "Manataka American Indian Council" essays do not identify their sources, the Department can afford them only little weight within the meaning of the regulations.
Furthermore, these essays are not annotated in any way to assist the Department in interpreting them. More important, these essays focus on the Abenaki Indians in general, such as those who moved to Canada and the Abenaki Indians of Maine, rather than Indians from whom the petitioner demonstrably descends. These documents do not discuss any of the petitioner's known ancestors, and the documents do not connect the petitioner to the historical Abenakis of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Consequently, these essays appear to support the PF's conclusion that there was an Abenaki entity in or around northern Vermont prior to 1800, but the available evidence does not show that the petitioner's known ancestors were among those 18th-century Abenaki Indians. Therefore, these essays do not provide evidence for this petitioner under criterion 83.7(b).
16. The petitioner did not provide any information about the character, history, mission, organizational structure, or institutional credentials of the "Manataka American Indian Council." A review of the manataka.org website suggests that this "council" is located in Arkansas.
In his May 2006 comments, Moody discusses two sets of documents that were allegedly created in the late 18th century but, at present, either are not locatable or do not exist. Moody speculates that, if found, these documents might help describe an Abenaki entity in northwestern Vermont during the 18th century that constitutes a community as required by criterion 83.7(b). Moody's speculations, however, cannot be verified and thus do not provide evidence for the purposes of 83.7(b). As this FD discusses elsewhere, the Department makes its decisions based on available evidence (see criterion 83.7(e) for a further discussion of these documents and their unavailability).
Social Community, 1800-1900
For the period from 1800 to 1900, there are two pieces of information related to criterion 83.7(b). One is a copy of the Treaty of Ghent, which the petitioner submitted to the Department in its August 2006 letter. This 1814 treaty secured peace between the United States and Great Britain following the War of 1812. Article IX of the treaty discusses matters pertaining to Indians, but uses only the generic terms "Indian," "tribe," and "nation" to refer to Indian entities. The treaty makes no specific reference to an Abenaki entity or an Indian community in northwestern Vermont. Therefore, the Treaty of Ghent does not provide any useful evidence to help the petitioner meet criterion 83.7(b).
The second piece of evidence submitted for this period is an April 3, 1835, newspaper article "An Indian Encampment in Connecticut," from the Green Mountain Democrat of Fayetteville, Vermont. The PF fully discussed the article. Nothing in John Moody's comments regarding this article specifically addresses or rebuts any of the Department's concerns that this article describes "only a brief, first-time sighting of a small group of mostly unidentified Indians, sighted far away from [the petitioner's claimed ancestral homeland], who then disappeared from the record" (Abenaki PF 2005, 50). Furthermore, although the article does suggest that a "part of
17. This historical text appears to misidentify the Eastern Abenaki on the Saco River as Western Abenaki who were Sokoki. For a discussion of scholarly views on Western Abenaki group names, see the Abenaki PF, pages 11-16. The Kidder document also discusses the St. Francis Indians, but they, too, went to Canada, as was discussed in the PF.
Social Community 1900 to 1940
During the comment period, the petitioner submitted only a few documents related to criterion 83.7(b) between 1900 and 1940. The petitioner's "Against the Darkness" video made some claims of social community. The petitioner also submitted four essays written by Fred M. Wiseman: "The Case of the Missisquoi Abenaki Baskets," "The Case of the Missisquoi Tapered-Lead Fish-Spears," "The Case of the Abenaki Pocketwatch," and "The Case of the `Chief of the Wabanacus' Post Card."
