A series of recent media articles in the Northeast have highlighted a supposed “dispute” among Abenaki people, using inflammatory headlines and statements intended to sway public opinion. A recent opinion essay in the Albany Times Union, for example, utilized misquotes, falsehoods, and unsubstantiated claims to insinuate that the Bruchac family has supposedly misrepresented their Abenaki identity.

Joseph E. Bruchac III, Margaret M. Bruchac, James Bruchac, and Jesse Bowman Bruchac are all registered members of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuck-Abenaki Nation, a Native Nation that is state-recognized by the State of Vermont [see: https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/section/01/023/0084]. Under federal law, as codified in the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) of 1990, they have the legal right to identify their work as Native American without discrimination or prejudice; that law states, unequivocally, “Under the IACA, an Indian is defined as a member of any federally or officially State recognized tribe of the United States” [see: https://www.doi.gov/iacb/act].

NOTE: No journalist, no genealogist, no scholar, and no Native American or First Nations individual holds the inherent right to determine who is or is not legally “Indian.” Such legal determinations can only be made by and within a sovereign Tribal Nation, following the statutes that govern state recognition and federal recognition. Nothing in any federal, provincial, or state law in the United States or Canada, and nothing in any traditional Indigenous practice of governance, gives any Native individual or Native Nation the inherent right to adjudicate the identity of any other Native individual or Native Nation.

So, to put it simply, no-one in any Canadian First Nation has any authority to dictate who is who in any Native American Nation – and vice versa. If any institution or tribal Nation requires certification of any individual’s tribal identity, for an official purpose, there is only one appropriate approach: they should request a formal statement from the relevant state, federal, provincial, or locally recognized tribal nation, stating that the individual is an enrolled member of that tribe. Interested in more information on the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation? Click here.