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Chief Don Stevens Responds to “Skip” Bernier

March 4, 2011

(Barton Chronicle, March 9, 2011)

Nulhegan Chief, Don Stevens

Dear Editor and Mr. Lefabvre,
I would like to set the record straight on your article “Blood boils in the politics of recognition” dated February 16th, 2011. It is sad that I am continually forced to respond to articles in your newspaper that misrepresent information about our tribe like common tabloid check our magazines.  When misinformation is published, the readers of your newspaper may think that the information is accurate because you are a reputable news organization. I ask that you please publish this response because our tribal citizens do not deserve to be misrepresented. If you are interested in the truth, we should have equal representation in your newspaper to correct misinformation.

We have never charged anyone money to become a member of the Nulhegn Tribe. You are either a member or you are not. You cannot buy your way into membership. Mr. Benier has the Nulhegan Tribe mixed up with another organization that Mr. St. Onge associates with in Evansville.  It is also arrogant and racist on Mr. Benier’s part to think that he is the only person who has Native blood. This is the sort of lateral violence that we endure by those who will compete against us to sell our arts and crafts as Abenaki.  We have proved ourselves under Act 107 and submitted our “proof of native blood” to the scholars and the State of Vermont. We do not have to prove ourselves to members of a Foreign Government who have their sites on land claims in theNortheast Kingdom. We are sorry if our recognition complicates their plans in trying to claim land within Vermont. It is not theirs to claim and by law we are not entitled to the land if recognized either. It belongs to the current land owners and the State of Vermont.

It is also hypocritical for Mr. Bernier and his pals to say that we are a “make believe tribe” when he is a member of the Odanak reserve in Canada and recently quoted as being the Chief of the Western Abenaki Tribe. So he is either a member of Odanak or he is the Chief of this newly formed Western Abenaki Tribe. Which is it? You cannot be both? We have proven ourselves as a legitimate tribe to the State of Vermont under Act 107. Let Mr. Bernier do the same as Chief of the Western Abenaki Tribe. If he chooses to do so, then he needs to give up his citizenship at the Odanak reserve to meet the criteria of Act 107. Otherwise he is already recognized as a member of a Foreign Government to sell his arts and crafts as Native.

It is also hypocritical for Denise Watso to proclaim to adopt the UN Declaration of Indigenous Rights and then say we are stealing her ancestry. The Declaration specifically supports the right to self identify as any other race can. We steal no one’s ancestry. She is a member of Odanak as well and they have their history and we have ours. Our ancestry is different like other Abenaki Tribes in the United States. If we had their history, we would be members of their tribe and not our own.

Lastly, the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs and the Chair were all appointed by the Governor. If people are upset with the appointments, they can take that up with the Governor’s office because we had no say in who was appointed. Most Native American Boards and Commissions in other states are made up of Native peoples who are members of various tribes. The VCNAA is no different. There is no conflict of interest in these appointments. Members of the Commission who are members of Nulhegan did not vote or participate in the Nulhegan application for recognition. None of the Scholars who looked at the Nulhegan petition are members of the Nulhegan Tribe and are not engaged in any dealings with the Nulhegan tribe. I had never met two of the scholars who worked on the Nulhegan petition before the received the petition. As Senator Tim Ashe correctly stated, Mr. Wiseman was not a scholar for the Nulhegan petition. Even if Mr. Wiseman would have been one of our scholars (which he wasn’t) he is not a member of our tribe and there would have been no conflict. Most academic professionals should be intimately involved in their field of study. This is why they are academic scholars.

You are welcome to contact me anytime during the day by phone if desired 802-752-1229. I appreciate your assistance in this matter. We are in a time where Vermont history is being made.

Waolowzi (Be Very Well),
Don Stevens, Chief
Nulhegan Band Coosuk Abenaki Tribe

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