UVM wants to maintain ties with state-recognized tribes following events that 'caused harm'
University of Vermont officials are asking Vermont’s state-recognized tribes to not give up on working with the school following two public events that tribe members say have created harm.
On Monday night, UVM administration officials attended a meeting with the Missisquoi Parent Advisory Committee, or PAC, as well as members and leaders of state-recognized tribes.
Attendees told the UVM officials that two presentations held at the school in the past year have promoted the erasure of their communities. Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi citizen Stacey Gould said the fallout is heartbreaking.
“We've been fighting so hard to say we're here, this is what we've had to do to prove that we are here," Gould said. "And to know that we might have our own students, college students that might not feel safe, even going to college at the university now, it's really disgusting to me.”
The first presentation in 2022 included representatives from Odanak First Nation, an Abenaki community in Quebec. They renewed decades-old claims that Vermont’s state-recognized tribes have not provided historical and genealogical evidence showing they’re Abenaki, and that this appropriation of language, stories and culture is harmful.
Vermont state-recognized tribes have disputed those claims,saying they went through the state-recognition process.
The second presentation, held a little more than a week ago, featured scholars discussing how institutions need to address the issue of “Pretendians,” or people making false claims to indigeneity. Odanak First Nation's chief was allowed to speak briefly at the end, as was Beverly Little Thunder — she's a Lakota elder enrolled in the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who stepped down from the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs (VCNAA) over allegations that members of the Commission were falsely claiming to be Indigenous.
Keiona Fulton, who described herself as an Abenaki citizen, said neither presentation gave state-recognized tribes an opportunity to speak.
“We've been fighting so hard to say we're here, this is what we've had to do to prove that we are here... And to know that we might have our own students, college students that might not feel safe, even going to college at the university now, it's really disgusting to me.”Stacey Gould, Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi
“If I was an Indigenous person from any other part of this country, and saw what was happening at UVM, why would I want to come to UVM?" Fulton said. "When UVM doesn’t help or program with the people that they're on the land of.”
UVM officials said in a February VCNAA meeting that the administration wanted to host a presentation sharing the perspective of state-recognized tribes, but the event ultimately didn’t come together.
Officials renewed the offer to support such a program on Monday.
Attendees at the PAC meeting also alleged harassment at the more recent event at the university. Provost Patricia Prelock promised to investigate those allegations, as well as look into how UVM will prevent harm in the future.
“We need to reflect on, how can we make sure this doesn't happen again?" Prelock said. "And how do we reaffirm to you that we recognize the tribe[s] and we want to operate from a place of good faith and our values?”
She added that she doesn't want state-recognized tribes to break ties with UVM.
"We're not getting it right all the time," Prelock said. "But we're going to keep trying. So I don't want you to give up on us."
Since August 2022, Quebec-based Odanak First Nation has also requested to have a listening session similar to Monday’s meeting. Prelock has previously said the university abides by state recognition, and that it’s not the UVM's role to engage in the current political dispute.
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