Feds deny federal recognition of Vermont's Abenaki Indians 6-23-07

- The federal government has denied federal recognition to the Abenaki Indians of Vermont, saying the group doesn't meet federal criteria, state Attorney General William Sorrell said Friday.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs said in a decision Friday the St. Francis/Sokoki Band of the Abenaki Nation doesn't meet the criteria required to prove it is an American Indian tribe. The decision echoed a proposed finding issued in 2005.

“It's disappointing, but it wasn't expected,” said Abenaki tribal historian Fred Wiseman, a professor at Johnson State College.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, which manages 55.7 million acres of land held in trust for American Indians, tribes, and Alaska Natives, said in November 2005 that the Abenakis failed to show that they had descended from a historical Abenaki tribe, that the tribe had existed since 1900 and that it has been part of a continuous community.

A call seeking comment to the agency's Washington, D.C. office was not returned late Friday.

Members of the group have claimed it has about 1,771 people, mostly in the Missisquoi River Valley region of northwestern Vermont.

There are 561 tribes recognized by the federal government. The status is highly sought after because it exempts tribes from state and local laws and entitles them to ask for reservation and trust lands when it is granted.

The state has been reluctant to recognize the Abenakis, fearing it could bolster the tribe's bid to win federal recognition, which opponents say could lead to land claims and gambling casinos.

Last year, Gov. Jim Douglas signed into law a bill recognizing their existence in Vermont, but it was a largely symbolic gesture.