Abenaki Testify at Statehouse for Official Recognition

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The chief of the Abenaki Tribe came to the Statehouse on Friday afternoon to urge lawmakers to support a resolution that would recognize the tribal status of the Abenaki. The resolution is strongly opposed by Governor Howard Dean.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

Since 1976, leaders of the Abenaki Tribe have been seeking state recognition of their tribal status. To date those efforts have been unsuccessful, but a new effort is being launched by Caledonia Senator Julius Canns who has Cherokee ancestors.

All 30 members of the Senate have signed onto Canns’ resolution and over 100 members of the House are cosponsors of a similar proposal. Despite this strong backing, some lawmakers are reconsidering their support for this plan because of the strong opposition of Governor Howard Dean.

Dean is concerned that giving the Abenaki official state legal status will lead to some serious problems:

(Dean) “Not only would it allow them to open a gambling casino without any say from the state, essentially. But it would also paralyze anybody from getting a mortgage or selling their house for the foreseeable future. I think they have made it very clear that there’s a land claim involved.”

Abenaki Chief April Rushlowsays Dean’s concerns are unfounded. She says a tribe can only engage in gambling activities if they have been recognized by the federal government. The Abenaki have applied for this status but the application has been pending for over six years:

(Rushlow) “I’ve heard Governor Dean’s State of the State addresses where he speaks about diversity, education, social justice, and doing what is morally right. So I put these questions forth to our senators and our legislators: Is it morally right to deny a race its existence? Is it morally right to teach our children racism? Is it morally right to deny a people their constitutional, their civil and their human rights?”

The resolution is being reviewed by both the House and the Senate Judiciary committees. It is unclear if these committees will act on the proposal this session.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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