The "Against the Darkness" video and Wiseman's essays contend that a few items of apparent Abenaki material cultural demonstrate that an Abenaki community composed of the petitioner's ancestors existed in the Swanton area during between 1900 and 1940. The PF analyzed an earlier "Against the Darkness" video presentation and other submissions, and advised the petitioner to substantiate its claims regarding these items by submitting supporting documentation. The PF stated:
The petitioner has presented descriptions and photographs of several items that it maintains demonstrates the vitality of its ancestral community during the early 20th century. These items are included in a "catalog" of artifacts in the petitioner's museum that it maintains were made by Abenaki Indians. It is not clear, however, that anyone other than the petitioner has identified these articles as "Abenaki." However, the petitioner has not demonstrated these items originated in a Swanton-based community, rather than a collection of objects manufactured by Abenaki. (Abenaki PF 2005, 66)
The PF stated, "a few Indians described by external observers in Vermont from 1800 to 1975 were usually isolated individuals or groups traveling seasonally to the area to hunt, fish, or to sell baskets and crafts. These Indians are usually unidentified by name or point of origin, and the petitioner did not establish a connection to these people" (Abenaki PF 2005, 18). The petitioner discussed some members of the Obomsawin and Phillips families making and selling baskets, but did not document these families as being associated with a local community as defined under criterion 83.7(b).
Cultural artifacts, or items of material culture, like those described by the petitioner, such as surviving baskets, paddles, and other materials, are not usually significant evidence of social interaction and relationships. While such evidence may show that Indians with a certain kind of material culture lived in a particular area, they provide little evidence to demonstrate social community among the claimed ancestors of a petitioning group. The petitioner did not demonstrate their claimed material culture showed the existence of a historical community that with significant evidence of social interaction among its members.
Abenaki basketry has been long known to be very important signifier of native status.... When I was a child, an extended Swanton Abenaki family, the Lapans, was known for both their fishing prowess and their quality basketry.... There remains an extensive oral history in Swanton of the Lapans, which can be directly tied to their material culture production.... I believe that these data refute the unfounded assertions on p. 69 of the BAR/BIA summary. (Wiseman 5/15/2006)
Wiseman's statements did not establish any provenance for the baskets, and this FD emphasizes that a few individuals making and selling baskets do not show the existence of a community as required by the regulations. The petitioner did not document that these cultural objects or basket-making constituted "a significant degree of shared or cooperative labor or other economic activity among the membership" as defined under criterion 83.7(b)(1)(v).
Other comments related to this period focused on descriptions of fish-spears as evidence of community. In his essay, "The Case of the Missisquoi Tapered-Lead Fish-Spears," Wiseman states:
Although the oral history accompanying the fish spear is unclear as to the maker, Mr. Hakey was a skilled woodworker in the native style, who made a canoe cup for the author in the 1950's, so it is entirely possible that he made the spear. Even if Mr. Hakey did not make the fish spear, the distinctive trident style with the lateral "leads" requires an entirely distinct and native tradition-based spearing style;. . . The Highgate spear, which descended in the Franco-Abenaki Beor family, is based on the same double lead/central spike, only translated into metal, requiring the same distinctive (and Native) gross motor movements. This practice is operationally different from the Euroamerican strike and remove technique used with the five-tined "pike spear" also used during the first half of the 20th century. Such operational differences would be considered good ethnic identifiers to intellectually unbiased scholars.
... In discussing the Hakey and Highgate fish spears with Nicole Obomsawin and Patrick Cote of the Musee des Abenakis at Odanak, they pointed out that there are no extant Odanak Abenaki fish spears with which to compare the Abenaki examples.... Therefore, without comparative material or even any documentation of their use at Odanak, the BAR/BIA is intellectually disingenuous to assert that the fish spears are of Odanak origin. (Wiseman 5/15/2006)
The available evidence for both the PF and the FD does not demonstrate these fish-spears were Abenaki in origin or that they came from a historical community. The available evidence did not demonstrate that these fish spears were the product of cooperative labor that involved significant
The essay, "The Case of the Abenaki Pocketwatch," by Fred Wiseman, was a response to part of the PF's conclusions regarding this artifact. The pocketwatch was "purchased from a New Jersey estate sale" (Wiseman Catalog 2005).
