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The Northern Pomo people of California thrived in the lush wetland valley known as Bito’m-kai for millennia, fishing salmon from percolating creeks, gathering natural medicines and managing natural resources to feed thousands.
By the time anthropology researcher Samuel Barrett arrived in the early 1900s, many of the Pomo village sites he assiduously recorded had been abandoned. Barrett noted that the village of Yami, on the south shore of the valley, once “supported a considerable Indian population.”
More than a century later, state road building officials emailed chairmen of the Pomo tribes: Yami had been affected during nighttime construction of the Willits Bypass, a $300 million, 5.9-mile roadway that would cleave the valley. The village site had not been recorded by the California Department of Transportation’s archaeologists. Contractors had pierced it with 1,100 wick drains burrowing 60 feet underground and covered the area with tons of fill dirt.
Although it received no national media coverage, the 2013 destruction of Yami presaged what happened at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Sept. 3 – one of the most infamous days of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. With cameras rolling, contractors started pushing dirt over burial sites within view of protesters.
Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission 888 First Street NE, Room 1A Washington, DC 20216Re: Docket No. CP14-529, TGP Connecticut Expansion Project
Support for Narragansett Indian Tribal Consultation on Traditional Cultural Properties
Dear Secretary Bose:
The Nolumbeka Project is a non-profit corporation with an all-volunteer board whose mission is to preserve, protect, and educate the public about Native American cultural resources in what is now called New England and the Northeastern United States. We are writing to voice deep concerns over plans of Kinder Morgan/Tennessee Gas (“TGP”) that will result in the destruction of ceremonial stone landscape (“CSL”) features sacred to Tribes with cultural, religious and historical connections to land in Sandisfield, Massachusetts along the proposed route of the TGP Connecticut Expansion Project (FERC docket #CP14-529, the “Project”). As TGP is well aware, 73 CSL features were identified in an on-the-ground survey conducted by several Tribes in the second half of 2016.
According to Deputy Tribal Historical Preservation Officer Doug Harris of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, a full one-third of these CSL features will be destroyed during the construction of this pipeline. Although some have suggested that it would be acceptable to disassemble the features and reassemble them when construction of the Project is completed, Mr. Harris explains that their disassembly would be an interruption of the prayers placed there. According to Mr. Harris, “Then what you have is an artistic replica of something that was spiritual. Once you remove the stones, the spiritual content is broken.”
On December 29, 2016, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) sent a “Notification of Adverse Effect” to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s Office of Federal Agency Programs, seeking resolution of this matter. FERC’s Environmental Assessment (“EA”), issued in 2015, included alternative routes that may have avoided many of the CSLs, but FERC approved the primary route before the CSL survey was undertaken. Thus, the FERC certificate was issued in violation of the implementing regulations of the National Historic Preservation Act (the “NHPA Regulations”), which require that the agency “complete the section 106 process ‘prior to the issuance of any license.’” 36 CFR 800.1(c). This regulation also makes clear that the purpose of initiating the section 106 process early in project planning is to ensure “that a broad range of alternatives may be considered during the planning process”. 36 CFR 800.1(c).
Disturbance or destruction of these sites would further erase traces of a part of our history, and a still living segment of our culture that is already too often ignored – that of this region’s first peoples.
To disturb these ceremonial features is damaging to the religious sensibilities of our Native citizens who still embrace the beliefs of their forebearers. Proceeding without full Tribal participation “in the resolution of adverse effects” is an unconscionable act that also violates the NHPA Regulations, specifically 36 CFR 800.2(c)(2)(ii)(A).
Regardless of our heritage, all citizens of our region would be poorer for the loss of these original historic sites, and their destruction should not be allowed.
FERC should not allow the Project to proceed before this matter is fully and properly resolved. Furthermore, Sandisfield Taxpayers Opposing the Pipeline (STOP) filed a request for a rehearing of FERC’s order issuing the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity in April of 2016 that has yet to be acted upon. FERC should grant the rehearing request without further delay, taking into consideration issues raised by the Narragansett Indian Tribe, STOP, and others over the course of the FERC proceeding.
Nolumbeka Project Co-President
cc: Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Office of Federal Agency Programs;
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
A letter from a Narragansett Indian Tribal official to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) accuses FERC of understating the “likely” destruction of “ancient ceremonial stone landscape features” along the path of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company’s proposed new storage loop through Otis State Forest.
In his Jan. 3, 2017, letter, Doug Harris, the Narragansett Tribal Nation’s deputy tribal historic preservation officer and preservationist for ceremonial landscapes, said FERC’s Dec. 29, 2016, letter to Reid Nelson, director at ACHP, which was copied to preservationists from seven different tribes, “mildly portrays the dire” consequences of “bulldozing” sacred features on the company’s newly acquired easement there.
Read the entire story in The Berkshire Edge.
A lawsuit aimed at temporarily preventing a large-scale solar project from being constructed on land that some suspect is a Native American burial ground is not yet settled.
A status conference on the federal civil rights lawsuit, filed by three Shutesbury and two New Salem residents against the developers and the Planning Board that approved the project, is set for Friday at 10:30 a.m. The conference before Judge Mark G. Mastroianni will be held at the U.S. District Court in Springfield.
The aim of the lawsuit is to make sure the 6-megawatt project on the 30-acre Wheelock Tract off Pratt Corner Road, owned by W.D. Cowls Inc., doesn’t go forward until tribal historic preservation officers and others can get onto the property and determine if it is a burial ground or sacred site.
Read the full report in the Greenfield Recorder.
Last month, representatives from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, Mohegan Tribe, Narragansett Indian Tribe and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, along with representatives from other tribes, participated in a weeklong ceremonial stone landscape identification training. Upon completion of the program, the Tribal Historic Preservation Offices certified the 12 participants as field specialists.
Under the guidance of the Tribal Historic Preservation Offices and its landscape mapping partner — Ceremonial Landscapes Research — the tribal representatives will work with a mapping team to identify and document ceremonial stone landscape sites.
Any project requiring funding, licensure or permits from federal agencies must comply with Section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966. According to the act, before construction can begin, properties that are important to federally recognized tribes and have a cultural or historical significance should be documented in consultation with the affected tribes. Once studies have been completed, the tribes, FERC and the project proponents are required to work together on a plan to avoid, minimize or mitigate the project’s impacts.