Every year, we give a portion of November’s sales to an indigenous cause in observation of National Native American Heritage Month. It is our way of honoring the origins of maple, a foodway that was first developed by indigenous Americans and which has been practiced here in North America for thousands of years.
In past years, we’ve supported a tribe’s struggle to reestablish sovereignty over their ancestral lands, we’ve supported organizations helping indigenous communities emerge from COVID, and we’ve supported groups leading food and land justice and sovereignty efforts across the country. This year, we’re bringing our dollars back home to support people working to preserve Vermont Abenaki cultural heritage right here in Vermont. Introducing Alnôbaiwi!
Alnôbaiwi is a nonprofit organization headquartered at the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington, Vermont. Its mission is to “preserve and practice Abenaki culture and heritage and to educate about the First People in Vermont.” Alnôbaiwi, which is Abenaki for “in the Abenaki way,” is inclusive all four of the Vermont bands of Abenaki—Mississquoi, Elnu, Koasek and Nulhegan—as well as Canadian Abenaki; in other words, the people who lived here for more than 8,000 years before European Settlement. Alnôbaiwi also shares tradition and language with other tribes in the Wabanaki Confederacy: Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy & Penobscot.
We had the great good fortune to interview the Administrative Director and two Alnôbaiwi Counsel members who are also Abenaki cultural educators recently and what we’ve learned makes us proud to support Alnôbaiwi this year as well as ask our customers, colleagues and friends to join us.
The idea for Alnôbaiwi was hatched in 2017 or 2018, when it became clear to members of the Vermont Abenaki community that their people needed a place of safety, belonging, community and gathering in order to preserve their cultural traditions in the present day and into the future. To that end, Alnôbaiwi brings people of Abenaki heritage together to engage in ceremony and to learn and pass on their language, foodways and craftways.
But while Alnôbaiwi may have started as a place where Abenaki people could gather to engage in custom and pass on traditions—a place of support where Abenaki could help each other process the tragedies of the past and withstand the pressures of today—it has also become a center of education for people outside of the Abenaki community about the history, traditions, and present-day lives of Abenaki people.
Thanks to Alnôbaiwi, some of that history is on display for any of us to see in an exhibit that opened in May of this year at the Ethan Allen Homestead, a popular Vermont tourist destination that is dedicated to bringing the history of the area to life. The exhibit is organized around the seasonal calendar of the Abenaki—the Abenaki Year—and features the family photographs and heirlooms of living Vermonters. For those Vermonters of Abenaki descent whose folkways, ceremonies and language have been passed down through generations despite the devastating introduction of European diseases, despite state-sponsored eugenics and despite centuries of cultural suppression, the exhibition makes a powerful statement: “We have always been here, and we will be here to preserve our traditions and to practice our culture on the land where we were first.”
In addition to the exhibit, Alnôbaiwi holds workshops for Vermont teachers to educate them about how to teach Abenaki language and history in schools as well as workshops to educate organizations on cultural competency as it relates to indigenous people. Alnôbaiwi is also working with other Abenaki educators to create curricula for use in public schools as well as within the Abenaki community. And Alnôbaiwi is somewhat of a clearinghouse for knowledge and learning about Abenaki life – if Alnôbaiwi doesn’t know, they know who does!
The people at Alnôbaiwi wanted us to understand how important it was for the Vermont Abenaki to preserve the lifeways that had been handed to them by prior generations, and that Vermont Abenaki have always been here, are still here, and will remain here. It is now very clear to us that the Abenaki need to be recognized as an important and continuous part of Vermont’s history and culture.
If you would like to help Alnôbaiwi preserve Vermont Abenaki ways, you can do so by purchasing a product from us during the month of November and we will pass on 5% of that sale to Alnôbaiwi to support their work. You can also donate directly to Alnôbaiwi on their website (where you can also see beautiful Abenaki crafts, learn about wild edibles, and how to make masa and hominy from Abenaki Rose Corn (or other field variety))!