State, Abenaki Disagree on Federal Status

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(Host) Supporters of an effort to have the federal government grant the Abenaki formal status as an Indian tribe say the protection of civil rights for the Abenaki is the chief reason they’re seeking federal recognition.

Speaking last night on VPR’s Switchboard program, Fred Wiseman, who is a member of the Governor’s Commission on Native American Affairs, said tribe members have no interest in pursuing any gambling proposals if they win federal status. Wiseman says the most important issue is securing basic civil rights for all Abenaki:

(Wisemen) “That gives us the rights that are accorded to other minorities. For example, right now without federal recognition the Abenaki community has no protection as native Americans. As a minority we have capabilities of getting grants so there’s that component of it. Basic civil rights – the Abenaki over the years have suffered a lot of problems with civil rights and prejudice in the state of Vermont.”

(Host) The State of Vermont is not supporting the Abenaki’s application to win federal status. Chief Assistant Attorney General William Griffin says the Abenaki do not meet federal qualifications and Griffin argued that this issue has nothing to do with civil rights:

(Griffin) “Native Americans, whether they are Abenaki or members of another group, are Vermonters. They’re Vermont citizens, they’re entitled to all of the rights and privileges of any other Vermonter. There has been a suggestion that the rights of these Vermonters cannot be enforced unless tribal recognition is granted. In fact, the attorney general’s office has pursued claims of discrimination made by native Americans.”

(Host) A resolution supporting the Abenaki effort to win federal recognition has been sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee however it appears unlikely that the Committee will consider the resolution this session.

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