The catalog of artifacts submitted for the PF states that this watch probably is:
... the most important object in the collections from this time period. The fact that the watch is an American Waltham Watch Co., and the engraved message is in English is indicative of an American, rather than Canadian origin. Furthermore, the included elaborate American Flag watch-fob has a fringe type that was commonly made by Native People in the late 19th and early 20th Century. This indicates both the presence of an "Abenaki Tribe" and the collective resources to purchase a 14k gold watch to give to the bearer of a Euroamerican name. (Wiseman Catalog 2005)
The watch was inscribed "Presented to Arthur Stevens May 16, 1918, from Abenaki Tribe for Faithful Work." In his essay that commented on the PF, Wiseman stated:
I believe that rather than accept the logical possibility that the watch may be what it seems, an Abenaki tribal gift; the Bureau of Indian Affairs researchers distorted data and inference to discredit the inscription and provenance, perhaps without really understanding the data that they were using to question the watch's inscription. (Wiseman 5/15/2006, npn)
The PF concluded the "petitioner offered no explanation regarding who 'Arthur Stevens' was or why he would have received such an elaborate gift from the alleged 'community' in and around Swanton.... The petitioner also did not include any interviews or oral histories describing Stevens or the awarding of the watch" (Abenaki PF 2005, 70).
"The Case of the Abenaki Pocketwatch" essay also disputed the PF's suggestion that the watch may have come from a non-Indian fraternal group known as the Improved Order of Red Men.
Despite some of the issues raised in the PF, the petitioner did not provide new evidence to identify Arthur Stevens or explain why he might have received such a gift. The petitioner did not provide newspaper articles or other documents that described any ceremony or social setting presenting the watch, or what "faithful work" Stevens did. Furthermore, the petitioner did not submit interviews or oral histories describing Stevens or the awarding of the watch. Without corroborating documents to support the petitioner's claims, the watch by itself does not provide evidence of a community of the petitioner's ancestors as defined under criterion 83.7(b), and without further information, the watch's origin is speculative. The watch does not provide significant evidence of social interaction and relationships among the claimed ancestors of the group for this period.
The petitioner's "Against the Darkness" video presentation includes an interview with a non-Indian, non-group member. This interview applies to criterion 83.7(b). In the material reviewed for the PF, the petitioner included references to an interview with "Alice Roy" of Barre, Vermont. The PF encouraged the petitioner to provide the transcript of this interview, along with other documentation that would identify the "Abenaki community" that the petition referenced, their location, and an explanation of how they related to the petitioner's claimed ancestors (Abenaki PF 2005, 67-68). In the interview, Mrs. Gerard Roy of Barre, Vermont, recalled a day trip sometime between 1910 and 1918, during which her father and grandfather allegedly visited "Indians in Vermont" and saw their "wigwam." However, Mrs. Roy did not name any of the Indians visited or the town(s) where the Indians lived, nor did petitioner provide supporting documentation of this visit to the "Indians in Vermont." The interview provides no evidence that the "Indians in Vermont" were the petitioner's ancestors. See the FD's discussion of the Alice Roy interview in criterion 83.7(a) for further discussion of this interview. The petitioner's contention that the Roy interview demonstrates that "the Abenaki community was widely known, at least to the Vermont Francophone community" remains unsubstantiated (Abenaki PF 2005, 67). This claim seems contrary to the petitioner's assertion that its ancestors hid "underground" to avoid anti-Indian discrimination in the early 20th century." By itself, the interview does not provide evidence of a community in the early 1900's as defined under criterion 83.7(b), and, when read with the available evidence, it does not demonstrate the existence of a community of the petitioner's ancestors as required by 83.7(b).
In the material it submitted for the PF, the petitioner claimed that a sterilization program associated with the Vermont Eugenics Survey affected the members of its claimed historical community. The petitioner argued the VES deliberately targeted and sterilized petitioner's ancestors because they were Indians, and that the group's ancestors hid their ancestry to avoid detection by the VES (Abenaki PF 2005, 79). During the comment period, John Moody made several comments concerning the VES in the mid- 1920's.
The eugenics records of Vermont, or any other state, are definitely not considered reliable sources of unbiased genealogical or ethnohistorical data. I am sure that the BIA OFA staff must have read the racist cant written in the same time period about virtually every other Native community in the east!
