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Old 04-07-2006, 06:28 PM   #1
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Abenaki recognition to be official today

http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/a...WS01/604060314



THIS WEEK IN PHOTOS

Rep. Francis Brooks, D-Montpelier, speaks on the floor of the House in favor of a bill that would grant official recognition to the Abenaki tribe of American Indians on Wednesday at the Statehouse in Montpelier. The bill received preliminary approval and will be up for a final vote today.
PETER HUOPPI, Free Press

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THIS WEEK IN PHOTOS

Charles Delaney-Megeso of Burlington, a Mazipskwik Abenaki, stands to be recognized by the Vermont House of Representatives after giving the devotional on Wednesday afternoon. The House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would grant official recognition to the Abenaki.
PETER HUOPPI, Free Press

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A D V E R T I S E M E N T





Abenaki recognition to be official today

Published: Thursday, April 6, 2006
By Terri Hallenbeck
Free Press Staff Writer

MONTPELIER -- A decade ago, Janet Ancel, the legal counsel to Gov. Howard Dean, opposed official state recognition of the Abenaki. Wednesday afternoon, Janet Ancel, the state legislator, stood on the House floor and told her colleagues that the time has come to extend that recognition.

"Simply put, it's the right thing to do," Ancel said.

Moments later, the House gave preliminary approval by unanimous voice vote to a bill that would officially recognize the Abenaki as a minority. The status is partly about pride but also will allow members of the tribe to apply for designated scholarships and market crafts labeled American Indian.

The House is scheduled to take a second vote today on the bill, which has passed the Senate. If the Senate concurs with relatively minor changes the House made, the bill will go to Gov. Jim Douglas, who is expected to sign it.

Like Ancel, Douglas is among those whose tune has changed dramatically on the issue. Until recently, state officials vociferously fought Abenaki recognition out of fear that it would enhance the tribe's chances for federal recognition, which could lead to land claims and casinos.

Those fears evaporated when the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs denied the St. Francis/Sokoki Band of Abenaki's application for federal recognition in November. Ancel joined the list of one-time opponents who now believe state recognition will have no impact on land claims.

"I'm ecstatic," Fred Wiseman, tribal historian for the St. Francis/Sokoki Band of Abenaki in Swanton, said after the vote. The Abenakis' battle for recognition in Vermont has lasted more than 30 years.

Rep. Kathy Lavoie, R-Swanton, told her fellow House members that she's seen many changes in recent years that indicate better relations between the Abenaki and other Vermonters in Franklin County. When she moved there 22 years ago, Lavoie said, there was tension between Abenaki and non-Abenaki children in schools. When Monument Road in Swanton was closed because of a dispute over burial grounds a few years ago, property owners were scared, she said.

Since then, she said, attitudes have changed on the playgrounds and over burial grounds. She has seen people go from hiding their Abenaki heritage to announcing it.

"The time has come for us to recognize the Abenaki people," Lavoie said. "They are my neighbors. They are my friends."

Rep. Francis Brooks, D-Montpelier, chairman of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee, said that ability to proudly pronounce one's heritage was key to him. He described when an Odanak Abenaki from the Northeast Kingdom came to his committee to testify on the bill.

"He said, 'Hello, my name is Richard R. Bernier and I am an Abenaki," Brooks said. "One could feel the pride. Also, one could feel the desire to be recognized as a Vermonter and an Abenaki."

Wiseman set up a video camera on the House floor Wednesday to capture the historic moment, just as he did last year in the Senate. This time he came with a tripod, a longer boom microphone and a second camera. His wife, Anna Roy, was in the balcony taping from that vantage point.

Wiseman was watching closely to see what Ancel would do. He remembered vividly her statement in 1995: "The position of the state is that in the late 1700s the Abenaki ceased functioning as a tribe and although they have regrouped, it still doesn't meet the legal test."

The statement, proving the state's intention to fight the Abenaki, was a low point, Wiseman said. That made her remarks Wednesday in favor of recognition especially important, he said.

Ancel said she concurred then with the Attorney General's Office in believing that state recognition would lead to federal recognition, and she strongly opposes casinos in Vermont. Although the St. Francis/Sokoki Band might still appeal the federal decision, Ancel said, the Attorney General's Office has told her the decision is unlikely to be overturned. "Because of that, the whole picture has changed," she told the Democratic caucus during a debate on the issue Tuesday.

Douglas supports the legislation under the same premise, said his spokesman, Jason Gibbs.

Although all advance indications were that the legislation would pass Wednesday, Jeff Benay, chairman of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Native American Affairs and longtime supporter of recognition, was nervous until he received word by telephone that it had passed. "I was anxiously waiting," he said. "I am really so pleased that this was a unanimous vote."

He said he planned to be in the audience for the final vote today.
Contact Terri Hallenbeck at 229-9141 or [email protected]
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Old 04-07-2006, 06:30 PM   #2
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Old 04-10-2006, 01:38 AM   #3
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