he downplay of the ecological impact of the Abenaki is a continuance of the pristine myth, a pervasive narrative in colonial descriptions of the North American landscape which largely served to justify the ransacking and stealing of land from Indigenous people. The natural community concept perpetuates this myth, again by asserting that the natural state of Vermont’s wetlands, woodlands, and wildlands is one that is free of human influence. As William Deneven wrote “The myth persists that in 1492 the Americas were a sparsely populated wilderness, “a world of barely perceptible human disturbance.’” (source).
We see this pristine myth reiterated nearly verbatim in Wetland, Woodland, Wildland, where the only indirect mentions of the Abenaki seem to be to downplay any significant role they may have had on the land prior to the genocidal conquests of Europeans. From one passage, “populations of Native Americans in the region prior to European settlement were small and their use of the land was dispersed, resulting in few permanent changes in the landscape or in ecological processes, except in relatively small areas where populations were concentrated.” This contrasts sharply with the archaeological record in Vermont and New England, which demonstrate quite clearly that the Abenaki played a vital role in shaping pre-European ecological communities (see, for example, A Deep Presence). But even if their ecological influence was inconsequentially small, which it wasn’t (source), it certainly wouldn’t follow that the Abenaki were not present, that they were not a part of these “natural” communities, or that they should not continue to steward and inhabit their unceded lands.
Contradicting the assertion that the Indigenous influence on the land was small, the authors write: “Humans have been present in Vermont and the surrounding region since the retreat of the glaciers. We have had a dramatic effect on the environment” (emphasis added). But here it is “humans,” indistinguishable by race, that have been present on and dramatically impacting this land for millennia. This almost implicitly links the Abenaki with the devastating impact European Americans have had on Vermont’s landscape for the past four centuries or Europeans with a much longer tenure on the land.