30 March 2005

Ethnic-Cleansing in Vermont?

The state of Vermont apperently wants to "delete" the Abenaki people, culture and history... I wonder, who and where will be next?


Abenaki Incensed Over Omission
By Victoria Welch
Free Press Staff Writer

SWANTON -- Revisions to a state contract with the University of Vermont prompted representatives to a state-appointed commission on American Indian affairs to claim the state is trying to "erase" the Abenaki community.

"I'm saying this is wrong, this is immoral and this must be rectified," Jeff Benay, chairman of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Native American Affairs, said Thursday during the commission's regular monthly meeting.

The commission received a copy of a contract renewal between the State Department for Children and Families and the University of Vermont department of social work, addressing a "cultural competency" program established about five years ago to train foster caregivers in proper care of at-risk Abenaki children. The program, Benay said, is intended to ensure Abenaki children can remain in their home communities and school districts when they are placed in foster care.
In the original contract, the state serves as a partner with UVM, which then works with Abenaki organizations in northwest Vermont. But the revised copy, reviewed by the commission Thursday, omits references to "Abenaki" and "the Title V Indian Education Program," the official name of the program. The program project is now described as an initiative to improve "cultural competency knowledge and skills of child welfare staff and foster parents in Northwestern Vermont."

Commission members said deleting the Abenaki references in the contract could hinder the tribe's efforts to receive state and federal recognition as a tribe. Vermont Chief Assistant Attorney General William Griffin told lawmakers in February that federal recognition would give the Abenaki special rights, the opportunity to pursue legal claims to homelands and an opportunity to seek the right to operating a gambling casino in Vermont.

Neither Attorney General William Sorrell nor Griffin could be reached for comment Thursday.

Jason Gibbs, Gov. Jim Douglas's spokesman, said Thursday night that the governor had recently learned of the revisions and has asked the Attorney General Office's to explain its rationale for changing the wording.

Gibbs said the governor's initial reaction was that the changes were not needed, given that the contract had existed for a number of years. However, Gibbs said, "Before we jump to any conclusions, we want to hear the reason they think its necessary."

The focus of commission members' outrage Thursday, they said, was the fact that children are directly affected by the program. A lack of direct reference to the Abenaki could be, they said, the first step in preventing cultural education to Abenaki youths.

Abenaki Chief April St. Francis Merrill said she wanted to know what state officials hoped to accomplish with the contract revision.
"Is it in the state's best interest to delete a race?" she asked.

Contact Victoria Welch at 651-4849 or vwelch@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com


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