Opposition to background checks draws 500 to State House


Rodney Chayer of Barton thinks Vermonters will lose a chunk of their history and culture should S.31 pass.

Rodney Chayer of Barton thinks Vermonters will lose a chunk of their history and culture should S.31 pass.  Photos by Nathalie Gagnon-Joseph

copyright the Chronicle January 28, 2015

by Nathalie Gagnon-Joseph

MONTPELIER — Nearly 500 people showed up at the State House here Tuesday to express their opposition to a Senate bill that would require background checks when guns are sold.

The rally was organized by the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, Inc., which invited all participants to wear hunter orange to show solidarity in the face of the proposed legislation, S.31. Those without orange clothing were given round orange stickers.

At 3 p.m. there were already approximately 100 people in the State House cafeteria despite the bad weather. Participants were invited to roam the building in search of their legislators to speak with them about the issue personally until refreshments and food were served at 4:30 p.m.

National Rifle Association (NRA) Foundation Projects and Legislative Affairs Vice-president Evan Hughes said the bill amounts to legislation in search of a problem, but that the validity of the medical portion remains to be seen.

“The aspect with regards to mental health, we’re going to let the medical community take the lead on that issue,” he said. “We’re going to watch with great interest.”

Others felt more strongly about screening for mental health issues and the actual repercussions. Senator John S. Rodgers of Glover said he’s concerned that mentally ill people would avoid seeking help for fear that their firearms would be confiscated.

Two Barton ambulance drivers, Luke Willard of Brownington and Jeffrey Youry of Troy, brought nearly 2,000 signatures against S.31 to present to their senators.

Two Barton ambulance drivers, Luke Willard of Brownington and Jeffrey Youry of Troy, brought nearly 2,000 signatures against S.31 to present to their senators.

“My position is that we’re the safest state in the nation, we have a very high per capita of gun ownership in the state of Vermont, and those two statistics should be enough to show people we don’t need any new gun laws,” he said. “All we need to do is enforce the laws that are on the books and we’ll be in fine shape.”

Barton resident Rodney Chayer agreed with the senator. He drove to Montpelier early to attend the rally. He believes that current laws are not enforced strictly enough and that offenders get let off with a slap on the wrist. But Mr. Chayer also believes that the proposed law is attacking the core of Vermont’s identity.

Food is served just before the official rally is set to begin at 5 p.m.

Food is served just before the official rally is set to begin at 5 p.m.

“I’m a gun owner and my youngest son shot his first deer at eight years old, so it’s a tradition,” Mr. Chayer said. “Some of this stuff keeps families together, shooting, hunting, trapping, fishing. It’s just a way of life, and if they start changing it, Vermont is going to lose a big part of its history.”

Mr. Chayer went on to say that Vermont’s hunting heritage is only part of what needs to be preserved. Others agreed.

Kevin and Kristen Shea of Shelburne are also gun owners and hunt with their family. They are concerned that giving a gun as a gift would turn law-abiding citizens like them into criminals. They also mentioned the importance of guns as a means of self-protection.

“A 300-foot restraining order is worthless when a guy makes up his mind that he wants to kill a woman. It’s a piece of paper,” said Mr. Shea. “If a woman at least has a means of defending herself as a last resort, then at least it gives her a chance.”

Luke Willard of Brownington and Jeffrey Youry of Troy, both ambulance drivers for Barton, drove down earlier in the day to meet with fellow gun owners and to bring almost 2,000 signatures from people in Orleans and Essex counties who also oppose the bill but couldn’t make it to the rally. Mr. Willard said that speaking to other attendees gave him new insight into the problems the bill poses.

Gun rally participants were invited to wear hunter orange to show their solidarity in the face of bill S.31.

Gun rally participants were invited to wear hunter orange to show their solidarity in the face of bill S.31.

“If they pass this bill, how are they going to enforce this?” he said. “I hadn’t thought of that until I just spoke to this guy 20 minutes ago.”

The fear is that the next step is to force gun registration.

Mr. Hughes was very pleased with the turnout and the positive atmosphere. “If there hadn’t been a snowstorm, I don’t know how we would have gotten everyone in here,” he said.

contact Nathalie Gagnon-Joseph at [email protected]

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Abenaki buy forest and farmland in Barton


by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle 12-19-2012

BARTON — For the first time in two centuries, an Abenaki tribe in Vermont can claim tribal forestland.  As of Monday, the roughly 1,000-member Nulhegan Abenaki own 65 acres in Barton on the May Farm Road.  Title is held by Abenaki Helping Abenaki, a nonprofit created several years ago to preserve the culture of the Nulhegan Abenaki.

The tribe, which the state of Vermont officially recognized in 2011, has been working on the purchase for more than a year.  The Vermont Land Trust holds a conservation easement on the property to make sure it remains undeveloped.