... However, the reference to 'St Francis Indians' in the St Francis family `pedigree' in the Vermont eugenics records [see here below and copy appended],
18. See the Abenaki PF, pp. 67-68, 78, and p. 17 of this FD for further discussion of this point.
Moody alleges that the VES statement "could" be a "telling" comment about the "ethnicity" of the "St. Francis family" and other "related Abenaki families." However, criterion 83.7(b) focuses on social community, as defined by the regulations, rather than the ethnic backgrounds of families. Neither Moody's comments nor the particular VES statement he referenced provides additional evidence that helps demonstrate that the petitioner's ancestors were a community as defined by the regulations."
Social Community 1940 to 1970
The PF requested additional documentation describing how the petitioner and the petitioner's ancestors functioned as a community during the middle of the 20th century. In its submissions reviewed for the PF, the petitioner claimed that its ancestors formed roaming bands of families traveling the roads of Vermont or were a part of communities distinct in some manner from non-Indians in northwestern Vermont. The petitioner also described its ancestors hiding themselves to survive and preserve their identity by avoiding outsiders. The PF stated the petitioner did not explain adequately the social processes that maintained both a "dispersed, family band existence" and a "large, tenacious network of families and neighborhoods" centered in the Missisquoi delta as the petitioner alleged (Abenaki PF 2005, 46). The petitioner did not respond to the PF's request to document the composition of these family groups during different periods nor did it submit comments to explain how such groups of Indians could have entirely escaped the notice of non-Indians.
In its submissions for the PF, the petitioner referred to the local VFW club in Swanton as an "Indian bar," and an important social place for the local "Abenaki" Indians during this period. The PF advised the petitioner to document its claim of a VFW "Indian bar" existing in Swanton. The documentation needed to include the names of members and/or their claimed ancestors who frequented the club, descriptions of members holding any official leadership positions in the VFW organization, and to cite any oral histories and other sources describing how and when the VFW became an "Indian bar" (Abenaki PF 2005, 81).
In its August 2006 comments, the petitioner stated:
We are working on getting the VFW, Post 778 Frank DaPrato in Swanton materials to send. We have an appointment to see if we can get copies of their Charters (Post, Ladies Auxiliary, and the Sons of the VFW) which have several Abenaki names on them. Also, we are asking for the information on Past & Present Post Officials to show how the Abenaki are involved in the VFW. (Merrill 8/11/2006)
19. See p.12 of this FD fora transcription and discussion of the VES statement about the St. Francis family.
In its August 2006 comments, the petitioner also claimed that unnamed outside observers described a Back Bay enclave in Swanton, Vermont. The petitioner stated:
We are sending a map of Back Bay. The work on this continues as we are finishing up on Title Searches for said area. So that we can show the Abenaki families that lived in the Back Bay area from 1900 to present time. More time is needed to finish up this part of the petition. (Merrill 8/11/2006)
The petitioner submitted black and white map that had numbers assigned to various houses; however, the materials did not explain the meaning of the numbers, or what the numbers are supposed to indicate. This unannotated map did not demonstrate the petitioner's claim of an "enclave" in the part of Swanton known as "Back Bay." Neither the petitioner's comments nor the map provided evidence of a distinct community within Swanton consisting of the claimed ancestors of the group, or that those ancestors constituted a "community-within-a-community" among the Catholic families in the town of Swanton.
Social Community, 1970 to the present
In the 1970's some individuals formed a non-profit organization and council, which later became the SSA petitioner. These organizations provided social services to potential members, and they attempted to establish social relations with other unrecognized groups and recognized Indian tribes. The available evidence indicates that the petitioner introduced these social activities only after the creation of these organizations. Other evidence for both the PF and the FD shows the petitioner began recruiting its membership after the 1970's. The available evidence, particularly council minutes submitted as comments, does not indicate the petitioner existed as an entity before the 1970's.
