Champlain Maritime Museum Native American Encampment

The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum will be hosting a Native American Encampment Weekend this weekend, June 25 & 26, that is expected to give visitors a Native American perspective on life – past, present, and future – in the Champlain Valley and across Vermont.

Members of the Elnu and Missisquoi Abenaki tribes, the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk and Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation will gather will gather at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum for the annual celebration of the region’s Native American Heritage.

As in other years, tribal members dressed in garments like those worn by their ancestors over the centuries will demonstrate singing, drumming, basket making, quillwork and bead decoration, food preparation, and other life skills. This year official recognition by the State of Vermont was granted to the Elnu and Nulhegan on April 22, and other applications are pending. “A new dawn has risen,” said Nulhegan Chief Don Stevens. Video footage of the April 22 Recognition Day declaration and celebration will be screened during the LCMM event.

The Native people at the encampment are experts in living indigenous arts and traditions, which they expect to share, rather than sell. They have researched, reconstructed, or apprenticed to learn long-forgotten techniques and now are able to create outstanding beadwork, quillwork, basketry, pottery, woodworking and other items for personal use or commissioned pieces.

Cherished family stories and photographs provide the basis for a presentation by Koasek Chief Nancy Millette Doucet, who has recreated the clothing worn by an ancestor in the nineteenth century. The Koasek have also established a program to help preserve Abenaki as a living language. “I have been amazed by the richness and depth of the new cultural and historical information generated by the Vermont Indigenous bands in their research for applications for Vermont State Recognition,” says Frederick M. Wiseman, Ph. D., Director of the Wobanakik Heritage Center in Swanton. “This is a potential new stage in Vermont culture and history – for Native people to work on their own history and culture and then present the results.”

The weekend includes hands-on activities for children, a demonstration of the ancient art of twining textiles, wampum readings, singing, drumming, dancing, and documentary video about the region’s Native American heritage created by student Lina Longtoe.

Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is located on the shore of Lake Champlain, seven scenic miles from historic Vergennes, Vermont at 4472 Basin Harbor Road, across from the Basin Harbor Club. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October 16, 2011. All event activities are included with museum admission, LCMM Members, School Family Pass Members, and children 5 and under get in free. For information call (802) 475-2022 or visit

Photo: Chief Roger Longtoe and Vera Longtoe present a “Calling-in” Song.

VT: Native American Panel To Hold Meetings

The group that will establish a process for state recognition of Native American tribes in Vermont is holding a series of public forums around the state.

The Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs will hold the first meeting at the Goodrich Memorial Library on Main Street in Newport on Tuesday, November 16 according to Giovanna Peebles, State Historic Preservation Officer and director of the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.

Although the commission’s monthly meeting starts at 1:00 p.m., they have chosen to devote the noon hour to a less formal potluck to hear the needs and concerns of local Native people and answer questions, according to Chairman Luke Willard of Brownington. &#8220Different communities have different needs and interests,” Willard said. “We want to know what they are.”

The new commission, appointed by Governor Jim Douglas in September, is charged with executing a process for recognizing Native American Indian tribes in Vermont as called for in a Senate bill passed earlier this year. That legislation was introduced by the Senate Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs chaired by Senator Vince Illuzzi, who began working in the 1980s to obtain recognition for Native Americans in Vermont.

Willard said that he hopes educators will attend this meeting to learn about Title VII Indian Education, a federal program that could bring thousands of dollars into the school systems of Orleans County, and that this commission intends to focus on education and cultural awareness.

“I think they go hand in hand,” he said. “There are many Abenaki students in the schools of Orleans County but I think most are afraid to embrace and, in many cases, admit their own heritage because it could bring teasing from other students who are only taught a small piece of Abenaki history, and literally nothing about the contemporary Abenakis who sit at the desk right beside them.”

“This was a problem when I was a student and now I hear about it from my own children,” said Willard, a member of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe in Orleans County.

November is National American Indian Heritage Month and Governor Douglas recently proclaimed the month of November as Native American Heritage Month in Vermont. The signing of this proclamation is the kickoff of events held around the state to honor the contributions and heritage of Native Americans.

To learn more, visit the VCNAA website.

Native Encampment at Champlain Maritime Museum

There will be a Native American Encampment event on Saturday and Sunday, June 19-20, 2010, 10am-5pm daily at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, 4472 Basin Harbor Rd, Vergennes, VT.

