An Indigenous tribe descended from the Native American nation that originally controlled the land in Vermont the Ben & Jerry’s headquarters is located on would be interested in taking it back, its chief has said, after the company publicly called for “stolen” lands to be returned.
Don Stevens, chief of the Nulhegan Band of The Coosuk Abenaki Nation—one of four descended from the Abenaki that are recognized in Vermont—told Newsweek it was “always interested in reclaiming the stewardship of our lands,” but that the company had yet to approach them.
It comes after the ice cream company was questioned as to when it would give up its Burlington, Vermont, headquarters—which sits on a vast swathe of U.S. territory that was under the auspices of the Abenaki people before colonization.
“The U.S. was founded on stolen Indigenous land,” the company said in a statement ahead of Independence Day. “This year, let’s commit to returning it.”
This 4th of July, it's high time we recognize that the US exists on stolen Indigenous land and commit to returning it. Learn more and take action now: https://t.co/45smaBmORH pic.twitter.com/a6qp7LXUAE
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) July 4, 2023
It added that the “land back” movement was about “ensuring that Indigenous people can again govern the land their communities called home for thousands of years,” but focussed much of its statement on the taking of land from the Lakota in South Dakota.
While some say colonized ancestral lands should be at least partially returned, others say that it is impossible to decide which of the various groups to have claimed land throughout history it should be returned to.
Maps show that the Abenaki—a confederacy of several tribes who united against encroachment from a rival tribal confederacy—controlled an area that stretched from the northern border of Massachusetts in the south to New Brunswick, Canada, in the north, and from the St. Lawrence River in the west to the East Coast.
This would put Ben & Jerry’s headquarters, located in a business park in southern Burlington, within the western portion of this historic territory—though it does not sit in any modern-day tribal lands.
“We are always interested in reclaiming the stewardship of our lands throughout our traditional territories and providing opportunities to uplift our communities,” Stevens said when asked about whether the Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe would want to see the property handed over to Indigenous people.
While the chief said that the tribe “has not been approached in regards to any land back opportunities from Ben & Jerry’s,” he added: “If and when we are approached, many conversations and discussions will need to take place to determine the best path forward for all involved.”
Ben & Jerry’s has not yet publicly answered to calls to return the land its headquarters is placed on.
Newsweek contacted the company via email for comment on Friday.
A spokesperson for the Odanak Council of Abenakis, who now settle near Montreal, Canada, told Newsweek that the council would comment on the issue after their weekly meeting on Monday.
Newsweek also approached the Abenaki Nation of Missiquoi and the Elnu Abenaki Tribe—both recognized in Vermont—via email for comment on Thursday. Contact details for the other state-recognized tribe, the Koasek Traditional Band of the Koas Abenaki Nation, could not immediately be found.
— Sebastian Gorka DrG (@SebGorka) July 7, 2023
According to historical records, the Abenaki originally traded with European settlers in the 16th century, but their population was stricken by the advance of Old World diseases. The confederacy joined with French colonizers against English settlers in growing territorial arguments, before many ran to what is now Canada following a series of setbacks at the hands of the English.
NEVER Ben & Jerry's EVER AGAIN!!!!!!!!
Ben and Jerrys HeadQuarters is on Indian Land!!!!
— Brian Watts (@BBWATTS65) July 6, 2023
During the early part of the 20th century, a state-sponsored eugenics program in Vermont saw some Abenaki sterilized. The Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe has explained these acts as “ethnocide.”
— John Rich🇺🇸 (@johnrich) July 5, 2023