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Out & About: Strafford lecture series digs into Abenaki history

  • Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/28/2021 9:32:00 PM
Modified: 8/28/2021 9:32:00 PM

There was a time when a good portion of Vermonters believed Native Americans had never settled in the Green Mountain State.

“The state’s position was that there never were any Indians in Vermont, which was pretty amazing,” said Joseph Bruchac, a Nulhegan Abenaki citizen. Textbooks from 40 years ago referred to the Abenaki as “the bloody St. Francis Indians,” and Bruchac recalled a school administrator in Vermont 30 years ago who pushed back against a group of Abenaki who wanted to do a presentation and said, “ ‘Everyone knows those people are fakers, and I’m not going to allow those savages into my school.’ ”

After years of activism by Abenaki and other Indigenous people, the state of Vermont finally recognized the Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi and the Koasek Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation in 2012.

“Things have come a long way,” Bruchac said. “I would say that Vermont is really one of the foremost states in terms of recognizing and trying to work with its Indigenous people.”

That’s also been connected to an increase in nonprofit organizations, schools and community groups requesting presentations from Bruchac, and his son, Jesse, an expert in the Abenaki language who is the director at the School of Abenaki at Middlebury College.

The pair will cap off a three-part weekly lecture series at Morrill Homestead in Stafford with their presentation at 4 p.m. Sept. 19 with a talk titled “We Are Still Here” followed by an Abenaki story time for families titled “Our Stories Remember.”

The lecture series itself, titled “The Abenaki Experience: Prehistory to Present” begins at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 5, and runs each Sunday through the Bruchacs’ event. It is hosted by the Friends of the Morrill Homestead at the Justin Morrill Homestead in Strafford. It costs $5 to attend each event in person or to stream via Zoom, and people can register at morrillhomestead.org/news-events/2021-programs-events-exhibits.

The first Sunday’s presenter in the series is Jess Robinson, a Vermont State archeologist for the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation. In his talk, “Archeological History of the Connecticut River Valley,” he will discuss what archeologists know — and don’t know — about Abenaki settlements in Vermont.

“Around the Morrill Homestead ... we know almost nothing,” Robinson said in an interview. “That’s not because there weren’t people there; it’s because there’s a lack or survey and archeology being done in that area.”

Usually archeological excavations take place only when there is a larger-scale development proposed for an area to see if there are sites that will be impacted by a big build. Those types of projects haven’t really happened in the Strafford area. A lot of what the state does know about the Abenaki is concentrated in the Connecticut River Valley. One area is the Skitchewaug site in Windsor, which dates back 4,000 years. Indigenous peoples first entered what is now known as Vermont around 12,700 years ago.

“This perception is changing rapidly, but certainly when I started doing archeology in Vermont, there was a widespread perception that Native Americans were never really in Vermont long-term,” Robinson said.

Instead, people thought Native Americans used Vermont as an occasional place to hunt or an area they would pass through from New York to Maine.

“Archeology directly proves that false,” Robinson said.

Part two of the series on Sept. 12 is “The Vermont Abenakis: Un-writing History” with Fred Wiseman.

In the last five to 10 years, Robinson has noticed more people are becoming aware of and eager to learn about the Abenaki.

While people have always been interested in the state’s history before it was a state, they are becoming more aware of the connections to the present.

“I think the difference has been understanding that deeper ancient native human past is actually directly related to the Abenaki that are still here today,” he said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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