Native American history showcase at ECHO exhibit

As of Feb. 14, the muskellunge and long-nose gar will learn to share their domain with the latest exhibit in the ECHO Center aquarium. “Indigenous Expressions: Native Peoples of the Lake Champlain Basin,” opened this past Saturday evening as a part of the yearlong Lake Champlain Quadricentennial. The project, a collaboration between the Echo Center, the Smithsonian Institute, archaeologist and anthropologist Stephen Loring and Abenaki historian and Johnson State College professor Frederick Wiseman, offers a window into the 11,000-year history of human activity in the region. In the opening ceremonies Saturday evening, Gov. Jim Douglas, ECHO officials, Burlington mayor Bob Kiss, and members of the Abenaki nations offered their thoughts on the event and the Quadricentennial. “When I get up every morning and see the lake, I appreciate it,” Kiss said. “It really does, I think, address something very basic about being here in Vermont.”Local Elnu Abenaki chief Roger Longtoe Sheehan led a calling of the spirits, two songs once used to facilitate communication between different tribes. A birch-bark canoe replica sat on the second floor at the top of the stairs, with placards outlining the materials used, manufacturing methods and historic use of the craft. Quick to build and light to portage, this canoe was indispensable to the Abenaki, and early European explorers. Also positioned around the circular second floor were genuine and replica artifacts, explanations of resource use, each representing a facet of a lifestyle that relied on a close connection with the land.”These cultures thrived because they used resources in a sustainable way,” ECHO Education Director Tracy Truzansky, said. Sitting on the table in front of her were a variety of Abenaki cookware and weapons. A bola, made of pieces of antler attached to a leather string, was used to hunt ducks; hunters would twirl the device above their heads and release it at just the right moment. A live American eel was also on display, along with basket traps woven with ash strips used to trap the animal. Spawning in the Atlantic and migrating up freshwater rivers to mature, the eel was an important food source for native peoples in the Lake Champlain Basin. Downstairs, a portrait room depicts the stories of contemporary Abenaki and Mohawk peoples. The essence of the exhibit was perhaps best characterized by the words next to the portrait of Abenaki leader Dee Bright Star-words especially pertinent today, with rising interest in sustainable living: “For if I am to be … accept me for what I am, one with the Earth.”