MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — As the dust settles from Thursday’s feasts and celebrations, Friday is dedicated to those who’ve been here since long before the Thanksgiving tradition.
November 27 marks Native American Heritage Day is the U.S.
The Nulhegan Abenaki tribe, right here in Vermont, is one of the largest Abenaki tribes in our region, according to Chief Don Stevens. He says of his tribe, “We’re like everyone else. We’re not scary people and we have a lot to give: A unique perspective on the environment, on the way we live, the way we exist, the way we can be.”
However, that unique perspective hasn’t always been acknowledged by the government. “We were technically extinct as a people until the state recognized us in 2011. Now, of course, we weren’t extinct, but in the eyes of the law, the only way you can be a legal Indian in the United States is either be recognized by a federal or state tribe, or by congress, or through the BIA process,” says Stevens.
He is describing a process known as “tribal enrollment” and says Native people are the only race who can’t self-declare in the U.S. They must first prove their ethnicity and then carry a government-issued certificate of recognition.
Chief Stevens tries to work closely with the state to create policy and change to help his people. He stresses that this is all in the hope of creating a more positive future.
He says education is the key to this, but in order to learn from the past, we must acknowledge the past. “Be proud of who you are no matter what roots you have. Be proud of your roots because you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.”