At the National Wildlife Refuge Association, we take great pride in supporting conservation initiatives that not only protect national wildlife refuges but also celebrate the rich cultural heritage intertwined with these special public lands dedicated to wildlife. The 2022 O’Brien Prize, awarded to the Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, exemplifies the extraordinary efforts put forth by dedicated individuals who are committed to honoring and preserving the legacy of the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi.

The significance of the Abenaki Nation’s presence in the region cannot be understated. Their ancestors lived harmoniously with the lands and waters that now constitute the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge, located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain in Vermont, for countless generations. It is this enduring connection that the Friends of Missisquoi sought to highlight and commemorate through the land acknowledgment signs, made possible by the O’Brien Prize funding.

Land acknowledgment signage at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge | Friends of Missiquoi National Wildlife Refuge

These signs, thoughtfully placed at four key locations within the Missisquoi NWR, serve as poignant reminders of the Abenaki people’s historical ties to the land. They offer refuge visitors an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the cultural heritage that breathes life into the landscape they are exploring.

The collaboration between the Friends and the Abenaki Nation goes even further. A tri-fold brochure has also been co-designed and will be placed near the new signs to provide visitors with a comprehensive and immersive insight into the present-day Abenaki community. By sharing their story and traditions, the Abenaki Nation hopes to foster a greater sense of appreciation and respect among refuge visitors.

Posting in the kiosk at Louie’s Landing | Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

But the Friends’ support extends beyond these materials. The Friends of Missisquoi have embraced a spirit of friendship and cultural exchange by leading snowshoe walks and organizing storytelling sessions on the refuge, specifically with the Abenaki community. These initiatives have created an atmosphere of unity, where the refuge becomes a living testament to the Abenaki’s enduring presence and their continued connection to the land.

The upcoming Abenaki beginner’s bird walk in August is yet another testament to the deepening relationship between the Friends and the Abenaki Nation. By inviting members of the Abenaki community to explore the refuge’s natural beauty and avian diversity, the Friends are fostering a sense of belonging and promoting a shared appreciation for the refuge’s ecological wonders.

Friends Board Members at the Discovery Trail Posting | Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge

The 2022 O’Brien Prize represents the embodiment of our commitment to fostering inclusive conservation efforts that recognize and celebrate the contributions of indigenous and all diverse communities to our natural world. Donal O’Brien III, after whom the prize is named, was a fervent supporter of the National Wildlife Refuge System. He admired the dedication and effectiveness of Refuge Friends groups, and we continue to honor his legacy by recognizing and supporting the exceptional work of organizations like the Friends of Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge.

As we move forward, we envision a future where wildlife conservation is intrinsically linked with cultural preservation, where the stories of the past echo through the beauty of national wildlife refuges. Together, we stand united with the Friends of Missisquoi and the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi, working hand in hand to create a more vibrant and inclusive future for our National Wildlife Refuge System.

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