Dressed in clothing of earlier times, members of El-nu and Missisquoi Abenaki portray their ancestors and share traditional life skills, tools, clothing, personal adornments, and weapons used by Native Americans in the Champlain Valley through the centuries. Event includes traditional songs, cooking and camp skills, wampum readings, Native American weapons and armor, film showings and much more. Participating craftspeople combine archaeological evidence with personal expression to create beautiful and utilitarian objects.

Fredrick M. Wiseman, PhD will describe the sophisticated crafts and technologies of the region’s indigenous people and sign his newest publications, Champlain Tech, and Baseline 1609, which provide new insight into the region’s earliest and most enduring craft traditions.

Register in advance for on-water Paddle to Prehistory Sunday June 20. Information: 802 475-2022, [email protected],

Prominent Abenaki Opposes VT Tribe Recognitions

Denise Watso, a descendant of the legendary Abenaki Chief Louis Watso who lived in Lake George Village for a time and figures prominently in Native American life there in the 19th century, has come out in opposition to Vermont state recognition several Abenaki bands and tribes. In March a recognition bill [pdf] made it out of the Vermont Senate’s Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs.

At least fifteen other American states have recognized resident native people as American Indian Tribes, without federal recognition. In 2006, a similar effort by the Vermont General Assembly fell short. Charles Delaney-Megeso, chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs (VCNAA) supports the bill. The text of the bill describing it’s intent and Watso’s letter in opposition are below- Delaney-Megso’s letter of support can be found here.

Text of the bill that describes it’s intent:

This bill proposes to recognize the following tribes as the original Western Abenaki Indian tribes residing in Vermont: the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi St. Francis Sokoki Band, composed of the Missisquoi, St. Francis, and Sokoki Bands- the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation- the Nulhegan Band of the Abenaki Nation, also known as the Northern Coosuk/Old Philip’s Band- and the ELNU Abenaki Tribe of the Koasek. The bill also proposes to amend the composition of the Vermont commission on Native American affairs, and to adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Letter from Denise Watso:

I humbly request that members of the state legislatures of Vermont oppose S.222, a bill designed to confer state recognition upon groups who claim the rights, lands, and ancestors of Abenaki people without offering any proof to support these claims. I further request that the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs allow testimony from historically-known Abenaki people regardless of whether their primary residence is in Vermont, New York, Canada or elsewhere. We are the &#8220Original Vermonters.&#8221

As a historically-known Abenaki person with documented evidence in the records of Vermont, (in the mid 1800s, John Watso, my grandfather’s grandfather, shared many Champlain Valley place-names in the Abenaki language with Rowland Robinson), part of our Abenaki original territories, I would like to voice my grave concerns with this bill and the impacts it will have on Abenaki people. How can the Vermont legislature pass such a genocidal law, removing my people from the history books and denying us our rights? How can they accept the word of people who refuse to provide evidence of how they are connected to historically-known Abenaki families? How can this be anything but an abandonment of their responsibilities to the Abenaki people and to all Vermonters, Indian and non-Indian?

Indian law is not the jurisdiction of state government, and our territories extend beyond the boundaries of states and countries. However state recognition and standing committees can accomplish much good for us all. All historically-known Abenaki people should be recognized by Vermont’s government as part of a sovereign nation, and as partners moving into the future.

These new groups such as the &#8220Elnu&#8221, the &#8220Koasek&#8221, the &#8220St. Francis-Sokoki&#8221, and others should be asked to provide their evidence rather than have their claims accepted without question. Just a few years ago, Vermont’s Attorney General and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs found no evidence that this last group, the &#8220St. Francis-Sokoki&#8221, were anything more than a social group. The first group, the &#8220Elnu&#8221, are well-known reenactors. Some Indians are reenactors, but being a reenactor does not make you Indian and therefore elgible for the possiblity of Federal Recognition.

The burden of proof must be on these new claimants to our Abenaki heritage, and Vermont’s political officials should not allow such a great travesty to pass with the stroke of a pen. These groups are allowed to be make claims based on family assumptions and declarations of Indian heritage, this is nothing more than self-identification to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the entity that determines and denied the &#8220St.Francis group&#8221. The Bill to be decided by the Vermont government is not equipped to make such determinations, possibly perpetrating violence against the original Abenaki of Vermont.

We are a historically documented people. We were never in hiding as the storyline has been woven to support the baseless claims of self-identified &#8220Abenaki&#8221. We have suffered the loss of our lands, the denial of our indigenous rights, the creation of an international border, warfare, poverty, oppressive governments, residential schools, racism and so much more. And now outsiders dictate our history to us and demand to be recognized at our expense. Why? So THEY can sell baskets and traditional arts which WE have long produced so that we might survive generation after generation. So THEY can access Federal funds to teach their children about OUR ancestors? So THEY can learn to speak OUR first language? So THEY can continue to claim the bones of OUR ancestors?

