Senate panel endorses Abenaki recognition
MONTPELIER — A Senate committee on Wednesday advanced legislation that would recognize the Abenaki Indians as a minority in Vermont.
After hearing from a legislative lawyer who advised that state recognition would have little effect on the Abenaki's bid for federal recognition as a tribe, the Senate Judiciary Committee, absent one member, voted unanimously to pass the bill.
"I think that the testimony that we had and the information that we got in committee does not lead me to believe that state recognition is going to lead to federal recognition, which then could lead to issues of casino gambling and other things that the attorney general and past governors have been concerned about," said committee Chairman Richard Sears, D-Bennington.
Supporters say state recognition would make the Abenaki eligible for federal education grants and allow them to label and sell their crafts as Native American.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Charles Delaney Megeso, a Mazipskwik Abenaki. "This is the farthest it's come this far. It's a good bill. I think it's going to work for a lot of people."
Before approving the measure, the committee made changes to the bill passed by the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee earlier this month.
The bill calls for increased Abenaki representation on a newly formed Commission on Native-American Affairs that would assist Native Americans.
The committee also added a provision that says state recognition does not confer any claims to lands or any other rights not included in the bill.
"This is significant step forward," said Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee. "This is the first time I know of in the history of the state that we will be debating a bill that will recognize the Abenaki and Native Americans as a minority population in Vermont."
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