Joanne Crawford held a tribal card for the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, but for years she wasn’t really involved with tribal affairs. Instead, she was busy raising a family and holding a full-time job.
When her youngest son turned 16, he applied for his card and decided to become an active member of the tribe. Crawford followed his lead and is now deeply involved in helping her fellow tribe members.
Crawford started her involvement by attending tribal council meetings with her son and, in 2018, she volunteered to serve on the Maquam Bay of Missisquoi Board of Directors. The Council manages a Department of Labor grant and provides health and welfare services for the tribe including overseeing a Swanton-based food shelf and a domestic violence program.
As part of the Council, Crawford and her son took part in a walk to prevent child abuse and she brought representatives from Outright Vermont to the community room at the tribal offices.
“We want to make sure there are services available for the tribe, as well as other residents of Swanton,” she said.
Crawford and her son are also members of the Alnobaiwi Council, a non-profit that began about a year ago to teach about Abenaki heritage and culture.
“It’s hard to take part in anything Abenaki now because so much has been lost and the community is dispersed,” she said. “This is a way to help people learn about their traditions.” Crawford explained that there are four recognized Abenaki tribes in Vermont. In addition to the Missisquoi, the bands include the Nulhegan in the Northeast Kingdom, the Elnu in southern Vermont and the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas based along the Connecticut River.
Crawford started attending meetings of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs so she could learn more about what was taking place at the state level. When an opening occurred, she applied and was appointed to a position earlier this year. She also serves as the Abenaki representative on the Health Disparities Council at the University of Vermont.
Crawford spent 17 years as the Medicaid Coordinator for the Burlington School District and recently moved to a position with the Vermont Department of Mental Health, providing administrative assistance for the Child, Adolescent and Family Unit.
“Individuals who are healthy tend to be happy,” she said, “and it’s important that everyone has equal access to services that are provided locally.”
Now 54, Crawford has lived in Hinesburg for 22 years. For many of those years she created textile crafts with recycled material using a process called grungeing, which employs substances like tea, coffee and cinnamon to make things look old.
She has displayed her work at the Champlain Valley Union High School craft show, as well as at shows in Waitsfield and at St. Jude in Hinesburg. Some of her work is on sale at Blue Cottage in Hinesburg.
These days, though, the crafty side of Crawford’s life is temporarily on hold as she devotes more time to her tribal community.
“Like a lot of families in Vermont, I didn’t know a lot about being Abenaki,” Crawford said. “I only knew that it was my ancestry and that my grandmother had a tribal card. Eugenics did quite a number on us.” Crawford is happy her son provided the impetus for her to get more involved. “This is something I care deeply about,” she said. “It’s important that the Abenaki community has the support and help that it needs.”