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Updated on May 9, 2010


Certainly one of Hollywood's more memorable and racially scandalous maxims is the famous crack, "White man speaking with forked tongue." This was uttered by an American Indian. And by the way, lest readers think I am being direspectful by not calling our indigenous peoples native Americans, I actually do know, personally and well, many Indians. I went to school with a full-blood Apache and various Cherokee and Sioux, worked in high rise construction with Iraquois and am well acquainted with a number of Mashpee Wampanoags. They usually call themselves Indians. So will I.

The involvement of the Acquinnah (Wampanoag) and the Mashpee (Wampanoag) with the Cape Wind fiasco is interesting to say the least. And, it has heated up recently with the formal announcement that Interior secretary Ken Salazar wants to meet with the tribes and other concerned parties to try to work out an agreement. The issue is very grave. In fact, the issue is largely about actual graves, or grave sites, ancient ones now underwater. The proposed Cape Wind offshore wind farm is sited on a part of Nantucket Sound known as Horseshoe Shoal. Sections of Horseshoe Shoal are as shallow as four feet.

Somewhere in the dim past, during the ten thousand years that the tribes have lived on Cape Cod and the Islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket what we now call Horseshoe Shoal was dry land. Indians lived there at least seasonally both to grow crops and to take advantage of the hunting and fishing cycles on which they depended for food and other necessities. During that time they buried some of their dead in the area Jim Gordon now wants to plunder for his wind farm profits. Burial grounds are sacred and should alwasy be treated as such. This is no less true for ancient Indian burial grounds than it is for the elaborate cemetaries white western society maintains. Virtually every society in the world holds burial grounds as special places deserving of care and protection.

Not a few people have asked why the tribes have waited so long to become involved in the Cape Wind matter. Those who ask are clearly ignorant of Cape Wind's history of review by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, commencing in 2001, and of the subsequent review by the U.S. Minerals Management Service. To my knowledge the tribes have been on record as declaring their intention to be heard and expressing concerns since at least 2004 and perhaps 2003. The Acquinnah had already achieved federal recognition at that time while the Mashpee were not finally and fully recognized until 2007. Both tribes are now joined in an effort to claim protection for their sacred ground. Both tribes are literally sovereign nations within a nation, the United States. But, some people still don't get it, do not understand what recognition and sovereignty mean and have no concept of sacred ground or respect for the rights of others. Chief among these is Jim Gordon followed closely by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and, for that matter, most of the Department of Interior.

Some history: I have sat in many formal public meetings held to discuss the Cape Wind project. These sessions have been held locally on Cape Cod and in Boston and on the Islands. They have been held under the auspices of county government as well as both state and federal agencies. At such meetings those who wished to speak are divided into categories. Cape Wind might make a presentation or the agency that had called the meeting, such as MMS would offer remarks and perhaps a full presentation. Public comments followed. First recognized to speak were always public officials such as legislators, elected office holders, and public agency and department personnel. Then came the general public.

Often I would see people I recognized, Indians, sitting quietly in the back of the room of the room, taking notes, going over written material and increasingly rising to speak, but as members of the public. It is the Indian way to listen patiently to an entire long meeting and then address the issue in a thoughtful and often game-changing manner. Indians signed the list of those wishing to speak as members of the general public, even though they were frequently elected tribal officers and therefore officials of a soveraign nation. There is wisdom in the Indian way: let everyone else speak, find out what the other guy is up to and then, after some thought, respond or state the Indian point of view.

In my opinion the Cape Wind review has been conducted in a way that simultaneously denies Indian rights and insults them. I have never once seen Indians recognized by the chair as being entitled to speak as government officials, although they are, or as sovereign nations with ancestral religious and cultural rights to claim protection for their sacred places. This is particularly offensive because the Minerals Management Service has a sister agency within the United States Department of the Interior, the Bureau of indian Affairs. MMS officials should have known from the beginning of their Cape Wind review that they are required by law and by any recognized protocoal of decency to recognize both Wampanog tribes as stakeholders and as sovereign peoples with enforceable rights on Horseshoe Shoal. But, one certain way to experience disappointment appears to be expecting our federal government to know what is right and fair.

