(Host intro) Legislation that gives formal state recognition to the Abenaki Indian tribe has cleared a key Senate committee. The state of Vermont opposes the bill because the Attorney General’s office believes the proposal will lead to federal recognition of the Abenakis – a situation the state feels could lead to casino gambling in Vermont.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Backers of the bill say the proposal is an effort to restore state recognition to the Abenakis. The tribe did have state status for a brief time in the 1970’s, when former governor, Thomas Salmon, issued an executive order formally recognizing the Abenakis. But that status was taken away several years later when governor Richard Snelling revoked the order.
The legislation grants state recognition to the Abenakis for several defined purposes – to allow members of the tribe to be eligible for federal education, cultural and housing grants, to allow them to sell their crafts as Native American goods and the bill also confers minority status on all Abenakis.
Essex Orleans Senator, Vincent Illuzzi, is the chairman of the Senate Economic Development committee – the panel that supported the bill by a vote of five to zero.
(Illuzzi) “It’s a way to recognize that the Native Americans, in particular the Abenakis, inhabited what we now know as Vermont tens of thousands of years ago, long before European settlers arrived. And that recognition has been denied. And this bill is a step toward recognizing that they are a part of American culture and American history, and that they continue to live amongst us today through their descendants.”
(Kinzel) Chief Assistant Attorney, General Bill Griffin, says the state of Vermont opposes the bill because his office has strong concerns that state recognition could bolster the Abenaki’s application to win federal recognition – a situation that could lead to land claims and casino gambling.
(Griffin) “I think the intangible in this scenario is that if we have an official act by the General Assembly of the state of Vermont, it would take on a significance that other bits and pieces of evidence would not have. This is not going to carry the day. It’s not going to be the only piece of evidence. But it would certainly be something that we would have to contend with.”
(Kinzel) This is an argument that senator Illuzzi doesn’t find compelling
(Illuzzi) “We respectfully disagree with the Attorney General’s interpretation which has been an interpretation which hasn’t changed for the last twenty-five years -‘ there will be no land claims there will be no Indian casinos.'”
(Kinzel) The measure could be on the Senate floor for debate by the end of next week.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.