At several early 'tribal council" meetings, the petitioner sought to increase its membership. On June 8, 1982, with six members including the group leader and four council members in attendance, applications for membership became the first order of business (ATC Minutes 6/8/1982). The group approved 54 individuals for membership and rejected 39 until they provided further proof of ancestry. On May 18, 1983, those in attendance, seven council members and group leader Homer St. Francis, declared, "our tribe is made up of 6 tribal council members and a chief." They stated that one of its goals was to reach out to "Native Americans who are members of the Abenaki Nation" through "mail outs and canvassing." They also defined membership as: (1) a person who is "registered on a band or tribal list," (2) a person being "of the full age of 18 years" [changed to 15 years in January 12, 1984, minutes], and (3) person who was "not disqualified from voting at band, tribal, or national elections." They estimated a potential 1,500 members as children came of age (ATC Minutes 5/18/1983).
The council met on December 7, 1995, with 11 people in attendance: seven council members, the group leader, and three guests. Carol Nepton, a guest, stated she was "not comfortable" with the "lack of documentation" on some of the petitioner's families. She stated, "[w]e recommend to
The council met on March 12, 1996, with 10 people in attendance: seven members, the group leader, and two guests. Those in attendance conducted a discussion of reauthorizing the membership of thirty families occurred. According to the Abenaki Research Project (ARP) report presented at the meeting, these re-authorizations were necessary because many membership cards had been "issued to people who are clearly not Abenaki Others were "clearly Abenaki" but lacked "substantive support that would be required by the BIA." According to the report, the petitioner had numerous new applications arriving, or "coming out of the woodwork" (ATC Minutes 3/12/1996). During the next meeting, held on April 19, 1996, members discovered that several people were not Abenaki, and that they had broken from the group and were spreading "misinformation" (ATC Minutes 4/19/1996).."
The council met on September 10, 1996, with nine people in attendance: seven members, the "chief," and a guest, Carol Nepton. At the meeting, the council "re-authorized" 39 families and mailed letters to fifty "potential citizens." These "potential citizens," Nepton stated, had been "selected more-or-less at random from the genealogy computer and the phone book. I tried to hit several parts of families rather than everybody in the family hoping that talk with the families will do some of our work for us. There are still a lot of potential citizens to contact" (ATC 9/10/1996).
On July 8, 1997, a joint meeting of ASHAI and the "tribal council" occurred. The ARP report stated:
As of this date we have 2,128 adults, and children on our Citizenship Roll. Of these 1,514 adults. Of this number, only 573 files are considered complete with the remaining 941 files in need of birth certificates, new forms or both. Some of the difficulty in completing these citizens' files continues to be the lack of current address. One hundred sixty-one (161) citizens sent letters have had the mail returned to us. This large number of "missing" citizens will cause us problems when we are under active review. (ATC and ASHAI 7/8/1997)
These minutes provide evidence the group first created and organized itself in the 1970's, and established its membership rules after that period. They also show the group lacked a clear understanding of its membership or knowledge of who its members were.
In November 2005, the petitioner submitted two older membership lists, one from 1975 and one from 1983 (see the discussion under criterion 83.7(e) of this FD for a complete description of these lists). The 1975 list contains the names of 308 individuals of unknown age, mainly from the Swanton area of Franklin County. The petitioner provided no explanation of the membership rules used to include these people as its group members. The Department conducted an analysis
These large fluctuations in the group numbers, and difficulties in identifying members over time, as discussed in the PF and as demonstrated by the new evidence, make it impossible to define what the petitioner refers to as "the community" (Abenaki PF 2005, 89). The evidence provided did not support the petitioner's claims of community.
In the PF, the Department encouraged the petitioner to document changes in the composition of the group, such as submitting a list of people who have withdrawn voluntarily from the SSA and the date these withdrawals took place. It also asked the group to compile a list of people removed involuntarily from the group's roll, the date of removal, and the reason for the removal (Abenaki PF 2005, 89). The petitioner did not submit such documentation.
Generally, the petitioner was able to document some activities of the ASHAI and the group council, but did not document the existence of an interacting social community. The fluidness of its membership, the lack of evidence of social interaction, the claiming of hundreds of individuals whose Abenaki connection remain unproven, and the inability to define the location of its claimed community, demonstrate that the petitioner does not have a social community as defined by the regulations. The regulations in 25 CFR 83.3(c) do not allow for the acknowledgment of associations, organizations, incorporations, or groups of any character, such as the SSA petitioner, which formed in recent times.
