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Friday, November 11, 2005

No Recognition For The Abenaki


Abenaki people living in Vermont do not meet the criteria for federal recognition as a Native American tribe, the Bureau of Indian Affairs ruled Thursday.

The Abenaki group failed to meet four of the seven criteria for recognition, the bureau found. In particular, the group was unable to show it existed historically in Vermont as a "distinct community," according to the decision.
The Abenaki group has 180 days to try to persuade the bureau to reverse its decision.

The Vermont Abenaki long have sought federal recognition as a way to obtain enhanced legal rights and access to federal grants. The state of Vermont has opposed such recognition, fearing it would lead to land claims and establishment of gambling casinos.
The Abenaki group did satisfy three criteria related to the group's present legal status and non-affiliation with already recognized tribes.

"Three criteria is more than some tribes can say they got," [Chief April Rushlow Merrill] said. She was sharply critical of Sorrell's office, accusing it of spending $400,000 of the taxpayer's money to discriminate against a group of Vermonters.

"I don't like it knowing I'm paying taxes to oppress myself," she said.

Sorrell disputed Merrill's estimate of how much his office spent and her claim of discrimination.

"It's very unfortunate she would try to play the discrimination card," he said. "The number is way, way inflated, but even if it was $400,000, what a savings that would be if you consider the years and years of fighting in court over the property rights of thousands of Vermonters, or the prospect of gambling casinos. In that light, $400,000 would be cheap."

State Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, said later Thursday that the effort to grant state recognition to the Abenaki would continue in the Legislature next year, regardless of how the federal recognition review turns out.

I honestly don't know how I feel about this.

Intellectually and emotionally it pisses me off that indigenous people had their land stolen and the lives up-ended by Europeans.  I know that Native American tribes suffer disproportionally from poverty, bad health and so forth.  And there's a sense of identity that goes along with all of the tribal stuff.

On the flip side, as a Cherokee descendant who cannot be enrolled because our family was "passing" back in the day, I wonder if tribal recognition is even all that important from an identity perspective.  We're now centuries beyond the intial contact and conquest, and it would be silly to think that Native American society wouldn't evolve in that time.  So is asserting a distinct tribal identity even a good thing?  I celebrate my ancestry, all while being my own person in the modern era.

What's more, would "assimilating" provide other benefits in terms of education, healthcare and opportunity?  Are casinos and Federal grants the only way to save the tribes?

I'm also curious about the claims of discrimination.  And would official recognition even help with that?

Guess I'm going to need revive my research, and maybe see if I can't track people down for some blog/podcast interviews.


November 11, 2005 | Permalink


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Good luck on that. Identity, who we are, how we make "official" distinctions are essential to the spirit, but so obviously things can go a little um nuts in trying to live our ideals. See France. Oy.

Posted by: The Heretik | Nov 11, 2005 7:20:56 PM

I wonder if this isn't payback. The Abenaki were pretty active against American colonists, at the behest and direction of the French even, during the French and Indian wars, IIRC. William Penn, to his credit, went unarmed to the many tribes in his area.

Posted by: J.T. Davis | Nov 11, 2005 7:51:49 PM

If you are looking for someone to interview, you might try MB. She is Abenaki. Eric is also very knowledgable on the issue.

Posted by: dwight Meredith | Nov 12, 2005 12:21:35 PM

Yes, I was thinking about MB (she and I have actually sparred a bit on the issue before) and Chief April. Thanks! :-)

Posted by: NTodd | Nov 12, 2005 12:36:04 PM

...oh, hell.

Give the indigenous peoples some nukes and let them teach us the meaning of "magnanimous."

Posted by: Darryl Pearce | Nov 12, 2005 8:52:59 PM

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