ST. ALBANS — At the end of a winding, tree-lined road on a beautiful spring day, dozens of people gathered to dedicatee the Missisquoi Abenaki community’s new totem pole.
“It’s a spiritual awakening,” Chief Lawrence “Moose” Lampman said as he stood on Monument Road Thursday. In reference to the previous, 30-year-old totem that tribal council member John Churchill suggested be replaced a month ago, Lampman said, “Out of respect for the tribe and our ancient ancestors, we decided to put a new one up.”
The new pole, just under 20 feet tall and adorned with carvings of a turtle, standing bear, river otter, beaver, sturgeon, perch and eagle, was erected by Swanton Electric Department in an effort coordinated by Abenaki and Swanton Police officer Eugene Rich, who also in an Abenaki.
“We couldn’t have done that without them,” said tribal council clerk and treasurer Candy Thomas.
Dick Menard, a Abenaki Self-Help Association, Inc. (ASHAI) member and talented woodworker, carved the new totem. It was made from a utility pole of Northwestern red cedar, and Menard said it took between 70 and 80 hours of work to complete.
“It should last for a long time,” said Menard. “I’m sure our great-grandchildren will be able to enjoy that.”
One young one, Aliza Thomas, 1, was the youngest in attendance at the ceremony yesterday. She watched attentively as Grandfather “Soaring Eagle” Phil Thibault, 90, prayed over the totem pole and blessed it. Thibault was the oldest member in attendance.
“I bless this in the name of the Creator,” said Thibault as he let the smoke of burning sage fall over the pole and over the chief. Birds chirped as a quiet crowd watched in respect.
Lampman then said a few words about the meaning of the new totem pole and the ceremony. “Here we are in the 21st century, and we’re still standing up for our rights and representing our ancient ones that are just down the road,” he said. A little ways from the totem pole are burial grounds, where Abenaki remains and artifacts lay.
Lampman added, “We’re here to resurrect our new pole and show our acknowledgement of being on earth.”
Following the ceremony, Burton Decarr of Swanton, Donna Huether of Jericho, Mary Decarr of Highgate, Paul Tibbals of Highgate and John “Graywolf” Lawyer and Patrice “Raindrop” Havreluk-Lawyer of Bakersfield played three traditional songs. At the conclusion, everyone hugged, chatted, and examined the new totem pole.
“I love you Burt,” Huether said to Decarr, hugging him. “Isn’t this the greatest?”