Home | Contact Us | Site Map |  802-223-5234


Featured Stories in Our Latest Annual Report

backcountry skiersRecreation for All: Bolton Valley Nordic and Backcountry

1,144 acres of ski terrain and  forestland conserved and added to the Mt. Mansfield State Forest. Read more.


Chuda DhauraliA Return to Farming: Pine Island Farm

Colchester farm is new home for refugee farmers raising goats and growing rice and vegetables.  Read more.


Connecting Habitat and Neighbors: Cold Hollow to Canada

Landowners conserve wildlife habitat and prevent forest fragmentation in the northern Greens.  Read more.


Reunion with the Land: Nulheganaki Tribal Forest

Nulhegan Abenaki acquire tribal forest and sugarbush in Barton. Read more.


Balancing Timber and Habitat: Foresters for the Birds

Landowners and VLT work with Audubon to implement improvements in bird habitat on managed forestland. Read more.

Sacred Sites: Conservation and the People of the Dawnland

They called themselves Abenakis, “people of the dawnland,” because they were the first to see the rising sun each day. The Abenakis populated northern New England for at least 10,000 years before European settlers arrived. Then, within little more than a generation, the number of Abenakis in Vermont and New Hampshire was reduced, according to some experts, from 10,000 to about 500.

After endless waves of disease and war, the Abenaki people still faced U.S. government policies that swung between benign neglect and outright hostility. In Vermont, the Abenakis fought against development that threatened places sacred to their people.

VLT has been instrumental in two recent projects that helped the Abenakis protect sacred lands. April Rushlow, chief of the Abenaki Nation, received assistance from VLT and VHCB, among others, in conserving the Auger House site in Highgate, almost certainly the site of an Abenaki burial ground. And Wobanaki, Inc.—the legal entity of the Abenaki Nation—received help from The Conservation Fund, VLT, the Freeman Foundation, and others in protecting from development a sacred site and probable Native American encampment along the Connecticut River in the Northeast Kingdom town of Brunswick.

The one-half acre Auger House property—named for the most recent resident of the house, Wilfred Auger, who died in 2002—is significant as an Abenaki burial site. Dividing the towns of Swanton and Highgate in northwestern Vermont, the lot is on Monument Road, an area that was home to seasonal Abenaki encampments for about 4,000 years. Earlier, the State of Vermont had purchased several parcels adjacent to the Auger House property, after they discovered human remains dating back at least to the seventeenth century.

According to Dave Skinas, an archaeologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Native American remains have been accidentally unearthed in recent years along Monument Road, prompting not only the
State purchases, but also an unusual partnership among the towns of Swanton and Highgate, local landowners, and the Abenakis. “They’ve all cooperated to protect this area,” said Dave, who’s been working with the Abenakis since 1988, when he worked for the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation.

Acquisition of the Auger House site, now home to an elder from the Abenaki Tribe, protects it from future development. “We found 30 sets of human remains on Monument Road in 2000,” said Chief Rushlow, of a burial ground discovered after a construction project had begun. “It took us 15 weeks of sifting through the dirt to put everything together. We’d rather these sites were not disturbed.”

Brunswick Springs, which the Abenakis and other tribes have visited for thousands of years, was the site of a sucession of hotels beginning in the nineteenth century, where white visitors came to “take the waters.” Little of these structures remains. What is left is a beautifully wild piece of land along the northern reaches of the Connecticut River and a site still sacred to the Abenaki Nation.

According to legend, Native Americans referred to the springs as "the medicine waters of the Great Spirit." The land almost certainly was used for long-term seasonal encampment. Chief Rushlow recalls being told as a child about the powers of the springs. “You didn’t go to Brunswick Springs unless you needed healing,” she said.

In addition to its sacred sites, the property has high Connecticut River bluffs, a pond that’s home to common loons and other migratory birds, and a woodland habitat that supports moose, bear, deer, and fishers along with some rare plant species.

The Abenakis had purchased the 113-acre property, but had trouble making mortgage payments to the previous owner. At that point, Nancy Bell, of The Conservation Fund (TCF), stepped into the picture. She knew of the property, heard about the problems the Abenakis faced, and approached Chief Rushlow to offer her help.

Nancy went to VLT for assistance, and the two organizations approached the Freeman Foundation to purchase the development rights from the Abenakis, and gave them the money needed to discharge the mortgage.

“We’ll leave it as is,” Chief Rushlow said. “There are roads we’ll want to keep open so that people can walk on the property. But there probably won’t be any regular use or scheduled events. When people feel the need for healing, they can go there. And not just Abenaki people. The land is open to all.”

Nancy said TCF has worked with other Native American tribes in preserving sacred sites but this project with “the people of the dawnland” was of particular interest to her. “If I have a religion,” she said, “it has to do with the earth. . . . My work has always concerned the land, and I believe there are very sacred places. Once I saw Brunswick Springs, I knew this was a place that was worth whatever effort it took to preserve it.”

© 2014 Vermont Land Trust | All rights reserved.