Saturday, April 27, 2024

Updates to Previous Posts about Vermont Groups that Claim to be Abenaki

On Feb 20, 2024 I shared a letter from Chief Rick O'Bomsawin, Abenaki of Odanak and Chief Michel R. Bernard, Abenaki of W8linak. In it, they asked educators in Vermont to stop making space for specific individuals who write and speak as if they are Abenaki. 

On April 17, Chief O'Bomsawin and several others spoke at the 23rd session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues about the four groups in Vermont that received state recognition from the State of Vermont in 2012. 

Credit: CBC News

On April 25, the University of Vermont held an event called "Indigenous Belonging and Rights in the Northeast: A Conversation with Mi'kmaw Legal Scholar Pamela Palmater and Sociologist Darryl Leroux. It was led by Anishinaabe scholar, Gordon Henry. When an archived copy of it becomes available I will provide the link. 

Near the end of the event, a Letter of Support was read aloud. The letter was from Maulian Dana Bryant, Penobscot Tribal Ambassador. I find the letter powerful and share it here, with Bryant's permission. On her Facebook page, she states it is part of her "personal statement in support of the leaders from Odanak who are raising concerns with the state recognized tribes in Vermont." 

Bryant wrote:
I have followed the story of the state recognized tribes in Vermont and the concerns raised by Abenaki leaders from Odanak. I am writing in support of the leaders of Odanak Abenaki because they are our ancestral relatives and this homeland is one we share with them. The Abenaki people have been in the lands now called Maine since time immemorial the same as the federally recognized tribes that are formally in our state. They were displaced by violent land grabs, genocidal acts, and the many other atrocities of colonization. They are part of the Wabanaki Confederacy and I stand with their efforts to protect their legitimate people from the harm of state recognized groups who have circumvented federal recognition guidelines and formalities in favor of a looser state process that doesn’t take into account the standards that our tribes have met. An important tenet of tribal sovereignty is that tribes have the authority over how they determine membership and how they run their governments and departments. Even with our struggles in Maine with the 1980 settlement acts we enjoy this level of sovereignty. It is imperative that we protect the validity of tribal communities to combat the historical trauma that our people have suffered for generations. The theft of land, resources, children, religion, and our very lives left us greatly diminished but we are still here. Our ancestors ensured through their sacrifices that we not only survived but that we still know who we are and that our cultural identity remains. It is miraculous and helps us heal.
When groups cannot meet the standards for recognition in the ways our tribes can, it should signal that something is amiss. While we acknowledge that the federal recognition process is absolutely a remnant of the colonization that we are healing from, it does serve as a way to establish some sort of verifiable truths signaling Indigenous identity. The Abenaki of Odanak have met criteria as our tribal nations have and when they raise issues with other groups, I believe them and support them.
There is harm in groups claiming to be Indigenous when they are unable to prove out those claims. Much like the harm from stereotypical Indian sports mascots, we see a group taking on the identity for the positive aspects without having to live with the historical trauma and modern day consequences of that identity. It also diminishes the valid tribal nations’ rights and opportunities. It is challenging enough to make progress and improvements for tribal communities as it is, without having to wade through these matters of state recognized tribes.

I have been keeping a list of articles and information about false claims to Native identity, and specifically about the Vermont groups and will add media coverage of the UN remarks soon. In 2023, I withdrew my recommendations of books and articles by Joseph Bruchac, Margaret Bruchac, and Judy Dow.