Who qualifies as Abenaki? That’s the question at the center of a disagreement between Vermont Abenaki and Canadian Abenaki. Vermont’s Abenaki tribes are speaking out against members of the Odanak First Nation, an Abenaki reserve in Quebec. At a University of Vermont conference, the Canadian tribe claimed Vermont Abenaki aren’t real Abenaki. So the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs prepared a letter to send to UVM asking for equal time on campus so Vermont tribes can prove their legitimacy. The Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs is responding to claims that people in Vermont who claim to be Abenaki are committing cultural appropriation. The debate started in April when members of the Odanak First Nation, an Abenaki reserve in Quebec spoke at UVM about who should be considered indigenous. Odanak leaders say the tribe was largely excluded from Vermont’s debate over whether or not to recognize Abenaki tribes and that many of the Vermont Abenaki have been unable to prove they are truly indigenous. Members of the Canadian tribes say that falsely laying claim to their culture can be detrimental. They are calling on the state of Vermont to revoke its recognition. Gov. Phil Scott says he is aware of the concerns surrounding the legitimacy of Vermont’s four state-recognized tribes but stands by the state’s decision.
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