It is unfortunate in this day and age that I have to submit an article to the news organizations defending our people’s heritage from being destroyed by paper genocide. It is sad to think that any minority population still has to deal with such discrimination or ignorance. I ask Vermonters to judge the Abenaki people and tribal leaders of Vermont for who they are and what they do, not by a piece of paper. Ask yourself this question: How have the Abenaki people impacted your personal life by their quest for recognition?
Our Abenaki people and leaders provide education programs, food shelves and other community services, to mention a few. Many times without compensation, because this is who we are as a people and what we do. Our teachings are to respect our elders and to help one another no matter what your heritage may be. State recognition for our people takes nothing away from anyone else. State recognition gives our people more opportunities to compete in the global economy by allowing them to sell their crafts.
Native people are the only minority population required to prove who they are to get certain federal privileges. This is a legal requirement imposed by the U.S. government centuries ago to help protect indigenous people from being exploited by others and to keep track of them. The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples passed in 2007, which deemed this requirement legally invalid and prevented the indigenous right to self-indentify.
States do not have to mimic every federal requirement to recognize their Native tribes within their own borders. The recognition process is left up to the legislative body of that individual state.
I want you to ask yourself a question in fairness to the Native peoples of our land. When was the last time you asked an African-American, Hispanic or other minority for their papers before you believed who they were? They know who they are and so do we. If recognition does not take away any of your personal rights or freedoms, then please do not suppress our people.
It is my duty and privilege to stand up for our Abenaki people and assist in any way we can to improve their lives as best we can, regardless of recognition status.
– Donald Stevens
Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs
Enosburg Falls, Vt.