Vermont Arts Council

I am a Vermont Artist: Lina Longtoe

Lina Longtoe is a citizen of the Elnu Abenaki Tribe and a juried artist in the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association. She has spent more than a decade volunteering within her community as a tribal documentarian and educator. Her photography and film work have been exhibited across the eastern United States and internationally.  

As a filmmaker, Lina seeks to educate both Native and non-Native people through innovative shorts and feature-length documentaries. Through photography, she documents the traditions of Abenaki artisans and illustrates how her people live in two different worlds simultaneously; that of their ancestors and the modern, globalizing world.

Lina shared her thoughts about being a Vermont artist.

How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

As I travel across N’dakinna (the Abenaki word for our homeland) I often photograph things that are of cultural or religious significance for the Abenaki, or other Native American tribes. I also enjoy photographing things that are not quite as right as they appear once you examine them. I like playing in that grey space, and in recent years, have taken to using it to bring awareness to ideas and issues that I wish people knew more about.

Legal challenges have hindered Abenaki artists due to the Indian Arts and Craft Law of 1990, which states that unless you are a carded citizen of a tribe that is formally “recognized,” you cannot legally sell your art as Native American made. Until 2011, when my tribe was recognized by Vermont, our artists couldn’t accurately market themselves, and educators like me who use art as a vehicle for change weren’t accepted into exhibitions. Some Abenakis still do not have recognition, and some people think that de-legitimizes them. When the Alnobak: Wearing Our Heritage exhibit opened, I needed to document how we saw and worked with Abenaki artists versus how others expected or wanted us to work.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?

I come from a very artistic family. My grandfather is an oil painter and basket maker, his grandmother taught him how to make baskets just as she was taught by her Elders, and he, in turn, taught my mother, who is now a talented fiber artist and basket maker. My father was a carpenter. As a teenager, I always felt inadequate compared to them. I confessed this to several artists I admire. One pointed out that in certain cultures, artists intentionally create imperfections to reflect religious beliefs. Another simply said that if I would not give myself permission to enjoy my materials and experiment, that she gave me permission. I refocused on my own interests and allowed myself to pause and start connecting the dots between different stories just beneath the threshold of public knowledge. I began collaborating with my broader community to begin putting an educational spin on my film work as well.

What is your vision for the next several years?
I actively avoid making long term plans, so I have no timeline. But, I would like to publish some articles about my research into consumerism and Native American art so that I can help our communities better sustain themselves. A few years ago, I started working on a retrospective film for the tenth anniversary of an event in my community, and recently picked back up the reins on that. I want to give myself the time to piece together all the wonderful footage I’ve collected over the years and start doing longer videos.
I want to wish everyone a happy National Native American Heritage Month (November)!
Learn more Lina and her work:     
Visit Lina’s You Tube Channel.
View the Askawobi Productions Facebook Page.
Read Lina’s profile on the Abenaki Artists Association website.

The “I am a Vermont Artist” series explores how artists’ creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age. Covering all artistic disciplines, and a range of backgrounds—from New Americans to the state’s first residents—we hope to amplify voices that deepen our understanding of what it means to be a Vermont artist.

Visit the series archive.