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New Abenaki-owned maple sugarhouse opens in Vermont

EAST MONTPELIER, Vt. - A strong Canadian dollar during the 2007 fall foliage tourist season has helped Abenaki partners Todd Hebert and Shirley Hook Therrian start up their Abenaki-owned Maple Sugar House in East Montpelier with a certain measure of sweet success.

''We are right on the main route [Route 2] from Montpelier to Maine,'' explained Hebert. ''And tourists [including buses] are accustomed to shopping at this location because it was once the Danforth's Sugarhouse.'' The old sugarhouse is well-known because Danforth's not only supplied the tourist industry of northern Vermont with maple sugar, but also sold maple sugaring equipment to the sap collection business.

Hebert and Therrian would like the shop to be the Abenaki (Aln8bak) art and craft showcase for the region as well as a place where traditional Vermont maple sugar products are sold. ''I really want Abenaki people to know that first, there are a lot of beautiful crafts here and second, that they can display and sell their crafts through our store,'' Hebert said.

Today, Hebert said he hopes that some of the Abenaki crafts for sale at the store will ''help inspire people to begin or renew their own craft-making and help Abenaki traditions survive.'' If so, Hebert hopes it is in his store that Abenaki people will display their knowledge. ''The tourists are just so interested,'' he said.

The new store also supplies medicinal and spiritual plants and provides space for classes and instruction. There are bulk herbs, teas, sage and braided sweetgrass.

''Against the Darkness,'' a documentary by Fred Wiseman, professor of humanities at Johnson State College, was scheduled to be shown Nov. 14 free of charge to the public at the sugarhouse.

Wiseman is an indigenous rights activist and ethnobotanist, and the author of ''Voices of the Dawn'' and ''Reclaiming the Ancestors.'' Wiseman gifted the film to be shown to Hebert for educational purposes. It is considered to be the first Abenaki-made documentary of post-contact Abenaki/European conflict, and portrays the triumph of cultural survival. Wiseman combined re-enactments, interviews, historical objects, maps and photographs to trace an Abenaki family's seven generations to contemporary Swanton. The family's roots begin in the film with a signer of the 91-year Robertson Lease of Missisquoi Lands of 1765. (Missisquoi was originally known as Mazipskwik, land of the flint.)

Hebert's family can also be traced to a signer of the Robertson Lease. Today, he is one of many Abenaki who finally feels he can safely embrace his heritage.

Additional heritage classes will be offered in healing and basket making; Hebert stated that classes will simply be driven by interest and instructors.

Hebert said that right now he has purchased many of the herbs from all over the country, but next spring he plans to plant traditionally used plants at both his home and at the store. Online shopping is in the works, but customers may call in the meantime if they see something they want on the Web site, www.maplesugarhouse.net.

The owners have also made sure that their Web site contains educational links to other sites that explain unique Abenaki political, cultural and economical situations.

Therrian, who is also Abenaki, offers Southwestern jewelry that she collects while at her home in New Mexico, as well her own handicrafts. Dream catchers, mandalas and peace pipes are among the many items sold at this traditional old sugarhouse with a total American Indian presence.

Unlike many contemporary business startups of this size and nature, Hebert and Therrian used their own funds, equipment, labor, designs and long-held dreams to start the business. Their passion is evident in their willingness to share their space and time with other contemporary, original people of N'dikinna (''Our Land'').

Contact Hebert at (802) 224-1055 or emsugarhouse@aol.com.