Wabanaki Ethnobotany

RGV BioU Mark

Instructor: Dr. Fred Wiseman
May 21 - 22, 2022 | $265
Course size: 14 students
Please Contact Us to request scholarship assistance


abanaki Ethnobotany has been offered for many years including at Johnson State College, the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism in Montpelier, and the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center in Burlington.  This course of study is designed to acquaint the student with historic and contemporary herbal medicines, industrial materials, and foods of the Vermont/New Hampshire Abenakis and their Wabanaki neighbors.  Using the academic discipline of Ethnobotany, counterbalanced with a Native American perspective, we will explore many facets of the relations of our region's Indigenous and plant communities.

We first introduce the inter-discipline of ethnobotany through both its history and academic paradigm as expressed through both field and lab work in Indigenous North America. We will then consider the nuts and bolts of the origin, development, and contemporary expression of Indigenous agriculture and wild plant use, but also focus on the cultural, ceremonial, and spiritual issues involved with Indigenous craft manufacture, foods, and healing.  Such a course as this cannot be taught simply as an academic or intellectual exercise.  The legacy of the continual transfer of Indigenous lands, resources, children, material goods, crops and ideas through 18th century conquest, early 20th century genocide and late 20th century appropriation of intellectual property, demands an Indigenous perspective and a balance.

Course Objectives

The goals of the course are to introduce the student to the following elements of ethnobotany.  However, we also expect that the student will also achieve an understanding of who the Abenakis and their neighbors are.  Elements to be considered include:

    • Introduction to Native American ethnobotany, the development of the discipline and how it works.
    • Concepts pertaining to the plant world such as botanical spirituality, taxonomy/classification, kincentric ecology and relational accountability.
    • Wild plant collection and use, listing commonly used species for medicine and industrial use such as canoes or baskets.
    • Wabanaki horticulture, including the archaeology and history of crop species, geointensive and biointensive horticultural systems, harvest technology and spirituality and traditional foodways and seed saving.
    • Lessons from the indigenous plant world and applications without appropriation.

About the Instructor(s)

Dr. Wiseman was trained as a Paleoethnobotanist at the University of Arizona's Laboratory for Paleoenvironmental Studies.  He has published numerous articles and book chapters on agriculture and cultural paleoecology of the Maya Civilization of Yucatan, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.  In addition, he has done botanical, phytogeographic and ethnobotanical fieldwork in the American Southwest and Northwestern Mexico, especially with the Yaqui, Mayo and Tahono O'Odam (Papago) indigenous communities and their territories.  After serving in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at Louisiana State University and MIT Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology, where he taught courses on the ecology of the rise of Indigenous American Civilization, he returned to his Vermont roots, to teach and do research at Johnson State College (Central Vermont) until his retirement as Department Chair in 2014.  Since 1987, he has focused on the Indigenous Wabanaki people of the far Northeast, having published popular and academic books, curricula and film on modern Indigenous culture, prehistoric archaeology, and Contact Period ethnohistory, politics and technology.  In a special ceremony at Indian Township, Maine on September 22, 2018, he was honored for his work with the Passamaquoddy People in their revitalization of Wabanaki fashion design, agriculture and wampum ceremonies.  Wiseman was also instrumental in the research and political advocacy that led to four Vermont Indigenous bands being recognized as tribes by the state of Vermont, for which he was awarded the first Lifetime Achievement Award by the Vermont Abenaki Artists Association.
Wiseman has worked with the Koasek Abenakis of Newbury, VT and Haverhill, NH, the Passamaquoddies at Indian Township and Pleasant Point, a Penobscot garden at Solon, Maine, the Odanak (QC) Abenakis and the Cedarville Band of Piscataway (Maryland) to re-configure an almost lost Northeastern food systems heritage.  Wiseman has also reestablished a living ceremonial calendar at the Vermont Indigenous Heritage Center in Burlington, VT through teaching ceremonial craft arts, song, dance, and ritual gesture and oratory as important in crop nurture as sun, rain and fertile soil.  He is currently overseeing the expansion of the Center, which has added new (as of 2021) archaeological, historical and cultural indoor exhibits, two new demonstration gardens and is beginning the first plantings of Olakwika Alnôbaiwi Botanical Gardens. He is also the main content contributor to the Heritage Center website (alnobaiwi.org), published 27 technical reports and has taught six college level courses through the Center.

Required Reading

Seven Sisters and the Heritage Food Systems of the Wabanaki People and of the Chesapeake Bay Region - Available in the USA from the Ethan Allen Homestead Museum.


We will provide coffee, tea, and light breakfast fare (pastries, etc.) each morning. Participants should bring their own lunches and snacks.


Course begins 9 AM on Saturday at North Branch Nature Center. Course begins on Sunday at a time of the instructors' choosing. Course concludes by 5 PM on Sunday.

Academic Credit / Professional Development

This course may qualify for 1 graduate-level credit for an additional $200 course fee. All BioU courses are accredited by Castleton University. Participants interested in receiving credit must contact us at least 2 months in advance so we have time to arrange course accreditation.

It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that home institutions will accept the credit. Participants pursuing academic credit will be required to complete an additional assignment above and beyond the course hours, including literature review, reflective writing, or a field-based project.

This course qualifies for 20 hours of professional development hours and continuing education units. Certificates of completion are provided at the conclusion of the course.

Cancellation Policy

While we realize that unexpected circumstances arise that are out of our control, North Branch Nature Center cannot guarantee refunds for registrations cancelled within 30 days of the course.  If a cancellation occurs within this window, NBNC will attempt to fill the space from our wait list and provide a full refund. Exceptions to this policy may be granted in the event that cancellation is due to COVID-19 concerns.

North Branch Nature Center

713 Elm Street
Montpelier, Vermont 05602
(802) 229-6206

Hours: Center Open Monday-Friday 9-4
Trails Open 24/7