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The Story of the Vermont State Recognized Tribes

In the 1970s, a group of people in northwestern Vermont began publicly claiming to be Abenaki.

1976 – Early Newspaper Article in the Rutland Daily Herald, “Are The Abnakis Vermont’s Disposessed?”

“When asked to document his Abenaki heritage, [Homer] St. Francis pointed to his heart and said, ‘It’s here.’ ‘It’s something you believe in.'” … “[Swanton Police Chief Howard] Ryan contends he ‘never even knew there were any Indians in the town until about six months ago.'”

1986 – “The Abenaki Struggle,” Rutland Daily Herald

Doris Minckler, an herbalist and fortune-teller, recounts her history and recalls, “My grandmother was an Indian princess, full blood.”

Read more from these sources

In 1980, a group based in Missisquoi began the application process for Federal Recognition. In 2007 the Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected the petition concluding that, “the petitioner is a collection of individuals of claimed but undemonstrated Indian ancestry ‘with little or no social or historical connection with each other before the early 1970’s.’

1980 – Letter of Intent for Federal Recognition

The “St. Francis/Sokoki Band of Abenakis of Vermont,” based in Missisquoi, apply for recognition with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

2003 – “State of Vermont’s Response to Petition for Federal Acknowledgement of the St. Francis/Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation of Vermont”

In this 254 page report, the Vermont Attorney General, William H. Sorrell, concludes that the “St. Francis/Sokoki Band of Abenaki” meet none of the criteria needed for Federal recognition–no continuity of community or governance and no Abenaki ancestry.

2006 – The Bureau of Indian Affairs requests more information

When asked to submit evidence that they existed as a group between 1900-1975, the St. Francis/Sokoki Band replied with “a DVD [which] has the handwritten date ‘2­-19­-06’ on its face and, when played, indicates that it is the ‘Build 37 Working copy.’ This DVD appears to be an updated version of the ‘Against the Darkness’ video that the Department [previously] received in VHS format.”

2007 – Bureau of Indian Affairs Rejection

The Bureau of Indian Affairs finds that the “St. Francis/Sokoki Band does not meet four of the seven mandatory criteria and therefore is not an American Indian tribe.”

The three criteria they satisfied were that they: 1) had a governing document, 2) members are not members of another North American Indian tribe, and 3) “neither the petitioner nor its members are the subject of congressional legislation that has expressly terminated or forbidden the Federal relationship.”

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In 1990, the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act banned the marketing and sale of “Indian art and craft products” by anyone who is not a “member of any federally or officially State recognized tribe” and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) set into law that human remains and other cultural items belong to and if possible should be returned to “lineal descendants, Indian Tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations.”

During the 1990s, while the BIA investigation was on-going, the Vermont “Abenaki” began claiming that their ancestors had been “targeted” by the Eugenics Survey of Vermont (ESV) for sterilization.

1991 – “From Degeneration to Regeneration: The Eugenics Survey of Vermont, 1925-1936” by Kevin Dann

The first mention of this connection is an uncited claim by then PhD student, Kevin Dann in an article about the ESV.

In this 1991 paper, Kevin Dann, a PhD student, suggests, without evidence, that two of the families targeted by the Eugenics Survey were “Principally of Abenaki and French-Canadian ancestry.” This appears to be the origin of the story that the Eugenics Survey of Vermont targeted Abenaki people.

1999 – Breeding Better Vermonters

In her book, Nancy Gallagher mentions the claim that the Eugenics Survey of Vermont targeted Abenaki people–again, without citing evidence.

2021 – Eugenics at UVM: Why Abenaki leaders feel the apology wasn’t enough

Chief Don Stevens of the Nulhegan band of the Abenaki nation at home in Shelburne on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

“I’m a little disappointed that [UVM] hasn’t followed up,” [“Chief” Don] Stevens said. “I’m not talking about individuals; I’m talking the administration hasn’t followed up with any of the positive things that go with an apology.”

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In 2011/2012, four tribes became recognized by the state of Vermont, the original Missisquoi tribe that had applied for federal recognition, and three more recently formed groups: the Cowasuk, Nulhegan, and Elnu.
The Vermont Legislature passes legislation to recognize the Vermont groups–removing genealogy from the criteria. (A page of this website documents the process.)

After state recognition, the Vermont Tribes worked to secure further benefits based on their new status.

In 2020, legislation was was passed to give Vermont State Recognized Tribal Citizens free hunting and fishing licenses.

The bill was signed into law by governor Phil Scott and took effect on January 1, 2021.

Read more here.

Middlebury College creates Abenaki Language School

In 2020, Middlebury College president Laurie Patton worked with Jesse Bruchac and Joseph Bruchac, members of the Vermont State Recognized Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, to create an immersion language school in Abenaki.

The president has used her discretionary funds to provide free tuition to “All Vermonters of Abenaki descent.” 

Read more here.

In 2022, Governor Phil Scott signed a tax exemption bill for tribal lands in Vermont.

Property owned by Vermont-recognized Native American tribes becomes exempt from property taxes under a new law.

Read more here.

“Indian Child Welfare Act coordinator” aims to keep Native American children under the care of relatives or tribe members.

Native American children will now be put in the care of members of the Vermont State Recognized Tribes whenever safe and possible.

Read more here.

Seventh Generation provided $50k in funding for curriculum to be created by the Vermont State Recognized Tribes.

The goal is to have these material which tell the Vermont State Recognized Tribes history from their own perspective available for all Vermont Schools by Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2023.

Read more here.

Members of the Elnu Abenaki, received nearly $37,000 to study a petroglyph site in Bellows Falls

“First discovered by white settlers in the late 19th century, the petroglyphs are believed to have been carved by members of the Abenaki tribe anywhere from several hundred to 3,000 years ago, according to archeologists”

“To [Rich] Holschuh — an Elnu spokesperson — receiving the grant indicates that Vermont’s Abenaki fit the funding’s intended target: underrepresented communities.”

Read more here.

Vermont Law and Graduate School expands Indigenous scholarship eligibility to members of State Recognized Tribes

“In the past, the law school’s First Nations Scholarship was available only to students who belong to federally recognized tribes. It will now apply to students from state-recognized tribes as well, expanding access to students from the Elnu Abenaki tribe, the Nulhegan band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, the Koasek Abenaki of the Koas and the Missisquoi St. Francis-Sokoki band, none of which have been federally recognized.”

Read more here.

Back building project at Abenaki tribal office receives $500,000 grant; Federal dollars to pay for construction

Awarded to: Maquam Bay of Missisquoi 

Project: Redevelopment and renovation of the Abenaki tribal headquarters to expand space and organizational capacity to deliver health, nutrition, and recreational programs. 

Location of Project: Franklin County (VT-01) 

Grant Amount: $500,000.00 

Total Project Amount: $2,184,498.00

In-kind donations from contractors are also expected to help.

Read more here and here.