The PF reviewed the history of the Missisquoi, Sokoki, and the St. Francis Abenaki of Odanak, Quebec, Canada by Gordon Day. Gordon Day was an ethnohistorian at the National Museum of Man, in Quebec, Canada, and an authority on the Western Abenaki. Day estimated the pre-contact population of the Western Abenaki was about 5,000 before plague and wars severely reduced their numbers (Day 1978a, 152-153). Day states:
A small village still existed at Missisquoi in 1786 after the war. Only some twenty persons remained in 1788, and these may have stayed on to contribute to the present-day Indian group at Swanton, but most of the Missisquoi had left by 1800 (Day 1981, 65).
John Moody submitted a copy of an 1986 letter by Gordon Day regarding Abenaki Indians at Swanton. Day's letter stated:
Neither Day nor Moody provided an explanation or delineated the evidence to support Day's statement. As described in detail in the PF, Day's published works argued that "most" of the Western Abenaki had migrated to Canada by 1800 (Abenaki PF 2005, 14). Day's statement does not demonstrate that a group of Abenakis stayed in Vermont and remained a distinct community, comprised predominantly of the petitioner and its ancestors, from historical times until the present. This letter does not provide evidence of a community, or significant social interaction among identified persons. Its lack of specificity limits its usefulness to help the petitioner meet the criteria.
For criterion 83.7(b), the petitioner generally did not follow the requests for additional information and clarification made in the PF and did not support its claims with relevant new evidence or documentation during the comment and response periods. Overall, the available evidence does not demonstrate the petitioner had a historical or social connection to any American or Canadian Abenaki Indian entity. As stated in the PF, from the 19th century until the 1970's, the petitioner did not show that a community made up of petitioner's ancestors existed distinct from the surrounding population in the Swanton area, nor did it demonstrate the continuous existence of a historical Abenaki group in Vermont. Instead, the available evidence for both the PF and the FD shows the petitioner is a collection of individuals who had little or no social connection with each other before the early 1970's. After 1975, the group now known as the "St. Francis- Sokoki Band of Abenaki" started some social organizations, but these did not evolve from a social community as defined under criterion 83.7(b). The submitted comments reinforced the PF's conclusion that the petitioner is limited to a small group of members who became active in recent times and do not represent a social community that continued to exist historically to the present.
Final Determination's Conclusions on Criterion 83.7(b)
For the period prior to 1800, the PF concluded there was an Abenaki entity in or around northwestern Vermont through the late 18th century. The PF also concluded the available evidence did not show that these 18th-century Abenaki Indians were the petitioner's ancestors. During the comment and response periods, the Department received no additional evidence showing that the petitioner's ancestors belonged to an Abenaki Indian entity living in Vermont prior to 1800. The petitioner submitted documents that discuss 18th-century Abenaki Indians, but provided no evidence that these Abenaki Indians were the petitioner's ancestors. John Moody alluded to documents that were allegedly created in the late 18th century and are either not locatable or do not exist. The Department makes its decisions based on available evidence, and his assumptions about the documents cannot be verified. Therefore, the FD affirms the PF's conclusions and determines, based on the available evidence, that petitioner does not meet criterion 83.7(b) before 1800.
For the period since 1900, the PF concluded that the petitioner did not satisfy the criterion. During the comment period, the Department received four essays on material culture; a DVD copy of the "Against the Darkness" video; an unannotated map of Swanton, Vermont; a comment on the Vermont Eugenics Survey; a statement from a scholarly authority on Abenaki history and culture; and a collection of meeting minutes from the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. These pieces of evidence, when read together with the rest of the available record, do not demonstrate that a predominant portion of the petitioner's membership had significant social interaction within a community at any time since 1900. The available evidence suggests the group created and organized itself in the mid-1970's but did not constitute a distinct community as required by the regulations.
Based on the available record, the FD concludes, as the PF did, that there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate that, at any point in time, a predominant portion of the petitioning group comprised a distinct community or has existed as a community from historical times until the present. Therefore, the petitioner does not meet criterion 83.7(b).