Martha’s Vineyard’s Indian tribe rejected a $1 million inducement to drop its objections to the proposed Cape Wind development in Nantucket Sound, in the interest of preserving a cultural tradition which some tribal members deny even exists.
The offer from Cape Wind was made during a series of meetings convened by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in Washington in January this year. Both the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe were offered $1 million each, to be paid in installments over 20 years.
In addition, the Vineyard tribe was offered assistance in proceeding with its own planned construction of a wind turbine.
The Island tribe’s historic preservation officer, Bettina Washington, confirmed yesterday that the offer of money had been made, although she said she was not present at the time.
“But it’s never been about the money. We would never consider selling our cultural landscapes at any price,” Ms. Washington said.
A spokesman for Cape Wind, Mark Rodgers, also confirmed Cape Wind had offered “financial mitigation” to the tribes, but declined to talk amounts. He also said the offer of pro bono help with the tribe’s turbine had been made as part of an attempt to reach agreement on the proposed wind power development.
The tribes’ objections to Cape Wind were made on the basis that the turbines would interfere with traditional custom relating to the greeting of the rising sun and cause potential archeological damage, because the 130-turbine project would be built on what was dry land 5,000 years ago, where their forebears lived.
The claims emerged as the final hurdle in the eight-year approval process for the development. Secretary Salazar was prompted to hold the Washington summit of interested parties after the federal National Parks Service determined that Nantucket Sound was eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, upholding a previous finding by the state historic preservation officer, Brona Simon.
After the meeting, Mr. Salazar called on the parties to strive for compromise, and said that if they failed to find it, he would make a determination on the project by the end of April.
Earlier this week, Mr. Salazar ended that consultation process, which had failed to find any common ground. He called on the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to conduct a 45-day review, at the end of which he is expected to make his final call on Cape Wind.
The argument is considered likely to continue in the courts. And also apparently within the Vineyard tribe.
Last week it was revealed that tribal member, Jeffrey Madison, had written to Secretary Salazar disputing the claim that Nantucket Sound is sacred ground traditionally used by the tribe for sunrise ceremonies.
“I never participated in, witnessed or even heard of a sacred spot on the horizon that is relevant to any Aquinnah Wampanoag culture, history or ceremony,” Mr. Madsion said in a Feb. 9 letter.
“The notion that locating wind turbines in Nantucket Sound will impose on, impact or harm any cultural tradition is just plain false . . . I believe it to be a fabrication, invented by a small number of tribal members, who happen to be involved in tribal government and who happen to be opponents of Cape Wind who wish to derail the project.”
Mr. Madison has a clear appearance of conflict; he is an attorney with Wynn and Wynn, a Cape Cod law firm with an office on the Vineyard. He helped recruit Cape Wind as a client for his law firm.
But he also has a long history with both the tribe and the town; he is the son of Luther Madison and grandson of Napoleon Madison, both medicine men for the tribe, and was a Gay Head selectman for 15 years. And his letter included a petition signed by eight members of the tribe, including former chairman Beverly Wright, stating that they believe the Cape Wind project will pose no interference with the tribe’s cultural traditions.
In his letter Mr. Madison also disputed a claim that the tribal council had voted in July 2004 to oppose Cape Wind.
Tribal archives, he said, showed instead that that meeting had been unable to reach a consensus on the project, the vote being three in favor with four abstentions.
Yesterday, Ms. Washington responded, questioning the knowledge of Mr. Madison and the petition signatories about tribal culture.
“We need to understand that some people have a lesser cultural knowledge and some a greater cultural knowledge,” she said.
She suggested white suppression of traditional aspects of Indian culture had resulted in the reality that practitioners of cultural rites were “few and far between.”
“Some of these things have not been much practiced, but that does not mean that (a) they did not exist and (b) that some people don’t still practice them,” she said.
“My issue was not with the individual and whether he knew of the ceremony or not; every tribal member has the right to speak for themselves.
“My issue was with the suggestion that other people were fabricating,” she said, adding:
“We are trying to reclaim our culture, as we are now reclaiming our language. That’s why we’re fighting this. So our culture survives.”