Proposed bill aims to enshrine Abenaki use of state lands

By  Madeline Waterman | Community News Service

Use of Vermont state lands may be returned to the Abenaki for cultural and religious practices under a proposed bill.

Though they already have access to public lands just as anyone does, the Abenaki’s activities on that land are still regulated by the state. Since they were stewards of the land long before Europeans colonized the area, the tribe wants the right to use it as they did then — free of restrictions imposed by the state government.

Jon Bosley/Community News Service

Jon Bosley, a member of the tribal council for the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki, harvests northern white cedar for use in traditional medicines in early March.

In order to solidify Abenaki-specific land use rights and officially acknowledge their relationship with the land, legislation must be enacted, said Jon Bosley, a member of the band and tribal council for the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki. They are one of four Vermont-recognized bands.

“We do have agreements with the state already so that we can harvest and do different things on state land, but this type of legislation secures that,” said Bosley. “Our philosophy is not really one of land ownership. Rather, we’re stewards of the land because the land was here before us and it will be here after.”

Having access to the state’s public lands for hunting, medicinal, agricultural, and cultural practices is important to the Abenaki. The Nulhegan Band uses about 60 acres in Barton.

Despite the uncertain chances of the bill, H.618, getting passed, any discussion about it is positive, Bosley said.

“Ongoing conversations and legislation are always good, and necessary. Hopefully, enough people will hear about this bill for it to get somewhere,” Bosley said.

Don Stevens, Chief of the Nulhegan Band, has often called for access to state lands and for the tribes to be considered at the forefront of state affairs. Recently, more legislation has been set in motion due to increased cultural awareness — both at the local and global scales.

Referring to another bill, H.556, which would exempt Abenaki from land taxes, Bosley said, “As a small group of people without an official revenue source, having to pay taxes on land that’s been returned to us jeopardizes our ability to maintain stewardship. So, looking at it from a moral perspective, that bill is really important.”

John O’Brien, a Democrat representing Windsor and Orange Counties, is the lead sponsor of the land use bill. Since so much work goes into getting legislation passed, this is only the second bill that he’s headed up. However, he feels that this topic must be considered more in Vermont’s legislative bodies.

“The tribes would ultimately love to have sovereignty over the land, but for now, at least having access to land for agriculture and other tribal needs is a step forward,” O’Brien said.

Due to the amount of covid-related legislation in circulation, many other bills are often pushed to the background and forgotten about, O’Brien said. It’s been hard to get any non-pandemic related legislation passed, so the future of bill H.618 is uncertain unless it reaches a broader audience.

“I wanted this bill to see the light of day and get some conversation going. So much of the legislature that gets accomplished is done incrementally; without that conversation, it’s never going to happen,” O’Brien said.

The Community News Service is part of the Reporting and Documentary Storytelling Program at the University of Vermont.

Image courtesy of Jon Bosley/Community News Service

16 thoughts on “Proposed bill aims to enshrine Abenaki use of state lands

  1. The land changed hands at intervals. The image of Native American Nations, living peacefully and harmoniously in certain areas has been debunked by archeology.

  2. Geez, there are some really miserable people out there writing these comments. I support those individuals that get involved, whether you agree or not, to right past wrongs through legislation and honest debate, versus the lazy folks, anonymously sitting on the couch complaining about others who try to make a difference. Most of these commenters have no sense of Vermont Abenaki history or the true intent of these bills. “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction.” JFK.

  3. It’s interesting what history they decide we honor and what we are to forget and not learn about.

    I can suppose they like these Native Americans since they’d love to return us all to living in wigwams and ride around on horses- to save the planet of course.

    Nothing is ever how it appears.. I have no doubt this is but a piece in the puzzle with the big picture in mind.

  4. This bill seems incongruous to me.

    Was Abenaki governance ever a thing? Did the Abenaki ever recognize the concept of private property?

    There was an Iroquois Confederacy, in what we now call North America, that was founded in the 1100s AD. And the Iroquois were in a state of perpetual war with the more northern Algonquin tribes (the Wabanaki Confederacy, including the Huron, Erie, Neutral, Lenape, Susquenhannock, Petun, Abenaki, Ojibwa, to name some of them).

    But the Abenaki never had a centralized government. “They came together as a post-contact community after their original tribes were decimated by colonization, disease, and warfare.”

    What seems to be forgotten is that the indigenous tribes had trading relations amongst themselves and with Europeans for centuries prior to the creation of the specific ‘thirteen’ European colonies. And yes, there were conflicts. The problem with indigenous governance came to a head when the various groups got into trade wars that began in earnest in the late 1600s. At that time, the Abenaki (again – a relatively recent organization of various tribes) aligned with the Algonquin and the French, against the Iroquois and the English.

    As is usual in human history, it is always about the money. And the players chose their sides. It’s the way the world has worked from time immemorial. The Greco-Persian wars in the 5th century BC. The Punic Wars between Rome and the Carthaginians. The Roman Galic Wars, the Three Kingdom Wars in China, the European Medieval Wars, the perpetual state of war between the Iroquois and the Algonquin, not to mention the dominance of the Aztecs, Mayans, and the Incas. History is replete with inhumanity.

    So, here we are today, in the Constitutional Republic called the United States, uniquely established in world history to protect individual rights – not tribal rights, not state’s rights, not federal rights, not racially specific rights, not gender specific rights, not faith specific rights, but individual rights.

    And yes, it’s been a struggle getting from there to here. We’ve been through slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights struggles of all sorts, struggles with trusts and monopolies, not to mention foreign attacks. And still, we can’t seem to bring ourselves to accept personal responsibility for our actions as individuals.

    Milton Friedman said it best.

    “To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or God to be blindly worshipped and served.

    Indeed, a major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it… gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.

    The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm,…

    The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy. It is the most effective system we have discovered to enable people who hate one another to deal with one another and help one another.”

    The question the legislature should answer is: To what extent does this bill further our free-market and individual liberties – no matter who we are?

  5. How about telling us what they plan on doing, before saying they can do it. What was acceptable in the year 1500, is not or may not be acceptable in 2022.

  6. So this is a bill to allow them to open up some gambling joints without going thru
    the multitude of hurdles in act 250??? Farmers are stewards of the land, loggers are stewards of the
    land anyone living off the land is a steward of the land. If first come first serve is the new standard
    I want my conservative pre 70’s pre progressive/commies back…that would fix most problems we
    have now.

  7. We need more Stewards of the Land. We’ve got enough Wetiko sycophants selling, raping, and pillaging the land.
    Too bad it had to take a law to be enacted to protect that way of living on the land.
    We should ALL be Stewards of the Land here. Its our ONLY lasting and true asset.

    • All humans have sold, raped and pillaged the world’s lands – you’re merely picking sides. And even if you live in a cave, fish, grow and harvest foods, burn wood and live off the grid so do you…stunning hypocrisy

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