Narragansett tribe balks at pipeline-related stone monument destruction

  • Doug Harris addresses the crowd Saturday. For the Recorder/Sarah Gardner

For the Recorder
Published: 8/7/2017 11:23:25 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Stones cleared by developers, rocks left by farmers, abandoned stone walls and barriers — Doug Harris wants people to know that when they think they’ve found one of these things, they could be looking at something much older: sacred stone monuments left behind by ancient Native Americans.

Many of these stone sites are of cultural importance in New England, but are not recognized or preserved by any official government body, Harris said, speaking Saturday afternoon at First Churches in Northampton on behalf of the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office.

“These stone landscapes have been here for thousands of years and are essential to tribal culture,” Harris said. “We have begun to call for towns and landowners to work with us to preserve them. We’re still working for that.”

Harris and those who work with him use mapping, oral testimony from Native American tribes and similarities to other documented sacred sites to identify indigenous stone monuments.

The Narragansetts partnered with Climate Action Now, a western Massachusetts climate change activism group, for the event to raise money to challenge the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in court.

According to Harris, there are many historic ceremonial stone landscapes in Sandisfield, in the pathway of a Kinder Morgan gas pipeline expansion.

“We have long been involved with standing up against pipeline expansion because of the environmental implications,” said Susan Theberge, co-founder of Climate Action Now. “The issue of sites sacred to native people is separate, but just as important, and we want to use this opportunity to support their efforts.”

The Kinder Morgan gas pipeline expansion in Sandisfield is planned to extend through part of Otis State Forest, where Harris said there were many unacknowledged sacred stone sites. Up to one third of those sites already may have been destroyed as part of pipeline construction, he said.

The pipeline construction site has already seen some local opposition. Nearly two dozen protesters were arrested at the site July 29 by state police.

Little can legally be done about the pipeline itself, Harris said. But he said the purpose of the lawsuit is to make it clear how the Narragansett tribe feels about its sacred sites.

“We intend to set a precedent with this lawsuit,” Harris said. “We will not sit idly by and let these sites be destroyed. FERC is responsible for ensuring certain laws are followed, and they have not.”

According to Harris, the Narragansetts were not given the opportunity to participate in the resolution of any adverse effects of the pipeline construction, which he said was part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s responsibilities.

Several attendees of the talk saw it as a way to learn more about the issue. Many asked questions about potential sacred stone sites near their own homes. Harris encouraged them to talk to local officials about preservation.

John Shershin, 74, lives in Boston but often visits Shutesbury, another area with several indigenous stone monuments.

“There’s a level of difficulty involved for those who want to preserve these places,” Shershin said. “I thought this was an excellent way to make an ongoing education effort to reach people who don’t know anything about it.”

Climate Action Now will continue to support the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office for as long as they can with financial support, Theberge said.

“This campaign to support legal efforts to protect ceremonial stone landscapes across the nation offers us a rare opportunity,” Theberge said. “For me, this campaign provides the opportunity for a concrete act of solidarity and respect.”


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