The Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs will hold the first meeting at the Goodrich Memorial Library on Main Street in Newport on Tuesday, November 16 according to Giovanna Peebles, State Historic Preservation Officer and director of the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.
Although the commission’s monthly meeting starts at 1:00 p.m., they have chosen to devote the noon hour to a less formal potluck to hear the needs and concerns of local Native people and answer questions, according to Chairman Luke Willard of Brownington. “Different communities have different needs and interests,” Willard said. “We want to know what they are.”
The new commission, appointed by Governor Jim Douglas in September, is charged with executing a process for recognizing Native American Indian tribes in Vermont as called for in a Senate bill passed earlier this year. That legislation was introduced by the Senate Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs chaired by Senator Vince Illuzzi, who began working in the 1980s to obtain recognition for Native Americans in Vermont.
Willard said that he hopes educators will attend this meeting to learn about Title VII Indian Education, a federal program that could bring thousands of dollars into the school systems of Orleans County, and that this commission intends to focus on education and cultural awareness.
“I think they go hand in hand,” he said. “There are many Abenaki students in the schools of Orleans County but I think most are afraid to embrace and, in many cases, admit their own heritage because it could bring teasing from other students who are only taught a small piece of Abenaki history, and literally nothing about the contemporary Abenakis who sit at the desk right beside them.”
“This was a problem when I was a student and now I hear about it from my own children,” said Willard, a member of the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe in Orleans County.
November is National American Indian Heritage Month and Governor Douglas recently proclaimed the month of November as Native American Heritage Month in Vermont. The signing of this proclamation is the kickoff of events held around the state to honor the contributions and heritage of Native Americans.
To learn more, visit the VCNAA website.