It is obviously a mistake to expect Rodney Cluck to know better. Cluck is the MMS project leader for the Cape Wind review. He has personally been incredibly insulting to the AcQinnah in particular. This is all the more offensive because Cluck holds a PhD in sociology from Mississippi State University. He is, and is usually referred to as.....Dr. Rodney Cluck. Imagine, a credentialed sociologist who bulldozes native peoples' rights aside in a rush to help a wealthy energy developer make more millions. When I think of Rodney Cluck the first word that comes to mind is not sensitive.

Here is an example of the tasteless and perhaps unlawful behavior shown by Dr. Cluck: Part of the MMS Cape Wind review process is what is known as a Section 106 review. Section 106 refers to part of a federal law requiring that federally pemitted projects such as highways, airports, energy projects on and off shore pass muster relative to cultural, archeological and religious matters. Cape Wind's proposal for Horsheshoe Shoal touches all three of these hot buttons. Roughly two years ago the Acquinnah invited Dr. Cluck to Martha's Vineyard. He was greeted by a number of the tribe's members and officers an they hosted a lunch where they thought they would simply get to know each other. The Acqinnah arrived prepared to talk openly and seriously but they had not brought written exhibits or prepared "testimony." In their way, the Indian way, it was a good idea first to let both sides get to know each other and then to call for formal public process.

The Acquinnah were surprised to find that Cluck viewed the lunch meeting very differently. Part of the so-called 106 process calls for the convening of a formal consultation process at both the state and federal levels. Massachusetts officials conducted themselves properly and at the end of the deliberative process, which accepted public comment as well as formal tribal involvement a ruling was issued saying that the concerns stated by the tribes were based on law and should be addressed, that Cape Wind would improperly harm sacred tribal territory. Now, the federal review has resulted in a similar ruling, though not in such strong terms. MMS does, however, call for a negotiated settlement to some very unsettling problems. Interior Secretary Salazar himself has become involved and intends shortly to meet with the concerned parties.

Remember that lunch the Acquinnah invited Dr. Clusk to attend? That, welcome to our country - let's get to know each other social event? Dr. Cluck counted that lunch as one of the two "consultations" he was required to hold as part of the section 106 process. It was no such thing and for Cluck to say otherwise makes him either incompetent or dishonest. The so-called consultation was not posted as a public meeting in advance, as required; it was not open to the public for observation and comment, as required; there is no certified record of it, as is required; it was a meeting among a group of people over lunch. Apparently Mississippi State's sociology department does not hold respect for native cultures in high regard, nor teach that this respect is important, nor do they teach much about honesty in deliberative process.

Imagine what would happen here on Cape Cod if a proposal were put forward to tear through an ancient white man's churchyard burial ground, ground stolen from Indians and sometimes costing Indian lives. Such a plan would garner national press attention. Obviously there is a different standard whn the sacred ground at issue is Indian.

Here is a story from the heart of the Wampanog culture. Two and half years ago I was writing a series of stories about the way in which the then Chairman of the Mashpee Tribal Council has been acting against the tribe's interests in his dealing with outsiders, billionaire gambling developers. That council chairman is now serving a four and a half year federal prison term and the tribe has set things right. A small group of the Mashpee allowed me into their confidence and one day as I sat in the Mashpee home of a stately woman in her mid-eighties, sister of a former chief and several of the tribe's notables, along with two or three other women from the tribe and my host's son I heard something chilling. One of the women, who boasted she was Indian before it was popular, said, "Peter, did you know we have a death penalty?" Others nodded and made serious sounds. "Oh, yes, we have a death penalty from way back in the old times." Then folks joined in, "Yup." and "Oh, yeah, yes we do." and "You know, we tolerate a lot. We are all family under one God, but we do have a death penalty." My hostess then gave me her familiar cryptic near-smile and asked, "Do you know what we have the death penalty for, Peter?" Before I could answer, the women said in one voice, "LYING!" It is important to learn some of the Indian ways before trying to decide the fate of their very culture. Rule number1: tell the truth.

Rodney Cluck is safe. He would make it through Mashpee without being harmed. But he did lie and the lie he told is about something very important. The likelihood is that if he ever ventures into Indian Country he would suffer a fate worse than death: people would simply ignore him, shun him, turn their backs to him. And why not? I wouldn't believe him, either. Nor will he likely be invited to lunch again on the Vineyard.

All for now...

Copyright By Peter A. Kenney


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