Tribe members will continue, and ultimately expand, an existing sugaring operation on the land.  It will also be used for a tribal community garden, said Luke Willard of Brownington, former tribe chief and a current trustee who was pivotal in organizing the purchase.

“All Nulhegan Abenaki land has been gone for a long, long time,” Mr. Willard said. “This is the first community-owned piece of land for the tribe in literally over 200 years.  We’ve got a lot of celebrating to do.  This is a really big thing for the leadership and the citizens of the tribe.

“It’s also a big thing for the town of Barton and surrounding communities,” Mr. Willard added.  “The way we’ve set it up the land will be conserved forever.  We’re allowing public access.  We’re not allowing motor vehicles, but foot travel, horseback riding, cross country skiing, bird watching, hiking within reason.  We’re willing to share the woods with folks.”

The land was paid for largely through fund-raising and grants.  Prior owner Eric Lanou sold the development rights to the Vermont Land Trust.

“We worked hard to raise this money,” Mr. Willard said.   “But everybody loved this project.  People wanted this to happen.”

Tribe members plan to sugar on the land this spring, gradually increasing the size of the operation as time goes on, Mr. Willard said.  They’ll do it the old-fashioned way, with buckets rather than tubing.

Eventually, the Nulhegan hope to tap as many as 3,000 or 4,000 trees and to develop their own brand of syrup — not just pure Vermont syrup, which has its own fame, but the first brand of Vermont Abenaki-made syrup.  “This is going to be the first maple syrup produced by an Abenaki tribe in centuries,” Mr. Willard  said.

The sugaring operation will be labor intensive.  “Our intention is to take folks who are unemployed or underemployed and put them to work for the season,” Mr. Willard said.  “It’s going to be done fairly old school.”

Also, he said the tribe will invite schoolchildren to come see how sugaring is done the old-fashioned way.

“And we want to have a small exhibit where folks can actually see how maple sugar was produced prior to Colonialism,” he said.  “It’s very laborious compared to contemporary sugaring.”

Money from the sugaring operation will go to support the tribe’s programs, such as Nulheganaki Youth Outreach, which does presentations about Abenaki history and culture.  When that program first started audiences were tiny, sometimes no more than a half dozen people, Mr. Willard said.  These days presentations are made to much bigger groups of 50 or more people.

“It’s grown incredibly with zero funding,” he said.  “So can you imagine what they could accomplish in that program with $4,000 or $5,000 in revenue generated from sugaring?”

The Nulhegan also operate a program called The Seventh Harvest, which is basically a community garden.

Mr. Willard said it started years ago, largely as a typical food shelf to help the needy.  “We realized we were helping people who were down and out, but we weren’t really empowering them to help themselves,” he said.

By coincidence, a Johnson State College professor took an interest in the Abenaki gardening practices, which were still being used by some.

“He was under the impression that these practices were pretty much extinct,” Mr. Willard said.  “When we realized that was the common belief, we worked with JSC and got a grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program to study these agricultural technologies.  It became apparent to us that these ancient practices could be extinct in as little as a generation.”

The study, combined with a desire to provide healthier food, led to a community garden at Mr. Willard’s home in Brownington.

That garden will move to a clearing on the Barton land.  It could provide food for 15 or 20 families.

The rules for its use are that growers must learn traditional Abenaki growing practices, if they don’t already know them, and they must agree to pass that knowledge on to someone else in order to keep traditions alive.

The little clearing with its rich soil was one of the reasons the Barton land was so appealing, Mr. Willard said.  “I looked at it, and I saw mound gardens.”

Although the land has practical uses, it also has more symbolic ones as well.

A tribe is not an organization; it’s a body politic, just like a town, Mr. Willard said.  But the Nulhegan have not had a communal meeting place.

“There are Abenakis who own their own land,” he said.  “But we didn’t have a community place to meet like towns do.  We were always borrowing places to meet.  It’s difficult to maintain a government when you don’t have a central place.”

The tribe will use the land to hold meetings, events and celebrations.

“Part of our creation story is that the creator wanted us to be the stewards of the land,” said current chief of the Nulhegan Abenaki, Don Stevens, who takes a more spiritual view of the acquisition.  “After the land was taken from our ancestors, we were no longer able to be the stewards we were asked to be.  Our hearts are heavy with that burden.  With our own forest, we can pick up the soil, feel it, smell it, and know that our ancestors walked on this land and it is ours to protect.  For this land, we’re able to fulfill our promise.”

Gaining official recognition for the tribe, as well as others in Vermont, was a long and contentious process.  Mr. Willard said that was, at least in part, because some believed the tribes would make land claims or try to establish casinos.

Nothing could be further from the truth, he said.  The tribe paid for the Barton property, which it intends to share with everyone.  “Our intentions were always positive.”

contact Tena Starr at [email protected]

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