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Local Chef On Indigenous Food Sovereignty Movement And A Moose Hunt In Maine

A man holding up a moose nose
Jeff Stewart, Courtesy
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Beginning in 2021, Abenaki people can apply for free and permanent hunting and fishing licenses in Vermont. Moose hunting, however, is still managed through the state's lottery system, so one Abenaki chef headed to Maine to experience a subsistence hunt with a friend there. 

The Legislature passed H.716 in July, and shortly after, Gov. Phil Scott signed the bill into law. Don Stevens, Chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuck-Abenaki Nation, told VPR that his ancestors never gave up those hunting and fishing rights, but rather, the state of Vermont didn't honor them. 

More from VPR: Chief Don Stevens On How One Abenaki Tribe Is Finding Community, Apart

The new law does not have a provision for moose hunting, and so Abenaki people still need to enter (and pay for) Vermont Fish and Wildlife's permit lottery system. Those lucky enough to get picked for a permit could head out into the woods from Oct.1-7 for archery, and the regular season begins Oct. 17 and lasts for six days.

While he didn't win a lottery permit, Sweetwaters head chef Jessee Lawyer did recently hunt a moose. Lawyer, who is Abenaki, got to have the experience with a friend who is part of the Penobscot Nation in Maine. Indigenous people there can go on subsistence hunts, and are given tags to hunt for all kinds of wild game — from muskrat to duck to moose — from mid-September through December.

It was Lawyer's first ever moose hunt, and he said he wished the state of Vermont would give one subsistence tag to each of the four Abenaki bands here.

"For people to be able to see that, for other Abenakis to be able to see that," he said. "It is a very special, sacred hunt. It's a lot of meat, there's a lot of uses beyond the meat... It's a very big cultural identity that I think should be shared.'

"I want to see Native families everywhere putting this on their kitchen table for them and their family." — Jessee Lawyer, Abenaki tribal member

Pre-pandemic, Lawyer created and served up Abenaki dishes at Sweetwaters in Burlington, incorporating ingredients like Jacob's Cattle beans, corn and squash, along with sunchokes, nuts and berries. His dishes also included a wide range of wild game.

"What I'm trying to do is, do more with what we've been able to grow that is Abenaki, what we can hunt, what we can fish, and then build those into delicious dishes for the Abenaki citizens or other tribal nations," he said. "What a lot of people in the Indigenous food sovereignty movement have been doing is trying to reinforce that this is our food, and you can cook it at home, it is delicious."

Lawyer said while it is valuable for non-Indigenous people to taste this food, in the end that's not who it's for.

"I want to see Native families everywhere putting this on their kitchen table for them and their family," he said.

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