Abenaki names coming to more Vermont State Parks

Published: Dec. 28, 2022 at 6:17 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 28, 2022 at 8:15 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Two years ago, Vermont state leaders passed a law that all state park signs needing an upgrade would get an added Abenaki name if appropriate.

Since then only one sign has been updated. The law requires the state parks to add the appropriate Abenaki name by attrition, meaning when the signs need to be repaired or replaced.

The Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation says there are about 10 more parks on their list with signs that could be repaired or replaced.

Sweet Pond State Park in Guilford was the first state park to get an addition, and now bears the word “Amiskwbi.” It is believed that “Amiskwbi” is what western Abenaki people called the area of Sweet Pond before Europeans colonized it.

Rich Holschuh, the chair of the Vermont Council on Native Affairs or CNAA, said it’s not a natural pond and was likely a swamp or beaver pond at first.

“I am familiar with where the trails are, which many of which are now modern highways, where the resource resources as we would call them nowadays, but relationships exist that people would go to interact with in terms of hunting, gathering, traveling, where the water sources are,” said Holschuh.

It’s one piece of a puzzle where the CNAA is working with state parks to come up with a list of Abenaki names for state park signs where appropriate, even if there aren’t specific ties in the exact park boundaries.

Holschuh noted that a sign with one word doesn’t provide deep context, but he hopes it’s the start of more recognition of the Abenaki presence preceding the state of Vermont.

“It is a step in a better direction to inform the public perhaps, that whereas they may be standing there and looking at the sign and saying, ‘Oh, I’m at Sweet. Here’s a biking trail and this is what it is.’ This is reality. There’s a lot more to the story than that,” said Holschuh.

“It is a descriptive language and it’s of this place, and we need to honor our people because we are still here. It is not just in the past,” Nulhegan Abenaki Chief Don Stevens said.

Stevens said the language is endangered and doing what’s possible to preserve it and put it on display for generations to come is important.

Vermont State Parks Interpretive Program Manager Rebecca Roy said uncovering Abenaki names has been a rewarding but daunting task because there aren’t many accurate recordings of the names before colonizers took over.

“Unfortunately, a lot of them have been lost and are not known. And so digging up that information is really hard,” said Roy.

But they’ve made progress uncovering names, and there’s more to come, like the addition of interpretive signs.

“Those are going to be the sign that will tell more of the story, you know, versus seeing the name on the entrance sign is a really cool, powerful thing, but reading the story on a wayside sign or a kiosk sign or something like that will tell a more complete version of the whole story about people in the landscape,” Roy explained.

Roy said this is a small step to broadcast the rich history of the Abenaki people and the culture they have with the parks.

“Making it OK to be different and whether you’re an original Vermonter, whether you’re a new immigrant that comes to this state, I mean, you should always celebrate who you are and where you’re coming from. And Vermonters also need to know the original place that they’re in,” said Stevens.

Now that some work is underway, there’s a priority list of 10 parks that need sign replacements in the next five years.

“Choosing a vendor and doing the design of what the science should look like was a slow process to be able to do that. So it just took a while to kind of like get up steam and get that first time but now we have the design and we have the vendor and so we can move forward with the signs,” said Roy.

Roy said some that could use work next include the Elmore State Park and those in the Lake Champlain area.

Related Story:

First state park sign with Abenaki name at Sweet Pond