Meet Native America: Liz Charlebois, Chair of the New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs
In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
My name is Liz Charlebois. I serve as chair of the New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs (NHCNNA). I also work as education director at Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum in Warner, New Hampshire.
Can you give us your Native name, its English translation and/or a nickname?
My name in Western Abenaki is Aliz8bat Mali.
What responsibilities do you have to the tribes of New Hampshire?
The mission of the New Hampshire Commission on Native American Affairs is to recognize the historic and cultural contributions of Native Americans to New Hampshire, to promote and strengthen their own heritage, and to address their needs through state policy and programs.
How is the commission set up?
NHCNNA is a 15-person commission, with ten members chosen from the Native community and five members who represent state organizations such as the Division of Travel and Tourism, the Native American Program at Dartmouth College, the State Council on the Arts, the New Hampshire Society of Genealogists, and an archeologist appointed by the Division of Historical Resources.
How often are commissioners chosen?
Commission members are appointed for three year terms. Chairs are elected every year.
How often do the commissioners meet?
The commission was established to meet quarterly. However, we are in the process of changing scheduled meeting times so that we can meet six times a year.
How does the commission relate to the rest of the New Hampshire state government?
NHCNNA is administratively attached to the Department of Cultural Resources.
What attractions are available for visitors on New Hampshire Native lands?
There are no official tribal lands in New Hampshire. However, in my perspective, the Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum serves as a place where the Native community can gather. It also houses an impressive collection of Native art that includes a Contemporary Art Gallery.
What annual events does the commission sponsor?
NHCNNA is still fairly young. It has only been in existence since 2011. As of right now, there are not any officially sponsored events. However, NHCNNA supports several Native events in New Hampshire and plans to have a more active presence at different events across the state.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead?
I never planned to be a leader. I have tried to carry myself in a good and honorable way. I have been involved in my community from a very young age. As a younger woman, I sat on several executive boards for nonprofit organizations. All of these things combined led people to put my name forward as someone who would work to make things better for the people in my community.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
I come from a family of strong women. My mother has always been a role model for me. Her path has not been an easy one, but she perseveres, and does so with grace.
Are you a descendant of a historical leader?
Where is your home community located? Where are your people originally from?
I am Missisquoi Abenaki. My home community is from Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but my tribal headquarters is Swanton, Vermont. Historically, my people are from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Quebec.
What is a significant point in history from your people that you would like to share?
The Abenaki have a long history and have continued through 500 years of contact with non-Native people.
Approximately how many members are in your home community?
There are approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Native people in New Hampshire. However, the Abenaki community is much larger, and significant populations live in several states and the province of Quebec in Canada.
What are the criteria to become a member of your tribe?
A person must show that he or she is a descendant of an Abenaki family.
Is your language still spoken on your homelands? If so, what percentage of your people would you estimate are fluent speakers?
Our language is still spoken, but there are only a handful of fluent speakers left. However, there are several language programs that are attempting to revitalize the language. One of these programs is sponsored by Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, and I am very proud to be involved with it.
What annual events does your tribe sponsor?
Historically my tribe has sponsored an annual powwow. The Missisquoi Abenaki also run the Abenaki Self-Help Association, Inc., which strives to improve the educational and socio-economic conditions of Abenaki people.
What message would you like to share with Native youth?
I believe that it is important for our youth to learn our language and traditions. Having a sense of community and where you come from is extremely important. I believe that strong ties to family and community help to prevent addiction.
To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below.
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.