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Members, allies of Vermont state-recognized tribes reject 'Pretendian' claims

People sitting in chairs underneath a tent and sun umbrella in a grassy yard under a blue sky with just-leafing-out trees in the background.
Elodie Reed
At Wednesday's Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs meeting, held at the Koasek Tribal Gardens in Braintree, members and allies of Vermont's four state-recognized tribes rejected "Pretendian" claims made by Abenaki citizens of Odanak First Nation, based in Quebec.

At this month’s Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs meeting, members and allies of the state-recognized tribes responded to a recent presentation at the University of Vermont. They rejected Odanak First Nation’s claims of Vermont tribes being “Pretendian.”

In the UVM presentation, held two weeks ago, Abenaki citizens of the Quebec-based Odanak First Nation repeated what that government has written in two resolutions: that due to a lack of historical and genealogical evidence, Odanak First Nation does not recognize groups calling themselves Abenaki in Vermont or New Hampshire.

Panelists said those groups — including Vermont’s state-recognized tribes — were actively harming Indigenous people by trying to replace them.

More from VPR: Odanak First Nation denounces Vt. state-recognized tribes as 'Pretendian'

But at a Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs meeting Wednesday, Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu tribe disagreed.

“They're trying to say we're trying to erase them,” Sheehan said. “That's not what's going on. They're trying to erase us down here.”

Others at the meeting said they had heard from parents of students at UVM who said they are now afraid to identify as Abenaki.

“And the concern is from their kids, who are saying, ‘Are we safe? Are we safe at University of Vermont?’” said Jeff Benay, a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. “Because if they weren't actually at this event, they heard. And they heard that the way the American Abenaki — the Vermont Abenaki — were castigated.”

“They're trying to say we're trying to erase them. That's not what's going on. They're trying to erase us down here.”
Chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe

The Commission voted Wednesday to write a letter to UVM and the professor who helped organize the event.

VPR reached out to Wôlinak First Nation — the second Abenaki community based in Quebec — as well as Gov. Phil Scott’s office.

Wôlinak officials declined to comment, and Scott’s spokesperson sent the following statement:

“The Governor hasn’t been briefed on the Odanak First Nation's position, but he is confident in the thorough process Vermont went through in the 2000s that led to State recognition under Governor Douglas.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send digital producer and reporter Elodie Reed a message:


Corrected: April 14, 2023 at 3:53 PM EDT
This story has been updated to remove references to Vermont state-recognized tribes as Abenaki, a fact currently disputed by two Abenaki First Nations.
Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.
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