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Odanak First Nation requests Burlington museum remove photo of ancestors from exhibit

A photo of an enlarged black and white photograph of an encampment. Laid over the image is the text "The Abenaki: Vermont's First People."
Odanak First Nation
/
Courtesy
Odanak First Nation is requesting this photograph of the Panadis family to be removed from an exhibit at the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum. One of the curators of the exhibit, who belongs to a state-recognized tribe, claims to be related to the Panadis family.

An Abenaki First Nation is asking a Vermont museum to remove a photo from an exhibit, saying it is being used inappropriately.

Late last week, Odanak First Nation officials wroteto the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum in Burlington and asked for a photo to be removed from the new exhibit “Abenaki: The First People.”

The photo, according to Odanak officials, depicts the Panadis family in Highgate Springs in 1894. Descendants of the Panadis family, who are Abenaki citizens of Odanak, say they object to the photo’s “misleading” use in an exhibit curated by members of Vermont state-recognized tribes.

"It is unthinkable for the Abenakis of Odanak Council that self-proclaimed Abenaki groups in Vermont can use artifacts that do not belong to them to their advantage in order to justify their stolen heritage," reads a letter signed by Odanak Chief Rick O'Bomsawin. Included on the letter are Paul Panadis Sr., Claude Panadis Sr., Jean Panadis and Francine Panadis.

The Ethan Allen Homestead Museum did not respond to Vermont Public’s request for comment.

A black and white photograph showing people in an encampment with the wording underneath: "Indian Camp, Highgate Springs, Vermont"
Odanak First Nation
/
Courtesy
The original postcard showing the Panadis family in Highgate Springs, Vermont.

Both Odanak First Nation as well as Wôlinak First Nation, two long-standing Abenaki nationscurrently based in Quebec, say groups in Vermont and New Hampshire claiming to be Abenaki have not provided genealogical or historical evidence that they are kin.

The state-recognized tribes – Elnu, Koasek, Missisquoi and Nulhegan – which first became visible in the 1970s and later became recognized by the state in 2011 and 2012, dispute that claim.The Vermont House, Senate, governorand U.S. Congressional delegation all recently issued resolutions and statements upholding the four state-recognized tribes.

And a spokesperson for Alnôbaiwi – the nonprofit partnering with the museum to help curate the exhibit – told Vermont Public that a council member with the organization, Holly LaFrance, is related to the people in the photo.

As a member of the Missisquoi tribe, LaFrance’s “heritage and Abenaki lineage were researched and proven,” said David Schein, an administrator for Alnôbaiwi. “[Her] grandfather was married three times so different relatives of his three wives may not know each other. The photo of him and his first family has been in their family for a hundred years and is of them.”

When Vermont Public inquired about documentation or family names that might help clarify the connection between the LaFrance and the Panadis family, Alnôbaiwi could not immediately provide them.

In the letter to the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum, Chief O'Bomsawin noted that if the museum doesn't remove the photo, the Abenakis of Odanak Council "will be obliged to take further actions."

Have questions, comments or tips? Send digital producer and reporter Elodie Reed a message:

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Updated: May 11, 2023 at 10:31 AM EDT
This story has been updated with the original postcard showing the photograph of the Panadis family.
Elodie is a reporter and producer for Vermont Public. She previously worked as a multimedia journalist at the Concord Monitor, the St. Albans Messenger and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript, and she's freelanced for The Atlantic, the Christian Science Monitor, the Berkshire Eagle and the Bennington Banner. In 2019, she earned her MFA in creative nonfiction writing from Southern New Hampshire University.