MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – The chairman of Vermont’s Commission on Native American Affairs announced his resignation on Tuesday because he said he was frustrated by the Legislature’s refusal to pass a law that would recognize the state’s American Indian populations.

In a letter to Gov. Jim Douglas, Commission Chairman Mark Mitchell of Barnet said that the powers given to the commission by the Legislature in 2006 were illusory because there was no mechanism to recognize native groups in the state.

Last winter the Legislature did not pass a bill that would have corrected the original legislation by recognizing three distinct bands of Abenaki. The bill passed the Senate, but was not considered by the House.

“To simply not address the recognition issue because of political nuance is nothing short of shameful in the year 2008,” said Mitchell’s letter.

Mitchell said he had thought his term as chairman expired July 31, but that since the governor hadn’t appointed a replacement his term would continue until March 1. So he submitted his resignation, effective immediately.

“I enjoyed the two years. I met a lot of great people,” Mitchell said.

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said Tuesday the governor was disappointed to see Mitchell go. “Under Mark’s leadership, the commission has done a lot of work to establish a process whereby Native American tribes could be recognized,” producing a proposal that Douglas supported, Gibbs said.

“The Legislature chose not to take action on that process and has left the commission in limbo,” Gibbs added. “We share his (Mitchell’s) frustration with the Legislature’s decision.”

State Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, who worked on the legislation, said he was sorry to see Mitchell go, but understood his frustration.

“Mark has tried to do a great job. As with any group at the Statehouse they are a political organization,” Illuzzi said of Mitchell and the commission. “They are trying to organize each other and they’re having growing pains. They are caught between the different goals people are espousing.”

In 2006 the Legislature created the commission and recognized Abenakis as a minority population, but didn’t give the commission the authority to recognize tribes for the purposes of selling their crafts as Native American.

“One of the most frustrating things is that anyone with a Vermont driver’s license could claim to be an Abenaki,” Mitchell said on Tuesday. “I don’t have time to represent everyone with a Vermont driver’s license.”

The bill considered last winter would have corrected that shortcoming by authorizing the Commission on Native American Affairs to recommend to the Legislature whether to recognize a state tribe as Native American.

Mitchell said the bill wasn’t perfect, but he could have lived with it.

“It would have been a step forward,” he said.


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