Reconnecting with Wantastegok

The concept of indigeneity signifies a duality, meaning “the people of a place” — they are part and parcel, the same thing. Reciprocally, they define each other in a dance of ever-shifting relationships. Indigeneity co-creates ways of being and knowing that are informed by intimate experience through deep time. The people recognize that they belong to the land which sustains them, rather than owning it as separable subject and object. In a very real way — expressing the conservation of energy and matter — the land (and one’s ancestors within it) makes up oneself, and the larger community of “all our relations.”

Most of what is known today as Vermont constitutes a part of Ndakinna, the traditional homelands of the indigenous group known as the Abenaki, a part of the larger Wabanaki peoples of the northeast. They have been continuously present, with their ancestors, in this landscape and on its waters for thousands of years. Although the ongoing process of colonization, by which this continent was settled, has destroyed and displaced many (if not most), the Abenaki have persisted and are still here, in their homeland.

The Elnu Abenaki in southeast Vermont

Not very long ago, the State of Vermont at last began to grapple with these realities and in 2010 the legislature passed a bill acknowledging the Abenaki as indigenous to the region. One of the four bands recognized thus far in this process is the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, centered toward the southeast, along the Kwenitekw (Connecticut River) and its western tributaries. They have begun the long, deliberate process of reconnecting with the Land, which is the foundation of cultural self-identification. Critical to this mission is sharing their stories with the larger society, most of whom are little aware of how the current situation became the status quo — which is, in itself, a truth worth learning.

As part of this effort, Elnu has recently partnered with Brattleboro’s Retreat Farm to create the Atowi Project, a public interface for outreach and capacity-building. Retreat Farm has already worked extensively with VLT, having a similar mission of reconnecting community with landscape. With VLT, Elnu has begun to affirm their own goals here in Wantastegok — the traditional name for the confluence of the Wantastekw/West and Kwenitekw/Connecticut Rivers. A small parcel of highly significant riverfront land has been secured and conserved, and other priorities are being actively established.

Renewing community in place

It is Elnu’s intention that they — with the allyship and support of friends and neighbors in the larger community — will be able to share truth, help heal the separations, and begin to restore vital relationships, in the seasons to come. Now that we are all here, with a growing, shared sense of how we can choose to do better, we welcome you to join in learning and uplifting Native voices, bringing honor and respect to the Land from which we are gifted life.

Kchi wliwni – with great thanks