Senator Patrick Leahy (center) and his wife, Marcelle (left) examine examples of squash and corn cultivated by the Abenkai in Vermont thousands of years ago, while Eric Bishop-von Wattenberg of UVM’s Department of Plant and Soil Science looks on. Leahy was at the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center on Monday to announce a $250,000 grant. Courtesy photo
Vermont Business Magazine During a visit to the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center on Monday, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) announced a $250,000 grant to make improvements to the center’s home at the Ethan Allen Homestead.
On hand for the announcement were Dr. Fred Wiseman, whose personal collection of artifacts forms the main portion of the collection; Phelan Fretz, executive director of the Leahy ECHO Center; and Nick Warner of the Winooski Valley Park District (WVPD).
The announcement comes as Vermont celebrates its second Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The event included Abenaki songs performed in the Abenaki language, as well as Abenaki prayers.
In his remarks, Leahy emphasized the importance of the center for future generations. “You’re celebrating not just the past, but the future,” he told the assembled crowd, saying he can’t wait to bring his own grandchildren to the center.
“If you don’t learn from the past, you aren’t prepared for the future,” he added. “I’m proud of the work you do.”
The funding coming from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC), will be used to expand the display space within the building and install museum quality display cases for the exhibits. There will also be a community space.
The center is a place where Abenaki may practice their traditions and celebrate their culture. Together with WVPD, Alnobaiwi, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving Abenaki culture, has a garden with plants which were cultivated by the Abenaki, a fire pit, a space for music and dancing and a craft tent at the homestead.
“I welcome you all to a new beginning,” Wiseman said. “Today, we have a safe place here . . . to be indigenous.”
Wiseman displayed a new wampum belt created for the event, explaining its symbolism. An onion represents the WVPD, as the Winooski is the Onion River. A cabin depicted on the belt represents the homestead and a campfire the coming together of the community. The fringe on either end of the belt represents speech.
The center displays “authentic and legitimate Abenaki culture,” with artifacts whose provenance is known, Wiseman said.
As Leahy noted in his remarks, in the past there were efforts to deliberately erase that culture.
“Our artwork, our beadwork, our canoes are as good and as well-documented as anybody’s,” Wiseman said.
Events celebrating indigenous culture often seem to happen in the fall when “when we have a lot of squash,” said Wiseman. “We’ve developed a concept of squash diplomacy.”
With squash diplomacy, visitors leave with a squash
Patrick and Marcelle Leahy did, indeed, leave with a squash, after discussing the gardens at the site with Holly LaFrance who tends to the native gardens at the site. LaFrance showed the many varieties of squash grown by the Abenaki, as well as ground cherries, which are not fruit, but a relative of the tomatillo.
“It was important to a lot of us to reconnect with the foods our ancestors ate,” Joanne Crawford explained to the Leahys. She noted that chronic illnesses, which often have a dietary connection, are more common in the Abenaki community.
Eric Bishop-von Wettberg, of UVM’s plant and soil science department, said wild rice grown in rivers by the Abenaki may be better at removing phosphorus from waterways than plants we have now. Studying Abenaki food systems may help to make current food systems more sustainable, he suggested, telling Leahy, “We need to understand where we were to understand where we’re going.”
The Leahys also saw a demonstration of how flint was used to start fires, Abenaki carving and moccasin making.
Speaking of the grant, Leahy, who chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, said, “I included these funds in last year’s spending bill and, man, am I glad that I did.”
Source: (MONDAY, Oct. 11, 2021) – Leahy