(Host) Vermont’s Abenaki Indians are accusing state government of racism. Abenaki Chief April Rushlow says the state is using misinformation and scare tactics to oppose the Abenakis’ attempt at formal tribal recognition.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) About 1,700 people in Vermont claim Abenaki heritage. For years, the group has tried to gain formal tribal status through the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Governor Howard Dean and the attorney general’s office oppose the recognition. They’ve argued it could lead to lengthy litigation over land claims and could ultimately allow Abenakis to build a casino on tribal territory.
Abenaki Chief April Rushlow says those arguments are misleading:
(Rushlow) "Well, our concerns are racism. The attorney general’s office is scaring people in Vermont with the fear of land claims and gambling. But they’re not bringing up the fact that they’re not allowing our students to further their education because they’re not considered native."
(Dillon) Rushlow says tribal status would allow Abenaki young people to qualify for scholarships granted to Native Americans.
She says if the tribe gains formal recognition, the Abenaki community would also be eligible for economic development grants. But she says the attorney general’s office has tried to undermine the Abenaki’s effort for federal recognition through contacts with the U.S. government
A resolution that acknowledges the Abenaki’s state status as a tribe is pending in the Vermont Legislature. Governor Howard Dean has opposed the non-binding measure. He’s warned it could be the first step toward a casino or land claims. Rushlow says talk of a casino is premature.
(Rushlow) "That’s not up to me. That’s up to the citizens of the Nation. And that hasn’t been discussed yet. But that’s not up to the chief or tribal council. That’s up to the citizens that are here."
(Dillon) The resolution on Abenaki tribal status is pending in the Vermont House. The resolution has more than 100 sponsors and is designed to address concerns about tribal property issues.
The measure says it’s not intended to confer any special rights on the Abenaki people, including claims to Vermont lands.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.