Abenaki People are the original inhabitants in Vermont and have lived in these green hills for 10,000 to 12,000 years. They stayed unacknowledged or facing discrimination after colonization. For several recent generations, Abenaki People in Vermont and New Hampshire have been forced to abandon or hide their own language, customs and even their ethnic identity in order to survive within an overwhelming euro-American dominant society. The result has been a general loss of language, of culturally specific knowledge and values, and of a positive identity.
Because of the eugenics era in the first half of the twentieth century, people of Abenaki heritage were forced to let go of cultural ways and hide in plain sight to protect themselves and their children from forced sterilization and institutionalization.
This project aims to reverse that process and promote healing and cultural restoration in the greater Abenaki community. Cultural Regeneration is an urgent need. One’s sense of identity is fundamental for learning in school as well as for socially healthy function. Recent history in Abenaki families has generally been negative in terms of social feedback and the stereo types have not been adequately countered by positive experiences directly related to ethnic identity. As an individual learns about the history and language of her/his grandparents, it generates deeper feelings of belonging within the culture. As an individual learns a few basic, culturally specific lifestyle skills and spiritual practices, a profound grasp of certain values is awakened. These values are directly related to one’s relationship to the environment, to the Great Web of Life, to each other in community, and to oneself as a culture-bearer. Awakening an ancient culturally-based perspective of relationship to the environment can be a life-changing, culturally affirmative, experience. Primary Abenaki values of generosity and sharing, of self-reliance, respect for Elders, the sacredness of plant medicines, the living Earth and elemental Powers, and the teachings carried by animals - all these provide strong guidance for negotiating one’s way through a materialistic society.
I would also like to share the background on the project and what has been accomplished so far.
This project was started 5 years ago by Carol Irons, currently the vice-chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. It is in State statute that the Commission cannot receive State money for any projects, but Commissioners can raise money through other means. Carol sent letters to several foundations but only received a small grant from one. She raised some additional money through private donations.
Last June (4 years into the project) Carol arranged to have a week-long retreat at the Northwoods Stewardship in East Charleston, Vermont. There were 7 adult Abenaki participants and 7 teachers. This was to give a basic overview of different cultural areas and included language, history, spiritual, woods lore, plant lore, flint knapping, and fire making. The goal was to “teach the teachers” so that we could go back to our communities and share what we had learned. I was a participant and can truly say it was a life changing experience for me. With the one foundation grant we received (too late to use for the week-long retreat as it had already taken place) - we were able to have a 3 day followup session for the original 7 participants in March, 2018.
I am now the Chair of the Vermont Commission of Native American Affairs and since September, 2018, I have been helping Carol to continue the project. Our goal was to have another week-long retreat this year with new Abenaki participants. Unfortunately we have not gotten funds from any of the different foundations we contacted and have not been able to raise funds from other sources. Thus our attempt at using GoFundMe.
At this point without the funding in place, we will not be able hire teachers, reserve the space, and buy educational materials in time to do a retreat this year. We will use whatever we can raise to fund a retreat next year… giving us time to work out the logistics of hiring teachers, etc.
I hope this background is helpful and I thank you for your time and consideration.
- Beth Girshman
- Nicko Rubin
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