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Narragansetts plan to press 'race hatred' charges

CHARLESTOWN, R.I. - The Narragansett Tribe plans to pursue charges against Charlestown's top-elected official for expressing ''race hatred'' against the tribe, Tribal Council member John Brown said.

On July 9, Brown received a copy of an e-mail written by Town Council President Katharine Waterman, and distributed it to Indian Country Today and other media. He declined to say who sent it, but said he was ''astounded'' by its contents.

''We will pursue a charge of race hatred. We have to go to the state and to the feds, and we will consult with our attorney today. This document is construed as race hatred of the Narragansetts. These people are actively working against us on the political level, and that's what we want to put in the face of the legislators who allow this sort of stuff to go on against the Narragansetts and have done nothing about it,'' Brown said.

Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressmen Patrick Kennedy and James Langdon did not respond to requests for comments by press time.

The Town Council is the town's ultimate political body with the power to enact laws and set policies, including decisions to sue the tribe. Legal actions by the town and state have stripped the tribe of sovereign immunity on its land and the right to open a gaming facility.

Waterman told ICT that she wrote the May 20 ''private correspondence with a constituent ... and he shared it with political enemies, which is too bad.''

But, she said, ''I'm not going to retract anything because I didn't say anything that was untrue. The only thing that's unfortunate is that I wrote it, that I put anything in writing that somebody would actually make public, because it's politically incorrect. I'm going to be, excuse my French, in deep s*** from here on.''

Waterman expressed opposition to a Narragansett gaming facility - even though there are no current plans for one - in the wealthy, pristine seaside town where the tribe's 1,800 acres are located, and offered thoughts on other peoples and Indian sovereignty.

''I do not give a hoot if the Narragansetts, or the Mexicans, or the Cambodians build a casino over there on Narragansett Bay where there is a huge empty old industrial Park left over from WWII going to seed ... but please, please, please not in Charlestown,'' she wrote.

Waterman did say that she hates to see Indians ''victimized'' and ''taken advantage of'' by gambling interests. She said it's a ''joy'' to watch Narragansetts dance at their pow wows, but she noted, ''they have lots of things that the rest of us don't,'' such as ''free health care for life,'' no taxes, and land that was ''gifted'' to them. These ''reparations'' are paid by ''us to folks who simply by accident of birth can claim Native American blood to some fraction. Does that give them the right to be a sovereign people within a sovereign nation?'' Waterman wrote.

Waterman insinuated that the tribe had misappropriated Housing and Urban Development money for its elderly housing project, an allegation Brown said was ''outrageous,'' considering that the money by law has been in escrow ever since the town sued Interior to stop it from taking the land into trust.

At a Town Council meeting July 9, Brown told Waterman that her e-mail showed ''race hatred, ignorance, stupidity and racism.''

Waterman railed against the charge of racism to ICT.

''I have nothing against the Narragansetts and they can gamble somewhere else, but not in Charlestown,'' she said. ''There's nothing racist about my remarks. The only people who play the racist card are the Native Americans themselves.''

She said she's entitled to express her opinion.

Another opinion is that the BIA should not apply the same ''yardstick'' used on the Western tribes to the Eastern tribes, who ''have maintained their ethnicity and assimilated at the same time, the majority of them,'' Waterman said.

Asked if she meant descendants of the Eastern tribes that escaped genocide, Waterman responded angrily again.

''Now come on. I didn't do that. That's another race card. I know that it happened. I didn't do it. I'm not responsible for it. I am sorry about it and I can't undo it so I just think it's very sad when you throw that out as if it was my fault. Am I supposed to be overcome with guilt and say, 'Here, take more money, because we did a bad thing 300 years ago?''' Waterman said.

Hate speech, by law, is speech intended to degrade, intimidate or incite violence or prejudicial action against a person or group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, nationality and a host of other categories. The term covers written as well as oral communication. The deliberate use of hate speech is a criminal offence in many countries under incitement to hatred legislation.

As for First Amendment rights, a 1993 Supreme Court decision (Wisconsin v. Mitchell) unanimously held that state penalty-enhancement laws for hate crimes are constitutional and do not violate rights to freedom of thought and expression.

''Reverse Prejudice''

Transcript of e-mail from Charlestown Council President Katharine Waterman (name of recipient was redacted when the e-mail was received)

From: ''Kate Waterman''

To: XXXXXXX

Subject: Re: Reverse Prejudice

Date: Sun. 20 May 2007 17:25:37 -0400

I admire your steadfastness, your courage of conviction and your sincerity. And you are right in that people do not need to be scared. And you know what's coming....

BUT they do need to be aware. If you have not yet read Without Reservation you need to very soon. The people were not aware and did not believe anything was going to happen. It is the most incredible tale of how things take place behind the scene when nobody is looking, and the old folks just want to be left alone, and the families are busy raising their kids, and your own small corner of the world looks green and promising.

This is when those with an eye to make big bucks make their move. We are not Ledyard. We do not have the space, the land, the roads, and more vital, the water to support a great enterprise. We are an oasis in the eastern megalopolis, and we are exceedingly fragile.

I do not give a hoot if the Narragansetts, or the Mexicans, or the Cambodians build a casino over there on Narragansett Bay where there is a huge empty old industrial Park left over from WWII going to seed. Where four lane highways already exist and will not fell any more trees, and where high rise towers will not necessarily look so very out of place. If people want to gamble their money away, let them. If they want to buy tax free cigarettes, let them, tax free gas, go for it. Illegal fireworks, seems to me they get those anyhow, but please, please, please, not in Charlestown. Only about 100 Narragansetts live in Charlestown. The rest of the tribe live in Cranston, Warwick, Providence, and they go to work, and to school like everybody else, and when they have a pow wow they come and they dance and they celebrate their ethnicity with enthusiasm and pride and it is a joy to see.

And they have free health care. For life.

And they have a good sized health clinic in Charlestown, even tho' there aren't many of them here.

We don't have one of those.

And we can't use it, even though it was paid for with our tax dollars.

And if you look around they have lots of things that the rest of us don't. I believe they have free college tuition. Not sure about that. They don't pay any taxes on their land, which was gifted to them.

They were given four million dollars by HUD to build homes for the elderly. Nobody lives in those twelve homes and the money ran out. Nobody knows where.

And just for chuckles, try to use your right to open meetings and access to public records to find out how much money (ours) do they get through the BIA. Never mind how much they get from those who would profit from exploiting them. But these reparations are paid today - by us - to folks who simply by accident of birth can claim Native American blood to some fraction.

Does that give them the right to be a sovereign people within a sovereign nation? To be free of the laws of our land? Where is the equality in that notion? Ethnicity does not convey privilege!

Now this sounds like a bit of a rant, and could be interpreted as a very strong bias. Perhaps it is.

But I feel strongly as you do that we all have right and the same opportunity to take advantage of our gifts, our education and everything that America has to offer.

I detest prejudice as much as I am dismayed by those who victimize minorities with the rhetoric of ''poor!''

No, you don't need to be afraid, but you do need to be aware of what's going on behind the scenes. Our current government in Charlestown is not just weak, it is blind and I daresay it is more corrupt than you want to believe. They are carefully doing their scheming and they understand just how much money can be made through exploitation.

Read Without Reservation, please. Be aware.

I think I better stop about here. I many have lost you too! I hope not. I will be very interested in your response.

Kate.