The Nulhegan Abenaki are celebrating new land ownership -- the first in 200 years. And they already have plans to use the parcel to unify their tribe.
"It's the cornerstone, the old grandmother or grandfather," says Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe Trustee Luke Willard.
A gnarled but majestic maple tree stands in a forest off May Farm Road in Barton, a testament to the area's rich history. It's a history the land's new owners, the Nulhegan Abenaki tribe, hope to tap into.
"I had two goals that I wanted to accomplish. One was recognition and the other one was getting a piece of land. 15 years later, here we are," says Willard.
It was a long road to land ownership for the tribe -- for decades the Abenakis fought for state recognition, which they won in April of last year. And on December 17, with help from a Vermont Land Trust, they officially took ownership of the 65-acre parcel of Northeast Kingdom forest.
"Towns have earth, grass, real estate -- we didn't have that," Willard says. "It's very difficult. And I've said this before, it's difficult to maintain a government and an infrastructure without that central piece of earth."
Willard says he came to the seller with zero money -- and a vision. A year of ups and downs later, they finally have land to call their own.
"This is something else. This belongs to the tribe," Willard says.
"This is kind-of a celebration to honor them, that we are now able to walk in the same footprints that they were able to. We're hoping that this gives everyone back a little pride," says Nulhegan Abenaki Chief Don Stevens.
The tribe plans to conserve the land and continue an existing sugaring operation, with proceeds going towards youth education programs.
"The money will be invested back into the land," says Stevens.
"Imagine what they could do with a few thousand dollars, you know, generated from sugaring," Willard says.
They also have plans for a gardening program and a small cultural center.
"It's a dream come true," Willard says.