a place for tribal culture

A Place For Native Culture In The Farmhouse Next Door

A Native American tribe finds an unexpected benefactor

Crystal Zevon lives in rural Vermont, far from the noise and tempo of the modern world’s industrialized commerce and finance—but quite near to an old farmhouse, on a property adjoining hers, that had been on the market for many months “at a pretty steep price.” When the price suddenly dropped dramatically, Zevon considered purchasing the property. “It’s the kind of place you always look at, sort of rambling,” she told Good Turns recently. “It’s got a cupola on top of the barn, it’s just a rambling old farmhouse. But when I went to look at this house, it just spoke to me. It felt like something good could happen here.”

“So there I was, suddenly I have this house.”

Zevon ended up passing on the property for one reason and another, and the listing was taken off the market. But the farmhouse wouldn’t leave her alone, and when she heard that the owners were considering developing the land for rental properties, she thought she’d try to contact them again. So she called the realtor, even though the house wasn’t technically on the market at that point. “The price had been $139,000, which if you saw the house you wouldn’t believe you could buy this house for $139,000 in this day and age,” she says. “I told the realtor, just ask them, if I would pay their price, would they sell it to me. I’d only been through it once.” The answer came back: Yes.

“So there I was, suddenly I have this house,” Zevon recalls.

“I knew I wanted to try to make some connection with the indigenous community, but I hadn’t really done that here,” she says. “I’d been working with indigenous folks for a while, mostly out west, but it’s different here in the east, where there are fewer reservations or even federally recognized tribes. I hadn’t really connected with the local indigenous community, but I had put out some feelers to get in touch with the Abenaki folks.”

Around that time, Zevon, now 68, realized she needed a caretaker for the farmhouse. So when the chief of the Abenaki tribe reached her by phone one day soon after, she began to get a picture of how she could help. “I told him I needed a caretaker and he said, ‘You know, our spiritual leader and his wife need a place to live, they might be perfect.’ Within a week, they moved in. And a week later we had the first workshop.” Now, the farmhouse has become a cultural center for the tribe, educating tribespeople and other interested locals in the crafts and language and spiritual traditions of the tribe.

“They’re moving a sweat lodge onto the property, they’re building a fire circle, there’s a huge four-car garage we’re converting into a workshop space, there’s an old barn connected to the house that we’ll fix up as a museum,” Zevon says. The tribe will hold a council meeting to discuss formalities, and Zevon will change the name of the property to the Brookview Abenaki Cultural Center.

Zevon’s generosity is providing a home for a culture that would otherwise struggle to preserve itself, especially in a world in which culture of any kind often feels unavoidably transient. Upkeep and other work on the property is being financed by the sale of a book collection that belonged to Zevon’s late ex-husband, the singer-songwriter Warren Zevon, a collection that now belongs to Zevon’s daughter, Ariel. “That house is my retirement, so we may try to work out something where I can turn it over to the tribe in some way where they help me meet my expenses,” Zevon says. “Eventually there will not be books.”

Books or no, Zevon makes an inspiring example of what can happen when one person shifts their attention away from what the rest of the world may be looking at, and focuses on the physical world that’s quite literally right in their back yard.

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