By Ralph Pace
Don Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Bank of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation, spoke to members of the Ludlow Rotary Club during its recent weekly meeting.
During his comments, Stevens described the historical background of the Abenaki, its geographic location in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Canada, and the influx of southern tribes from the Connecticut and Massachusetts areas.
He noted that the Abenaki have a history dating back 11,000 years in this area. With the influx of Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries, tribes from the Deerfield and Greylock areas of Massachusetts were forced north in Abenaki territory.
Of particular interest was the relationship between the tribes and the English and French settlers and military personnel. According to Stevens, the British, especially their military, were very standoffish while the French tended to develop a rapport with tribal members. For this reason, the Abenaki allied themselves with the French during the French and Indian Wars.
Stevens described the period in Vermont during the early 1930s as a troubling one for Abenaki members. In 1931, the Vermont Legislature enacted eugenics laws forcing “undesirable” people to be sterilized.
This highlighted the perennial problem faced by the Abenaki in terms of their identity. Stevens noted that non-Indian cultures normally had a long history of their family and national identity. Unfortunately, the Indians, due principally to language differences, did not, as far as the European-oriented people were concerned.
Stevens was the first Vermonter to be vaccinated during the Covid crisis.
This was part of his effort to convince the Abenaki of the desirability of the vaccination to deal with Covid.
He also noted that the Abenaki language, initially with the help of the French, was being preserved. Currently Stevens has been working with Middlebury College to provide training in the language.
Don Stevens is an award-winning leader, businessman, writer, and lecturer. He has been featured in magazines, books, TV shows, and documentaries. He was appointed to the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs by Governor Douglas in 2006 for two terms where he served as the chair. He led the fight to obtain legal recognition for the Abenaki People in Vermont. He was able to acquire tribal land for the Nulhegan Tribe which had been white-owned for over 200 years. He has over 26 years of experience in successfully developing information technology, logistics, and manufacturing strategies for multi-million dollar companies. He proudly served in the U.S. Army and graduated from Champlain College with a degree in computer information systems.