If the state of Vermont had gotten its way Don Stevens never would have been born.
His grandmother changed her name three times to avoid being forcefully sterilized during Vermont’s eugenics movement.
“My family was targeted pretty badly,” said Stevens.
He said there were “two strikes” against his grandmother because, not only was she Abenaki, she’d also had polio.
His mother’s mother changed her name twice to avoid being sterilized, too.
Stevens, the Chief of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation, wants an apology from the state for its eugenics policy in the 1920s and 30s. There is a resolution, J.R.H.7, introduced at the end of January that is working to do just that.
The resolution is titled: “Joint resolution apologizing and expressing sincere condolences to all Vermonters and their families who were harmed as a result of State-sanctioned and eugenically inspired sterilization.”
It is in the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee.
Setting an example for Hitler
Vermont’s efforts at “purifying” its citizens by sterilizing classes of people considered inferior preceded 1931 with the passage of “An act for human betterment by voluntary sterilization” and didn’t end in 1936 when the survey ended, but, according to the website Eugenics Survey: A Documentary History, this was the most notorious of Vermont’s efforts in this regard.
Stevens worked to get the University of Vermont’s apology, which came on June 21, 2019. UVM’s apology was important because the school played a significant role in the movement, particularly with the work of faculty members like Henry Perkins, and university classes, research and publications.
“It’s ironic that Germany watched the national eugenics movement pretty closely. Hitler was very interested in how people would be tracked,” said Stevens.
“The bill has a good chance, but you never know. Politics is politics; it still has to go to the Senate,” said Stevens. “You hold your breath until the governor signs it, but we’re not asking for anything but the apology. It’s not like were beating down the door for reparations.”
Other Abenaki bills
Stevens is also hopeful about the chances of H.716 being passed. This is a bill that would give (some might say restore) free hunting and fishing rights to Abenaki people. Also read for the first time in January, H.716 is in the Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Committee.
Two other acts introduced in January concerning the Abenaki that are in the General, Housing and Military Affairs Committee are H.880, tagged as: “An act relating to Abenaki place names on State park signs” and H. 897: “An act relating to the repatriation of traditional Abenaki lands.”
J.R.H.7, the apology bill’s chances of passing have been boosted by support from Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman and Attorney General T.J. Donovan.
In 2011, the state of Vermont passed a resolution recognizing the Abenaki as a tribe. Stevens said this happened after his grandmother died but before his mother did. This recognition helped his mother to be proud of her heritage.
Part of being recognized involved being registered as an Abenaki. Because of forced sterilization from the eugenics movement, Abenaki were leery of being registered, Stevens said.
“Only a dog, a horse and an Indian need a pedigree,” he said.