April St. Francis Merril
Present Vermont Native American Chief, activist who has been working to achieve Abenaki recognition. A leader in the successful preservation of a three acre Abenaki Cemetery and Village in Grande Isle County.
Date of Birth1968
April St. Francis Merrill also known as April Rushlow was born in Vermont in 1968. She's now lives in Swanton, Vermont. April St. Francis is known as the first Vermont female Abenaki Chief and daughter of former chief Homer St Francis. April St. Frances Merrill grew up watching her father fight for state and federal recognition through protests such as fish ins. As she grew up she lived off the land as some of her ancestors did; learning the way of Abenaki life. At the age of 16, April St. Frances Merrill ran for a seat on the Abenaki tribal council and became acting chief at 28 when her father contracted cancer. In 1996, she took over all duties as Chief of the Missisquoi--St. Francis Band-Sokoki Tribe. Her father died in 2001.
St. Francis Merrill wants to preserve the ethnicity of the Missisquoi and help members take advantage of opportunities in education, employment, housing and healthcare. She and her members started a kindergarten and sent children to Vermont public schools when kindergarten was mandated for Vermont. The dropout rate in the 1980's for Abenaki was 80% and now is only 3%.
St. Francis Merrill led a fight to stop excavation of an ancient Abenaki burial ground along the Missisquoi River in Swanton-Highgate. A reburial ceremony was held.
St. Francis Merrill worked with the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service and the Vermont Department of Housing and Community Affairs to preserve a three acre Abenaki Cemetery and Village in Grande Isle County. As St.Francis Merrill said, "My people hunted, fished, trapped, and lived off of the land here. Burial issues are very important to my people; we believe that if our ancestors are at unrest then this interrupts the well being of our entire community. We need to protect our ancestors for the well being of the Abenaki Nation."
Organizations or Movements
- April St. Frances Merrill is a leading activist in the Abenaki struggle for state and federal recognition in Vermont. Her mission is to preserve the ethnicity of the Missisquoi and help members take advantage of opportunities including education, jobs, housing and healthcare. She stated, "Our children cannot apply for Native American scholarships because they're not considered Native American without state or federal recognition." Federal recognition is given by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, which the Abenakis have petitioned for two decades.
- April St. Frances Merrill's role as chief is a nonpaying full-time job where she brings awareness to the state of the Abenaki.