New Dawn For Abenaki: State Recognizes Original Vermonters

On April 5th, the Vermont House of Representatives voted to officially recognize the existence of the Abenaki Tribe. In this moment of symbolic triumph few are commenting on the next path. Still, it is clear that the Abenaki, a tribe which has faced down centuries of attempted genocide, deserve their own land, and/or their own sovereignty.

New Dawn For Abenaki: State Recognizes Original Vermonters
*Reprinted From Catamount Tavern News, Vermont

Staff Writer

Montpelier, Vermont - On April 5th, the Vermont House of Representatives voted to officially recognize the existence of the Abenaki Tribe. While the bill, which passed unanimously on a voice vote, still has to be reconciled with the previously passed Senate version, legislators say that recognition is a done deal, and will become law by the end of this session.

Abenaki leaders such a Chief April Saint Francis and the Swanton based Tribal Council, are expressing relief and joy over the General Assembly’s decision. State recognition will mean that the tribe will be allowed to sell traditional crafts as “Native American Made.” In addition, Abenaki will now qualify for certain Federal grants aimed to help Indian youth attain higher education. However, members of the General Assembly are quick to point out that recognition will not open any legal doors to land claims nor does it allow the tribe to administer their own hunting and fishing rights.

The Vermont House was ‘courageously’ moved to recognize the existence of the tribe after the federal government denied national recognition in November. The feds denial effectively shuts the legal door on land claims and political self rule. Therefore, although Vermont politicians, both Republican and Democrat, have long sought to stifle recognition in the hopes of keeping a lid on Abenaki autonomy, they no longer had anything to fear. Even so, state recognition is being seen as a step in the right direction by the Abenaki and their supporters.

Tribal member Debbie Bezio told the AP, “I’m elated… [The Abenaki] will be able to have a sense of pride back… We’ll have a chance to have our rights.”

However, as things stand those legal rights remain limited. In fact House leaders point out that recognition will grant them no special rights at all. Therefore it is likely that the Abenaki struggle for meaningful sovereignty has by no means reached an end; perhaps just a new beginning.

Where will the struggle go from here? In this moment of symbolic triumph few are commenting on the next path. Still, it is clear that the Abenaki, a tribe which has faced down centuries of attempted genocide, deserve their own land, and/or their own sovereignty. Towards this end it would only seem just if the state, at the minimum, began a volunteer program of land repatriation, paid for by tax dollars, in the area of Swanton where much of the Abenaki population is concentrated. Once sufficient land is procured Abenaki should be free to administer that area autonomously.

On the other hand, if the Abenaki themselves decide that they would prefer to remain within the political structure of Vermont, and recognizing the dispersment of Abenaki population across the state, Abenaki should be given a special charter from the state which recognizes them essentially as an at-large town.

Such a charter, the parameters of which negotiated between the state and tribal leaders, would be the basis for the Abenaki to meet on their own on Town Meeting day to discuss and vote on issues relevant to the native population as well as give a recognized voice in the democratic process which most Vermonters take for granted. Anything less lacks the real empowerment that the Abenaki both deserve and have an inalienable right to.

After all, the Abenaki lived here for hundreds of years before the first European settler stepped foot in New England, and to deny them their right to sovereignty is nothing but a continuation of 500 years of oppression, and should be unacceptable to every Vermonter!