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Abenaki names to appear on Vt. state park signs

Published: Oct. 16, 2020 at 5:05 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 16, 2020 at 7:46 AM EDT
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WATERBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - Abenaki tribes from our region have been working toward more visibility for years and a new law provides a new opportunity to make their culture more visible.

“We’ll look actively for opportunities to post Abenaki place names within the parks,” said Vermont Forestry Commissioner Michael Snyder.

It’s a subtle change but it’s coming to state parks all over Vermont, and Abenaki leaders say they are excited about the progress. “This is bringing things forward a little bit more and that, we really appreciate that,” said Richard Menard, Chief of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi.

Bill H.880 was signed by Governor Phil Scott earlier this month and gives The Commission on Native American Affairs the go-ahead to have the Forest Parks and Recreation Department post Abenaki names to accompany English names on state park signage. They aren’t changing any state park names, just adding new language.

Snyder says they accept the new task enthusiastically and only see good coming from the new signage. “It’s something we are really comfortable with as another role of the state parks. When you build awareness and appreciation, good things come from that," said Snyder.

Chief Menard says growing up, this type of progress for Abenaki culture was few and far between, so to see momentum forward for the natives has been fruitful. “We are getting more exposure than we have ever gotten and that is a good thing," said Menard.

There are 55 developed state parks with signs and trails. The Commission on Native American Affairs says plenty of those signs will be getting updated with Abenaki names. It is the commission’s job to find out the appropriate Abenaki place names and present them to the Forest Parks and Recreation Department. They have about 15 so far. And It isn’t only entry signs, but direction signs, instructional signs as well as place markers.

“It’s a first step really," said Carol McGranaghan, the chair of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs. She says not only is it providing more exposure, but even acts as a sample of Abenaki culture. “In Abenaki culture, places are living entities and need to be respected and honored, so it’s also a way to do that."

Abenaki tribal members are hopeful that this is a small piece of a much larger puzzle. “We’ve come a long way and the more exposure we can have, the better it is," Menard said.

“I’m hopeful that once we get that one piece of signage in there that maybe we can expand it so that when you are welcomed to Montpelier you are welcomed to Indokina also," McGranaghan said.

And although it is a small step in a much larger goal, McGranaghan says they are excited to see the language gain new life. “I think it gives a little bit of validity and confirmation that we are here, we are Abenaki and we can be proud again," she said.

The next step is to create a list of all parks and markings that could have Abenaki language to accompany the English. McGranaghan says they aren’t stopping with state parks and hope to have the Abenaki language find its way onto all state signage in the future, so for example when you are welcomed to Montpelier on I-89, you will also be welcomed to Indokina also.

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