Abenaki to continue fight for recognition
By LISA RATHKE The Associated Press | November 15,2005
SWANTON — The head of the Abenaki Indians living in Vermont said Monday the group would continue to pursue federal recognition as a tribe and would ask the governor for money to help in the effort.
April St. Francis Merrill, chief of the Abenaki Nation Missisquoi Sokoki band, said the group deserved the same amount of money that the attorney general's office has spent opposing its bid for state and federal recognition.
"While we struggle on our own to win federal recognition, the attorney general's office of Vermont is spending a significant amount of scarce taxpayers' dollars," she said.
The attorney general's office has questioned the Abenaki's heritage in Vermont and has argued that federal recognition would lead to land claims and casino gambling.
Last week, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs found the Abenaki have failed to meet four of seven criteria required for the designation and said it planned to deny the application.
Gov. James Douglas' spokesman Jason Gibbs said the governor had been neutral on the question of federal recognition.
"He's said the process would carry itself out and that he would be happy to abide by whatever the federal designation is."
On the question of money to support the Abenaki's push for recognition, Gibbs said the governor's office had received no such request.
"We will look at it and evaluate it when it arrives," he said.
"The governor has recently expressed support for economic development and education investments in their region of Vermont," Gibbs said. "I suspect his view will be that state money would be better spent on economic development and education areas, rather than on lawyers."
The federal agency found the Abenaki failed to show they had descended from a historical Abenaki tribe, that the tribe has existed since 1900, and that it has been part of a continuous community. The Abenaki have 180 days to revise their application.
"So this is far from being over for the Abenaki," Merrill said.
She said the group failed to send all the materials in its original application and said it would also provide more information to prove the number of Abenaki living in Vermont.
But she acknowledged that the group has little money — about $4,000 to $5,000 — to work with a lawyer and complete its petition.
She estimated that the attorney general's office had spent about $400,000 researching the Abenaki. Deputy Attorney General William Griffin said Monday that his office had spent $86,000 — on a part-time staff lawyer and consultants in about two years.
Merrill also criticized the attorney general's office for commenting on the bureau's preliminary findings when the process is not yet over and the Abenaki are preparing to respond.
"Despite the best efforts of the AG's office to harass, hinder, and block our petition, the Abenaki Nation will proceed," Merrill said.
Griffin said his office had received inquiries about the Abenaki's application and said the information from the bureau supported the state's belief that "the claims of this group are not supported by evidence."