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Native Bills Move to House Floor

February 9, 2011

Tuesday, 08 February 2011
Native Bills Move To House Floor
Robin Smith
Staff Writer

NEWPORT CITY — Bills that would recognize a Native American tribe based in Brownington and another in southern Vermont have moved to the House floor for consideration.

The bills would give state recognition to the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, with most members living in the Newport-Derby area and the Elnu Abenaki.

Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, speaking at a legislative breakfast Monday morning, said he supports both bills and is co-sponsor of similar bills in the Senate.

With state recognition, members of the tribes would be able to put “Made by Vermont Abenaki” on anything they produce.

Congress set up the requirement for state or federal recognition of tribes before any group can put Native American labels on products.

That federal law went into effect to stop products made overseas from being labeled made by Native Americans, he said.

The bills have come under fire from some Native American groups, which have said that anything other than the strict recognition of Native American tribal genealogy is not valid.

State recognition requires historical evidence of Native American heritage of tribe members, not necessarily genealogy.

One critic of the bills has been Richard “Skip” Bernier of Coventry. He spoke for several minutes at the breakfast at the Eastside Restaurant Monday morning. When he didn’t pose a question for the guest lawmakers, moderator Bill Davies cut him off and refused to let him continue.

Bernier is a member of the Odanak tribe of the Abenaki, which has a small reservation in Quebec.

People are worried that the Odanak will press land claims in Vermont, he said. He pointed out that the Odanak people voted against having a casino on their reservation in Quebec.

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