Vt. Native American commission official says she's resigning over members' false claims of Indigeneity, misogyny
Last week, a member of the nine-person Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs announced by email they were resigning.
Beverly Little Thunder has served on the Commission since 2019. And as part of that official body, she was tasked with developing policies and programs to benefit Vermont's Native American population.
In her email letter, Little Thunder said she was stepping down because of “deceit and dysfunction.”
And in her time there, she says she’s witnessed male commissioners being dismissive of their female colleagues.
Little Thunder, who is Lakota, also alleges members of the Commission are falsely claiming to be Indigenous.
She isn’t the only one to level these allegations. Two Abenaki First Nations in Quebec claim that Vermont’s state-recognized tribes, to which many of the Commission members belong, have not provided the genealogical and historical evidence to show they are Abenaki.
State-recognized tribes counter these claims by saying they went through the state recognition process.
More from Vermont Public: UVM officials apologize to Vt. state-recognized tribes while Odanak reps continue to denounce them
Beverly Little Thunder recently spoke with Vermont Public reporter and producer Elodie Reed, who has been following this story. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Elodie Reed: Beverly, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I want to talk about your resignation letter, and you said you wanted to join the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs to provide a voice for all Native Americans living in Vermont. I'm just wondering, after sitting on the Commission, you said that you didn't find that to be the case? And can you explain that a little bit?
Beverly Little Thunder: Well, when I joined the Commission, I had met a lot of other Native people from different nations that were pretty much silent. And at the time, I didn't know much about the history of the four bands of Abenaki that are here. And I, you know, I wanted to support — to support them.
And once I got on the Commission, I began doing some more in-depth research, and finding out that what was on the surface, and what was being presented to the general public, was not actually the case. And I was very, very uncomfortable.
I'm just wondering, from your perspective, how you define Indigeneity, and sort of how that lines up with what you saw in your fellow commissioners.
For me, it can go back, you know, five – five generations. But the local tribes that I discussed it with, said three, you know, direct descendants three times removed. And active participation within that tribe.
When this new Commission was seated, I looked around and I realized that no one in the room really fit that definition. And the person who was elected — Rich Holschuh was elected chairperson — and I questioned.
Beverly Little Thunder: “Last year, we had a — we had a Zoom meeting. And you were directly asked if you were Indigenous, and you said that you were not Indigenous?”
Rich Holschuh: “I do solemnly affirm that I am of Indigenous heritage, it is not within three generations. And those are my exact words at that time.”
And that was not a satisfactory answer for me. I knew that to challenge it further at that time would only ensue in a heated discussion, and that he would be backed by all the men that were there. So I stayed silent. That was the last Commission meeting I went to, I have not attended any since then.
In your letter, you also mentioned misogyny that you experienced when you were on the Commission. And I'm just wondering if you could talk a little more about what that looked like, and how it impacted your work on the Commission.
Well, when I initially got on the Commission, it was primarily women. And then towards the end, we had a couple of men who came on who took up a lot of space. And it was almost as — we would say something or make a statement, and they would shoot it down. And there are Indigenous women in Vermont who are strong, but whose power has been just cut off at the knees by these men. And it's hard to speak out. And one of the reasons why I chose to leave.
"[T]here are Indigenous women in Vermont who are strong, but whose power has been just cut off at the knees by these men. And it's hard to speak out. And one of the reasons why I chose to leave."Beverly Little Thunder, who is resigning from the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs
You in your letter ask the governor and lawmakers to hold the Commission accountable and to look deeper into the claims of who is Abenaki here. Do you think — I guess like, what are your expectations for those officials to follow through on that request?
I don't expect Gov. Scott to do anything. I don't think he really cares. I don't expect anyone is going to sit down and really look at the claims, that probably should have been looked at when they had state recognition.
You mentioned that you haven't been to a Commission meeting I think since September, that was the last one. And I'm just wondering why you chose now to announce your resignation and to, really, speak out.
I have been working on this since then. And I have followed my spiritual practices of Lakota people. And I've taken some time to pray about it. And answers don't come just overnight.
What do you hope happens moving forward?
I think my intent is to educate the public, to let people know my experiences, and to get them to thinking. Let them make their decisions.
As I said with the Legislature, I wish that they would look and rescind some of those bills. So that the Vermont people are not supporting something that is false, a false claim.
But there are many people who have drank the Kool-Aid, so to speak, and who feel, you know, their white guilt, and they want to do something to minimize that guilt to what their ancestors did.
And hopefully, some of them will really, really rethink.
More from Vermont Public: Odanak First Nation denounces Vt. state-recognized Abenaki tribes as 'Pretendian'
The response to the email
Vermont Public reached out to Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs chair Rich Holschuh for a response to Little Thunder’s email.
Holschuh shared the written statement below:
I have not yet seen an official filing of Beverly Little Thunder's resignation letter but unexpectedly I have been informed of it privately by you. I can only respond to this request as an individual person and to the degree I have knowledge of situations experienced in my capacity as a previous member of the Commission for the statutorily-limited two terms from mid-2016 til mid-2020 and, since re-appointment in September 2022 through the present, during which tenure I have been chosen to serve as Chair. Beverly joined the Commission in Oct. of 2019, 8 months before I stepped down.
During that overlap in appointments, I attended 6 regular meetings at which Beverly was present for 4. I worked with Beverly on legislative initiatives during that short time. which I appreciated. During the entirety of the those first two terms, including the brief period where our terms overlapped, the VCNAA was chaired by a woman colleague, and, with the exception of the first 3 months served, Vice-Chaired by another woman colleague. Beverly has attended 1 of the last 5 meetings. I have had very little interaction with Beverly and only in regular meetings, other than the aforementioned legislative efforts but I believe it was always cordial. I attach a photo of one such moment when collaboration was the motivation, something for which I strive. I do consider myself a feminist and I believe the women I am privileged to have in my life will attest to that.
In September when I was nominated to the position of Chair, there was an open discussion about my eligibility to serve in that position, since it had been a topic of discussion in previous meetings. It was established that I did meet those expectations and the nomination was approved.
At that same September meeting, a previewed letter from the Commission to the Administration at UVM, expressing recent concerns about recent events there and asking for dialogue was read aloud and approved by consensus, including Beverly, with one abstention by a member who had not had time to review the letter herself. All of these things are recorded and available in the minutes which are a matter of public record and posted on the Commission's webpage.
More from Vermont Public: Members, allies of Vermont state-recognized Abenaki tribes reject 'Pretendian' claims
A state official confirmed that to resign, Little Thunder must submit an official letter to the Commission.
Vermont Public did not immediately receive responses from the governor or leaders in the Vermont House and Senate.
Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.