Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — A local Native American tribe is stepping in to oppose the two largest fossil-fuel projects in Rhode Island and warned that it might use tactics such as occupying property if the projects move forward.
On Dec. 13, Pomham Sachem Neesu Wushuwunoag of the Mashapaug Nahaganset tribe delivered a letter to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) stating the tribe is against both the proposed Burrillville natural-gas power plant and the liquefaction facility on the Providence waterfront. DEM is reviewing air pollution and land impact permits for both projects.
Wushuwunoag said the projects have the potential for “irreversible negative impacts on the lands and communities surrounding theses proposed projects.”
Wushuwunoag said the tribe will advocate for renewable-energy projects, “but as far as fossil fuels and things of that nature we are just not having it,” he said. “We can be cordial, we can be very nice, we can do these sorts of things to communicate, or we can ask a bunch of Indians to occupy something, whatever the case may be, we are open to it. But we prefer to do things that don’t cause adversity between us.”
The Mashapaug Nahaganset tribe considers itself an American Aboriginal Tribal Trust whose ancestors lived on the Providence waterfront for thousands of years prior to European settlement. The tribe said it has never relinquished or signed a treaty rescinding their land rights, nor was it consulted as part of the planning for the natural-gas project.
Wushuwunoag promised that the tribe would pursue any and all actions deemed appropriate to protect its lands.
As for the proposal to build the state’s largest fossil-fuel power plant in Burrillville, the state Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission said it didn't object to the project and concluded that the natural-gas/diesel facility would have no significant impact on historic properties, despite the presence of Native American artifacts in the 67-acre wooded area.
On Nov. 9, the Mashapaug Nahaganset tribe re-filed a lawsuit against Providence, Cranston and the state seeking reparations for racial segregation, land taking and forced labor.
In 2009, the Mashapaug Nahaganset tribe reestablished as decedents sought to rejoin their heritage. The Mashapaug Nahaganset tribe isn't federally recognized like the larger Narragansett tribe that has a reservation in southern Rhode Island.
The Mashapaug Nahaganset tribe therefore doesn't receive the same protections and rights as federally recognized tribes.