November 18, 2008

Lake Champlain's 400th anniversary

'Celebrate Champlain'

Lake's 400th tacks toward the politically correctWhat's the most politically correct way to mark next year's 400th anniversary of Samuel de Champlain's discovery--make that exploration--of the lake that now bears his name?

The Vermont Lake Champlain Quadricentennial Commission is navigating that question very carefully.

Back in 1609, the Frenchman came upon a 120-mile body of water that native Abenakis called "Bitawbagok." Four centuries later, the state has created a commission and logo to "Celebrate Champlain." But its tagline doesn't mention the man. Instead, it lauds "The Lake--The Land--The People."

That doesn't mean the commission will disregard the explorer. But the commemoration, its Web site notes, "is designed to be inclusive for the many groups participating"--including Abenakis whose ancestors first heard the French translate the Green Mountains into "vert mont."
And:Champlain's arrival also changed life for the Abenakis. In February, Burlington's ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center will examine the tribe's past and present in a year-long series of exhibits and events titled "Indigenous Expressions: Native Peoples of the Lake Champlain Basin." Then in July, the state's largest city will host a weeklong "Indigenous Celebration," featuring arts, lectures and traditional ceremonies.

"Abenakis are all over the state, and we need to get that message out," says Frederick Wiseman, the state's foremost scholar on his native tribe and producer of the new documentary "1609: The Other Side of History."

The federal government has withheld official recognition of Vermont's Abenakis for decades. But the state was quick to seat Wiseman on its quadricentennial commission.

"We want to make sure the native voice is heard and our history is treated properly," Wiseman says. "And we hope the interest will help with our political issues--make the Legislature more aware and lead to improved relations."

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