This is contrary to the spirit of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples endorsed by S.222. It is not too late, however, to address the injustices faced by generations of my people. Now is the time for Vermont’s elected leaders to work with historically-known Abenaki people to establish new relationships that respect our indigenous rights and our human dignity, and that strive to secure a better future for all the residents of our ancient homeland.

Our ancestor’s voices will be heard as we continue to speak and keep our names in honor of them. Abenaki names are still alive and spoken, it is not a hidden secret as these self identified claim. The legislators of Vermont must allow us to voice our grave concerns. This Bill will have the biggest impact and detriment on our Abenaki community, children’s future and ancestor’s legacy.

We will proudly share our Abenaki history and historically known names with the Vermont State legislators.


Denise L. Watso (wajo)

Candidate Forum For Historic Abenaki Election

Denise Watso, a descendant of the legendary Abenaki Chief Louis Watso who lived in Lake George Village for a time and figures prominently in Native American life there in the 19th century, sent the following press release about an upcoming candidate forum in Albany tomorrow, October 24th.

This is a significant event in the history of the Abenaki Nation. It was only within this decade that the substantial membership of the Odanak Abenaki First Nation living in the Albany metro area have been able to vote for their chief and council members. This is the first election in which off-reserve Abenaki are able to run for office as well as vote.

Here is the press release:

The Capitol District will host one of three forums for Abenaki voters to hear directly from candidates for Chief and Council of the Odanak Abenaki First Nation. The forum will be held from 12-4 PM, Saturday, October 24 at the German-American Club, 32 Cherry Street, Albany, NY 12205. This is an exciting time in the history of the Abenaki people – all Abenaki enrolled at Odanak are invited and encouraged to attend with their families.

Two additional forums will be held during the election season at Sudbury, Ontario, and on-reserve at Odanak. Elections will be held Saturday, November 28, 2009, although voters may also cast their ballots by mail.

The Abenaki are the aboriginal people associated with homelands in much of northern New England and adjacent parts of New York, Massachusetts and Quebec, as well as with the Odanak (Saint Francis) and Wolinak (Becancour) reserves in central Quebec (and historically with the Penobscot Nation in Maine, too). Abenaki derives from Wabanaki (“people from where the sun rises,” “people of the east,” or “people of the dawn”), and this latter term is often used in a general sense to refer collectively to the Mi’kmaq, Malecite, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot and Abenaki peoples.

While many Abenaki have been thought of as “Saint Francis Indians,” living at Odanak, in truth many Abenaki families have maintained part-time or full-time residence within their homelands south of the border continuously since the American Revolution. In fact, the first election held by the Odanak First Nation under the Indian Act, the legislation regulating aboriginal affairs in Canada, occurred January 18, 1876, after many Abenaki (and their Indian Agent) complained that the three chiefs serving the community at the time – Louis Watso, Solomon Benedict and Jean Hannis – were away from the reserve so often that two additional chiefs were required to ensure adequate representation. (The aged chief Louis Watso was actually living at Lake George, where a good deal of his family resided.) Samuel Watso and Lazare Wawanolett were chosen from a field of six candidates, and elections for office have been held at regular intervals ever since.

Abenaki history on the upper Hudson dates to at least the late 17th century when many ancestors of the modern Abenaki people lived at Schaghticoke, near the mouth of the Hoosic River. Continuing Abenaki presence in New York State is attested to by such notable 19th century Adirondack Abenaki as Sabael Benedict, Mitchell Sabattis, and the late 19th/early 20th century Indian Encampments at Saratoga Springs, Lake George and Lake Luzerne were primarily occupied by Abenaki. Despite a lack of recognition by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, these Abenaki families have persisted within and beyond their homelands: today, the Albany metro region is a major Abenaki population center. Other significant concentrations of Abenaki people are located in Waterbury, CT- Newport, VT- and Sudbury, Ontario.

This will be the second time that a formal forum for candidates for Chief and Council has been held in Albany. Approximately 60 people attended a similar event two years ago, and an even higher turn-out is expected this weekend. Off-reserve Abenaki were not allowed to vote in Odanak’s election until after the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1999 Corbiere ruling struck down the voter residency requirement of Canada’s Indian Act.

The importance of the off-reserve vote has been increasing with each passing election. This election, however, may bring about even greater change as it will be the first time since the Indian Act was enacted that off-reserve Abenaki will be eligible to accept a nomination for office (per the 2007 Federal Court of Appeals’ Esquega decision). The potential impact of this development places an even greater spotlight on the role of off-reserve voters in the civic affairs of the Abenaki Nation.

