Wampanoags Question Interior’s Trust Responsibility and Cape Wind Approval


How profoundly disappointing it is to find out that the Department of the Interior has approved Cape Wind’s Construction and Operation Plan (COP); that the decision is not only being rushed through the approval process, but pushed forward without even a courtesy consultation with our Tribe before being announced in the press. Again.

Neither our Tribal Historic Preservation Office nor the tribal government was afforded the opportunity for a government-to-government consultation or direct non-public discussion on this COP, Environmental Assessment (EA) and, specifically, on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act Section 404 Permit approval issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, even though this project, if approved, will have a dramatic negative effect on the siltation levels in our waters.

Public forums and stakeholder meetings are not government-to-government consultation. And when the project proponents and “former” regulatory officials, who now work for the project, are in the room, the Tribe’s ability to speak candidly as our government-to-government relationship should afford us is compromised.

This COP will have a hugely negative adverse effect on tribal and local sustenance fishermen and the entire fishing industry, not to mention on the entire aquatic ecosystem. We sighted a Humpback Whale and her calf just last week. Last spring, we had 25% of the world’s population of the rare endangered North Atlantic Right Whale right here, including mothers and calves. This can only happen when the waters are in the right balance and cleanliness, not when they are loaded with silt. The project will most likely also adversely impact the tourism and recreational boating industry too.

The government’s continuous assertion that this is an “off shore” or “Outer Continental Shelf” (OCS) project is at minimum misleading. The waters and seabed of Nantucket Sound are submerged public federal lands surrounded by land(s). The site is a culturally and historically significant in-land protected shoal that is eligible for listing and protection under the National Register of Historic Places. An industrial energy plant larger than Manhattan will destroy this treasure forever. The federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation strongly advised Interior not to permit the project but it was ignored. Why?

Again we ask why this project continues to get federal approvals when there are so many unanswered questions and pending lawsuits. How do public federal lands get turned over to a private corporation for private profit without an open bid process? Why is it that comments and consultation now are only allowed on certain non-controversial issues of this project while controversial issues like the water quality and other environmental issues go forward without review and comment? Why does the project application say one thing and project proponents and governmental officials say something different? Why do the project’s high electric rates and alleged benefits to the local people that were initially “mis-stated” not have to come back for scrutiny when the project involves millions of tax payers’ dollars? And, while we are part of the contemporary regional community that will lose so much, we are also a federally recognized tribe who should have had additional considerations based upon our government-to-government relationship and special status. So our questions remain:

• Who will make sure the Tribe is made whole in this entire fiasco?
• Who will cover the loss of our traditional cultural property and our traditional cultural practices?
• Who will cover the losses of our natural resources, tribal members’ livelihoods and potential tribal enterprises?
• Who will ensure that the Tribe will not continue to suffer when this “experiment” follows its course and is eventually and inevitability decommissioned?
• When does it become a federal government priority to substitute something else for all that our Tribe will lose due to this ill-conceived project?

While I may not understand everything about the federal-tribal relationship, I do understand that this failure even to continue to communicate with us, or try to provide something reasonable in exchange for what we are losing -- against our will and expressed position -- is not what the United States Constitution means when it talks about Congress’ power to regulate commerce with Indian tribes, or what all of the subsequent federal Indian laws, treaties and executive orders were about. Where does the federal trust responsibility begin and end? We did everything we were supposed to do. Simply put, the Interior Department has not fulfilled its trust responsibility toward my people and instead appears to have placed the interests of a private for-profit corporation exploiting the administration’s renewable energy goals over us. Where is our justice?

Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, Cultural and Historic Commissioner and Chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).