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Times Union: Churchill: Is Joseph Bruchac truly Abenaki?

    Joseph Bruchac, the city of Saratoga Springs’ designated poet laureate, has made his name and reputation as an Abenaki storyteller and writer. He may even be the Abenaki’s most prominent living representative, a role that has allowed him to both define and promote its culture.

    But is Bruchac truly Abenaki?

    Leaders at Odanak First Nation, an Abenaki reserve in Quebec, maintain he isn’t. Some there regard Bruchac’s prominence with annoyance — and even anger — and say he should not be telling their stories and speaking on behalf of their people. 

    “He’s not promoting our culture,” Jacques Watso, an Odanak council member, told me. “He’s thieving and profiting on a culture that’s not his.”

    Bruchac, in turn, says he has always conceded that he is not fully Abenaki and that his Indigenous heritage came to him via a maternal grandfather who the author believes had Native heritage. Bruchac told me Odanak members are acting “as gatekeepers to a gate that doesn’t exist” and shouldn’t be attempting to define who is and isn’t Native. 

    Bruchac went on to claim that Native heritage is not only about blood and ancestry. He suggested cultural membership can be learned and earned with hard work and sincere attention, comparable in some respects to his mastery of karate.

    “Am I not a black belt because I wasn’t born as one?” he asked.

    Read more at Times Union.

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