It is also a point of pride for many Abenaki who think of both Odanak and the Albany area as home. Susan Marshall, a lifelong resident of Albany and Rensselaer, is looking forward to attending the candidate’s forum and voting for her first time. “I just wish my mom (Mary Jane Nagazoa) was here to see this, knowing how proud she would be.”

History and Culture: Background For Abenaki Day

As part of the lead-up to Abenaki Day at the Adirondack Museum, Christopher Roy (a cultural anthropologist engaged in research related to historically known Abenaki people) penned a few short articles with Abenaki family historian David Benedict may be if interest to New York History readers.

Roy is a 1995 graduate of the University of Vermont. He is completing a PhD program in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University. Of particular interest to his research are the histories of residence off reserve, questions of law and belonging, as well as the work of family historians in understanding Abenaki pasts, presents, and futures.

The first one, focusing on Dan Emmett and a canoe he built which is in the collections of the museum, has been posted by the Adirondack Museum Another of these short articles was published in the News Enterprise of North Creek [link]. This one focused on John Mitchell, an Abenaki man who lived most of his life at Indian Lake.

The Adirondack Museum has posted a few of them on their Adirondack Journal:

Mitchell Sabattis, Abenaki Farmer, 1855

Maude (Benedict) Nagazoa, Proud Adirondack Abenaki

On Monday, July 20, 2009 Roy will discuss aspects of his research in a program entitled &#8220Searching for Sabattis, and Other Tales of Adirondack Abenaki Adventure &#8221 at the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake, New York. Part of the museum’s popular Monday Evening Lecture series, the presentation will be held in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. There is no charge for museum members. Admission is $5.00 for non-members.

Photo: Mitchell Sabattis (1823 &#8211 1906). Collection of the Adirondack Museum.

Abenaki Day at The Adirondack Museum

Abenaki is a generic term for the Native American Indian peoples of northern New England, southeastern Canada, and the Maritimes. Members of the Abenaki Watso family will share the traditions, culture, and heritage of their ancestors at an upcoming event at the Adirondack Museum this Saturday, July 11, 2009. These Native Peoples are also known as Wabanaki (Eastern Abenaki &#8211 Maine and the Canadian Maritimes) or Wobanakiak (Western Abenaki &#8211 New Hampshire, Vermont, and southeastern Canada). In the Native language Wobanakiak translates roughly to mean &#8220People of the Dawn.&#8221

A majority of the Watso family who will demonstrate or present at the Adirondack Museum are from the Odanak reserve in the province of Quebec. The Abenaki Nation at Odanak, historically called the St. Francis, is now called the Odanak Band by the Canadian government.

&#8220Abenaki Day&#8221 will feature demonstrations of traditional skills from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. The demonstrations will include: sweet grass and black ash basket making by Barbara Ann Watso- bead work with Priscilla Watso- pounded black ash splint making with John Watso and Martin Gill- and traditional wood carving by Denise Watso.

Rejean Obomsawin will share traditional Abenaki legends that have been passed down by the elders at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Rejean is a singer, drummer, and guide at the Musee des Abenaki at Odanak.

Jacques T. Watso will offer traditional Abenaki singing and drumming at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.

Cultural anthropologist Christopher Roy will present a program entitled &#8220Abenaki History in the Adirondacks and in the Adirondack Museum&#8221 at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Drawing on the museum’s Abenaki collections, Roy will share the findings of his research on the history and contemporary lives of Abenaki people in the Adirondacks and throughout the Northeast.

Christopher Roy is completing a PhD program at Princeton. Of particular interest to his research are the histories of residence off-reserve, questions of law and belonging, as well as the work of family historians in understanding Abenaki pasts, presents, and futures.

The Watso family has strong ties to the Adirondack region. Their ancestors include Sabael Benedict and his son Elijah, Abenaki men familiar to early settlers and explorers of the region, and Louis Watso an Abenaki man well known in the southern Adirondacks in the latter half of the 19th century.

Descendants Sabael Benedict and Louis Watso lived throughout the region, some as full-time residents and others moving back and forth between villages like Lake George and Saratoga Springs and Odanak, an Abenaki village on the lower St. Francis River in Quebec.

This branch of the Watso family also descends from John and Mary Ann Tahamont, basket makers who spent many summers at Saranac Lake around the turn of the last century.

Photo: Chief Richard O’Bomsawin and Councillor Jacques Watso