Vermont Abenaki Tribes Under Media Attack From Canadian Tribe

Kevin A. Thompson
June 3, 2024

(Photo: Missisquoi Abenaki Nation gift to people of Swanton, Vermont, Carved by R. Menard, photo by Niranjan Arminius, Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. state of Vermont recognizes four Abenaki tribes that live within its borders.  It did so with ACT 107, which defined “Tribe” as an “assembly of Native American Indian People who are related to each other by kinship,” and who have “maintained an organizational structure that exerts influence and authority over its members.”

Vermont’s Commission on Native American Affairs lists details of ACT 107 on its website. The University of Vermont also apologized in 2019 for its participation in the Vermont Eugenic Survey from 1925-1936, which resulted in the sterilization of at least 250 Abenaki people as a way to make Vermont into the Whitest state in the U.S.

Don Stevens, Chief of the Nulhegan Band of Coosuk-Abenaki Nation, serves on the Truth and Reconciliation Panel that addresses Vermont’s eugenics abuses.

Now the Vermont Abenaki people are under attack from Odanak (Abenaki) First Nation in the neighboring Canadian province of Quebec. Led by Rick O’Bomsawin, who has called the Vermont Abenaki “Pretendians,” an Odanak delegation opposed the Vermont Abenaki’s recognition at the UN Forum for Indigenous Peoples in April 2024.

To be clear, individual states in the U.S. have the right to recognize Tribes within their borders. At least 15 states have done so. In fact the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River, the Lumbee, are recognized by the state of North Carolina. Lacking federal recognition, the Lumbee still operate their own college and other enterprises. Even the U.S. federal government acknowledges the Lumbee people by designating two whole North Carolina counties (Robeson and Cumberland) as “American Indian Areas.”

The UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that Indigenous people have the right to their own identity. It’s a bit ironic that Odanak First Nation is using the UN as a forum for denying the identity of another Indigenous community in another country.

The Odanak have claimed that recognizing the Vermont Abenaki will deny the Canadian Odanak Abenaki from accessing sacred sites within Vermont, even though ACT 107 specifically states that state recognition will “not construe basis for land claims or real estate in Vermont.” (ACT 107, Section 8). Also, possibly in anticipation of challenges from Canada, ACT 107 states that the criteria for a Vermont tribe to be recognized is that the tribe “has not been recognized as a tribe in any other, state, province, or nation.” (ACT 107, Section 4)

So what is motivating Odanak First Nations to deny the UN-approved right of another Indigenous people? To paraphrase Ishmael Reed, why are they playing with the fire of Eugenics?  

The most well-known villain of the Eugenics movement was Walter Plecker, a medical doctor who got control of Virginia’s Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912-1946. During his reign of terror, Indian families were forced to break up if some members were deemed to be “Negro.” Plecker’s stated goal was to leave only “two races in the state of Virginia, the white and the colored.”

Plecker’s eugenics program inspired the Nazis in Germany with its obsession with “racial purity.”  As in Virginia, Vermont also targeted families who were allegedly feeble-minded, sexually immoral, Indian, mulatto, racially mixed, French Indians, French Canadians, or in some other way non-conforming to Anglo-Protestant social norms of the era.

Missisquoi Abenaki gift of plaque to Swanton, Vermont, photo by Niranjan Arminius, Wikimedia Commons

The United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), in Article 6, states that “Every Indigenous Individual has the right to a nationality,” which is what the Canadian Abenaki seem to be attempting to deny the Vermont Abenaki.

Article 18 of the UN Declaration states that Indigenous Peoples have the right to participate “in decision-making that affects their communities” which Vermont is complying with by having Abenaki leaders serving on its Commission on Native American Affairs. This includes Melody Walker Mackin of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe.

The U.S. federal government has kept quiet on this issue. As stated above, the federal government allows for states to recognize Indian Tribes, and the US census allows for individuals to identify themselves as American Indian, regardless of documented membership in an established tribe.

The Vermont Tribes have agreed to meet with the Canadian First Nations to discuss the issues, but no date had been set as of April 23, 2024.



This resource is supported in whole or in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident of hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate




“ACT 107: An Act Relating to State Recognition of Native American Tribes in Vermont,” Sections 4, 8; May 14, 2010.

Adrian Pastor, “Indigenous Community at odds after Canadian counterparts insist state recognition was flawed,” April 23, 2034,

Dan D’ Ambrosio, “Chief of the Abenakis of Odanak of Canada once again declares Vermont Abenakis as frauds,” April 19, 2024, Burlington Free

Lisa Rathke,“Vermont forms reconciliation panel after Eugenic apology,” April 28, 2023, Associated Press,

Katy Rossiter, “Understanding Geographic Relationships: American Indian Areas,” August 7, 2014, US

“United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Resolution Adopted by the UN General Assembly, September 13, 2007.

E. Thomas Sullivan, President, “Statement Regarding UVM and Eugenics,” University of Vermont, June 21, 2019.

Gabrielle Tayac, “Claiming the Name: White supremacy, Tribal Identity and Racial Policy in the Early Twentieth-Century Chesapeake,” published in “indivisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas,” editor Gabrielle Tayac, by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, 2009.