By Shawn McCullough
When is it acceptable to deny the reality of one’s own historical roots? Apparently, the State of Vermont has the answer: when a benefit can be realized at the expense of its indigenous citizens. In 2006, the Vermont legislature passed Act 125 (S.117); An Act Relating to State Recognition of the Abenaki People. Ostensibly, said Act imbued the Abenaki with official, State of Vermont, indigenous recognition.
Why is recognition important? First, it acknowledges the historical fact of an extant indigenous community of people, who have maintained a viable existence in Vermont since time immemorial. Second, it allows the Abenaki to market their wares to the public as being authentically crafted by indigenous artisans; being of substantial import to the ability of the Abenaki to sustain themselves economically. Indigenous recognition of the Nulhegan and Missisquoi Abenaki is an entirely reasonable concept; unless, apparently, one is a member of that great throng of “thinkers” who ply their trade under the Golden Dome in Montpelier. It is important to note that the Abenaki are not seeking a land-grab or monetary settlement from the State, merely an indigenous recognition to enhance the marketing of their crafts.
Here’s the rub: the aforementioned 2006 Act was defective, as it did not meet the standard of process required for full official State recognition, as set forth under federal guidelines [See 18 U.S.C. § 1159(c)(3)(B) and 25 U.S.C. § 305e(d)(3)(B)]. As such, the Abenaki remain without the level of recognition that the Act was intended to impart upon them. A bill to amend this legislative Oops! is pending in the House (H.124). However, the proposed amendment is currently languishing in Montpelier’s labyrinth; a quintessential example of the inefficiency of State government via bureaucracy. As usual, what should be a simple legislative “fix” gets mired into a legislative “mix.”
Meanwhile, Vermont—through its Department of Tourism—continues to perpetrate blatant political hypocrisy by promoting and capitalizing upon the mystique of the Abenaki culture—in order to draw tourism to the State—yet, its Legislature fails to take the necessary step to fully acknowledge the Nulhegan and Missisquoi Abenaki as an extant and viable community. The Abenaki culture is not a museum piece to be exploited merely for the sake of advancing Vermont’s ability to capture tourist (i.e., tax) dollars. If the Abenaki presence adds to Vermont’s coffers, then so be it; however, the State should be required to give proper recognition to that from which it is reaping a benefit. Moreover, the State’s potential to reap said benefit increases in ratio to the value of the Abenaki’s wares. Thus, the State only adds idiocy to insult by not enacting a law which adds value to a taxable commodity.
For those who may be thinking, “So what? This issue only affects a handful of indigenous Vermonters in Orleans and Franklin Counties!” Not so fast. This is not merely an Abenaki issue, existing in a vacuum. Rather, on principle, it’s one that should resonate for all Vermonters. The Nulhegan and Missisquoi Abenaki community’s redress of grievance for recognition from Montpelier is applicable to the broader idea of self-rule for all people. If the State is allowed a “pass” on denying recognition of an entire community of people, how much easier does it then become for the State to deny recognition of us as individuals? How much of a leap is it from “no recognition of a community; thus, no right to market authenticate crafts” to “no recognition of an individual; thus, no right to gainful employment”? Such a leap cannot be made wide enough to preserve liberty for all—liberty is only as unalienable as it is for each individual citizen, comprising each community of individuals. For the sake of liberty for all, let this be a clarion call-issue for all Vermonters to contact their elected representatives in Montpelier, urging support of H.124!