New Film Shares Abenakis' Story of Lake Champlain's Creation

By Lake Champlain Sea Grant Staff
July 09, 2019

Anyone who has looked at a map of Lake Champlain will recognize that its two bays to the north appear a bit like legs connected to the lake's wider main body to the south. To the Abenaki people of Vermont, this geographic feature is a central component of their creation story of Lake Champlain.

The Lake Champlain Sea Grant Program and University of Vermont (UVM) Extension recently released "Nebi: Abenaki Ways of Knowing Water," a short film of this story, as told by Chief Donald Stevens of the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk-Abenaki Nation. It is available to view at the Lake Champlain Sea Grant website at

Vince Franke with Peregrine Productions, LLC, in Waterbury was responsible for the filming and editing. He also led coordination of animations that helped bring the creation stories to life.

The film's production stemmed from the desire of staff within the Sea Grant and UVM Extension programs, which operate in partnership with the UVM Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, to include a cultural component to their public and school-based watershed education programs. A developing relationship between these staff and Chief Stevens revealed that their goal was complemented by his.

He recently shared, "It is important to preserve our culture and stories for the benefit of future Abenaki generations. It is equally important that non-Abenaki peoples understand our rich history and our connection to the environment around us. Without that connection to our environment or source of life, it could be easily discarded and not preserved for those future generations."

The film also features Chiefs Roger Longtoe Sheehan of the Elnu Tribe and Eugene Rich of the Missisquoi Tribe, along with other elders and members of these and the Nulhegan Tribe. Each person shares their insights about the importance of water to life and meaningful ways that water connects people through both time and space.

"This film gives us the opportunity to share indigenous knowledge and values about water from people whose ancestors have been stewards of the environment here for more than 9,000 years. We feel incredibly privileged to be able to communicate this knowledge to a wide variety of audiences through our outreach and education programs," said Kris Stepenuck, Extension program leader for the Lake Champlain Sea Grant Program.

The film will provide a starting point for cultural education and awareness building for members of the public who participate in trips these organizations offer on Lake Champlain each summer, and for school groups who take part in watershed education programming through the UVM Extension Watershed Alliance during the academic year.

"Our educational programming reaches a variety of audiences across the Lake Champlain Basin and it is incredibly important to us that we share all the stories of the Basin," said Ashley Eaton, watershed and lake education coordinator for Lake Champlain Sea Grant and Watershed Alliance programs. "This film, created in partnership and with the permission of the Abenaki peoples, grew out of a common goal, that of elevating the stories of the Abenaki.

"I am so grateful for everyone who contributed to this project," said Eaton. "It is a really powerful piece that aids us in authentically sharing this important aspect of our cultural history (past and present) in the basin."