Members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) are disputing that the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm will ruin a ceremony important to the tribe’s culture.
In a letter sent Feb. 9 to U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Jeffrey Madison, a former member of the Aquinnah tribe’s tribal council and an attorney at a law firm hired a month ago by the project’s developer, said the idea that the wind farm would harm the tribe’s cultural tradition was a “fabrication” invented by opponents of the project “who wish to derail the project.” Salazar vowed yesterday to work closely with Atlantic Coast states to streamline the permitting process for offshore wind energy projects.
Madison works for Wynn & Wynn, a law firm recently retained by Cape Wind Associates LLC in its efforts to build a 130-turbine wind farm in the Sound. Madison, according to his letter, is also a descendant of two of the Aquinnah tribe’s late medicine men.
Madison’s connection to Cape Wind, he wrote, did not influence his decision to write to debunk what he described in the letter as the “fiction” of his tribe’s contention that the horizon plays an important role in their ceremonies.
“I am stating to you with complete honesty and knowledge that 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,” he wrote.
Madison also attached a petition signed by eight other tribe members, including Beverly Wright, a former chairman of the tribe and current commissioner on the state Commission on Indian Affairs.
The petition read as follows: “We, members of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), while respecting our Tribal representatives and their efforts on our behalf in protecting our cultural interests, do not agree that locating wind turbines in Nantucket Sound will materially interfere with any significant cultural activity.”
Wright and the other signatories of the document did not return telephone calls seeking comment yesterday.
Jason Baird, the tribe’s current medicine man, was also listed on the petition but his name and signature were crossed out. Reached by telephone yesterday, he declined to confirm that he had signed the document.
“I don’t know who told you that I was on a petition,” he said. “I have no comment.”
Tribal historic preservation officer Bettina Washington said the tribal council had not read the letter and would not comment on it until next week.
Over the past year, both the Aquinnah tribe and the Mashpee Wampanoag have become more vocal in their opposition to Cape Wind and have pushed for greater protection of the Sound from the development.
In January, the National Park Service declared the Sound eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I think it’s a paid-for position by Cape Wind that obviously doesn’t reflect the views of either tribe or the National Park Service or the Massachusetts Historical Commission, who all agree that Nantucket Sound is a traditional historic property eligible for the National Register,” said Audra Parker, president and CEO of the anti-Cape Wind group, the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound.
Amelia Bingham, a Mashpee Wampanoag tribal elder, said the Sound has always been an important part of the tribe’s ceremonies.
“That’s our culture,” she said. “We used to live on the ocean front and everything about the ocean and the rising sun, it all affected us more than just culturally.”
After land along the waterfront was taken away from the tribe and filled with summer homes, it became difficult to participate in sunrise ceremonies, she said.
“If we’re unable to worship, its because we’ve been locked out by the state,” she said.
Chairman of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal council Cedric Cromwell, through a representative, declined to comment on the letter as did a spokeswoman for Salazar.
“The Secretary is still on the same time line,” Salazar’s press secretary Kendra Barkoff said of his intention to make a decision on whether to issue a federal permit for the project by April if no compromise is reached by Cape Wind and the tribes before March 1.
Cape Wind spokesman Mark Rodgers also declined to comment on the content of Madison’s letter. “We retained Wynn and Wynn one month ago to advise us on Indian affairs, including the relevant federal statutes and to facilitate discussion of possible mitigation measures with the tribes,” he wrote in an e-mail response to a Times question on the subject.
In its comments submitted to Salazar on the historic impact of the project, however, Cape Wind officials referenced Madison’s letter. “Thus, there is now serious reason to question both the veracity of and the weight that should be afforded to the current tribal assertions of an essential tradition of ‘sunrise ceremonies,'” company officials wrote.
by Patrick Cassidy