Deb Haaland, the U.S. secretary of the interior, met with the chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) earlier this month to talk about offshore wind energy and economic development. 

Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais of the tribe welcomed Ms. Haaland to the Island on Wednesday, June 14, and spent the day with her.

“She's just a delight to work with, and she is always willing to try to do what she can do,” Ms. Andrews-Maltais said.

Ms. Andrews-Maltais said she and Ms. Haaland visited the tribe’s offices to meet the staff and other places where government funds had been put to use, including the tribe’s housing authority, hatchery, water quality testing lab and cranberry lands.

Partway through the day, the U.S. Supreme Court released a decision that upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act, a law enacted in 1978 to protect Native children from being removed from their homes and placed with non-Native families without ties to their tribes.

“We couldn't have been happier and prouder that she was with us in our community, in our office when she got the call,” Ms. Andrews-Maltais said.

Later, they visited the Aquinnah Cliffs, which were designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1965. The cliffs are the only place on the Island where you can watch the sun both rise and set, Ms. Andrews-Maltais said.

The chairwoman also said she pointed out to the secretary where on the horizon wind turbines from the Vineyard Wind offshore wind farm are starting to be built about 12 miles south of the Island.

The approval of the project — the first commercial-scale offshore wind development in federal waters — was announced by Ms. Haaland and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in May of 2021.

The Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has expressed concerns about the development of offshore wind projects in waters southeast of the Island.

“The problem is, for her, is that she's between a rock and a hard place,” Ms. Andrews-Maltais said. “It's the administration's initiative, but she also understands that our sacred sites, ceremonial sites, submerged cultural resources and everything else that they protect on dry land — we should and must be afforded that same courtesy and respect.”

Seeing the vista from the cliffs was originally the last thing on the agenda for visit, but as Ms. Andrews-Maltais said, the Coast Guard was “a little tardy” in picking up Ms. Haaland.

“We had a little extra time so she could do some shopping up at the cliffs, which was really kind of cool for all the shop owners,” Ms. Andrews-Maltais said.

Ms. Haaland came to the Island during a trip to Massachusetts and Rhode Island meant to highlight how President Biden’s agenda and “America the Beautiful” Initiative are helping to restore our nation’s land and water, strengthening Indigenous communities and expanding outdoor recreation access, according to a press release from the Department of Interior.

During the trip, she also met with leaders from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe on the Cape and Narragansett Indian Tribe in Rhode Island.