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New grant aims to help preserve Abenaki culture in Vermont

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 4:58 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As Burlington held festivities to celebrate Native Americans on this Indigenous Peoples Day, new money is on the way to help preserve the Abenaki culture.

The Abenaki culture was celebrated with traditional dress, song and the historic language for Indigenous Peoples Day.

Kerry Wood is a part of the Alnobaiwi Council which teaches Abenaki culture and heritage. She says growing up in school they taught her Abenaki people did not live in Vermont, which is not true, and now she and other Abenaki people are reclaiming their heritage.

“We have a place now to celebrate, we have some land to develop into community and sacred space, and we can teach our children and grandchildren,” Wood said.

That mission will be aided by a new federal grant. The quarter of a million dollars will go directly to the Winooski Valley Parks District and will be funneled into improving the Indigenous Heritage Center at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington and even expanding the Abenaki village on its grounds.

“This is an opportunity to show people who we are today and to include ourselves in the Vermont narrative, and we are getting closer to that. We need to be more inclusive in the Vermont history books about who we are,” said Charlie Megeso of the Alnobaiwi Council.

Sen. Patrick Leahy helped get the money into the spending bill last year for the expanded center and grounds which will include a botanical garden and maybe even a longhouse down the line.

“We are preserving things. Too often we forget that you have to preserve because if you don’t learn from the past, you are not prepared for the future and here we are doing it,” said Leahy, D-Vermont.

Indigenous Peoples Day in Vermont became an officially recognized holiday just two years ago.

Now, the expansion of the museum will also include 1,500 artifacts from Fred Wiseman’s collection. Wisemen is the co-director of the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center. He stresses it’s about creating a safe space for Indigenous people to work toward recovering from the hundreds of years of trauma Indigenous people suffered.

“Part of that healing has to be trying to understand who we are, who we’ve been and where we are going,” Wiseman said. “I think that is going to be the great gift of all of this to the Indigenous community and to the Vermont community.”

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