Adding another twist to the high-stakes gamble for who will win the right to use the ocean waters around the Vineyard for industrial wind power development in the name of green energy progress, a formerly prominent member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has publicly disputed 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,” wrote Jeffrey Madison in a bluntly worded Feb. 9 letter to federal Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar. “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 that has been hired by Cape Wind developers in the increasingly messy fight to build a giant commercial wind park on Horseshoe Shoal. Mr. Madison is directly involved; among other things he helped recruit Cape Wind as a client for his law firm.
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. Mr. Madison was deeply involved in the tribe’s bid to win federal recognition in the mid-1980s. And he later was point man in the tribe’s failed effort to build a casino in southeastern Massachusetts. He has not been active in tribal affairs for a number of years.
Until last week, when news surfaced about his letter to Secretary Salazar, one of hundreds of letters submitted during a public comment period that ended Feb. 12.
The Interior Secretary is now charged with deciding whether Cape Wind will be allowed to build 130 turbines on Horseshoe Shoal. Decision-making authority shifted to Mr. Salazar early this year following a ruling by Brona Simon, the Massachusetts Historic Preservation Officer, that Nantucket Sound is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Ms. Simon sided with the claim by Wampanoags in Mashpee and Aquinnah that the wind farm would obstruct their views and disrupt a long-held cultural practice of greeting the rising sun across the Sound.
Mr. Salazar traveled here last month to personally tour the Cape Wind site at Horseshoe Shoal; he also spent time in Mashpee and on the Vineyard with the Wampanoags, whose name means People of the First Light.
In his letter Mr. Madison offered his own interpretation of the cultural claims: “I do know that offerings to the Creator are made at ‘first light’, but first light is a period of time, not a place,” he wrote, adding: “Creating ceremony to achieve political objectives undermines the credibility of our legitimate cultural values and our people as a whole.”
The letter also offers a small window into the usually closed proceedings of the tribal council which meets twice a month. A sovereign nation on all matters except local land use (due to a 2004 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision), the tribe has its own government whose workings are nearly always closed to the public.
In his letter Mr. Madison describes a sovereign nation divided on the subject of Cape Wind. He reports that he attended a meeting of the tribal council a short time before he wrote his letter “in an attempt to engage tribal leaders in a discussion on this matter. I was informed by [tribal council chairman] Cheryl Maltais. . . that the council voted to oppose Cape Wind in 2004.” But Mr. Madison said tribal archives, which include a record of tribal council meetings, show that the council met in July of 2004 and was unable to reach a consensus on whether to oppose Cape Wind. “The vote was three in favor with four members abstaining. The vote to oppose Cape Wind failed. I know of no other record in the tribal archives concerning Cape Wind,” Mr. Madison wrote.
His letter includes 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. The other signers are Kenneth Belain Jr., Jonathan Belain, Wenonah Madison, Richard A. Duarte, Spencer A. Booker, Jay A. Smalley and Natalie E. Francis. Jason Baird’s name is on the petition but was crossed out.
Mr. Madison’s letter concludes: “Mr. Secretary, your decision on whether to allow construction of the wind turbines in Nantucket Sound should rest in scientific analysis and environmental impact. However, it would be wrong to allow your decision to be influenced by fabricated cosmology.”
Reached at his office in Vineyard Haven this week, Mr. Madison had no comment beyond saying that his letter speaks for itself.
But it is understood that the letter was a subject for heated discussion at a tribal council meeting last Saturday; Mr. Madison reportedly attended the meeting.
Telephone calls from the Gazette to tribal council chairman Ms. Andrews-Maltais and tribe historic preservation officer Bettina Washington were not returned this week.
Meanwhile, Mr. Salazar is expected to issue his ruling on Cape Wind by April.
by Julia Wells