CHARLESTOWN — The Narragansett Tribe is opposing bills presented by the state that would recognize a Native American petition for recognition and the recognition of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe by the state, Narragansett Tribe lawyer John Killoy, Jr., said.

There are two bills (2023-H 5020 and 2023-H 5021) that have been introduced to the House of Representatives. The first would establish the process where a Native group or community could be recognized as a tribe. 

Per the proposed state legislation in January, required documentation would include a statement of facts establishing that the tribe has been historically identified, evidence that a substantial portion of the group is located in a specific area or community seen as American Indian and that members are descendants of an Indian tribe.

A copy of the Tribe’s governing document and membership list must be presented, according to the General Assembly. There also needs to be evidence that the petitioning tribe has maintained political authority over its members.

The second bill would grant recognition by the state to the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe. 

According to the bill, this would be for “a limited purpose of assisting the tribe in establishing eligibility for federal education, job training, and housing benefits and federal protection for the sale of artwork.”

Narragansett Tribe officials argued in its press release that the latter bill “ignores” the 5020 bill’s process “and by legislative fiat, would grant recognition” to the Wampanoag Tribe.

The Narragansett Tribe in a prepared statement said, although there are people from other tribes living in the state, “that does not make them a community worthy of acknowledging them as a government.”

“The Narragansetts are federally recognized, they’re not state recognized, nor have they ever been,” Killoy said. “…The legislation that’s pending up at the statehouse is basically two pieces of legislation. One is to allow the state to recognize a group of Indians based on criteria.”

The other, Killoy said, recognizes the Wampanoag by a legislative act “not necessarily requiring that they provide the evidence and documentation necessary to show that you’re a distinct government you have governmental authority over your members, you have governmental authority within a particular area and that you’re not related to any other group or member of any other Indian Tribe.”

The Narragansett Tribe in a press release stated that recognition of a tribe should not be granted without a “thoroughly documented petition by the tribe,” acknowledging that there is “adequate historical, anthropological, and genealogical evidence.”

The Narragansett Tribe in 1983, after decades of documentation and review, was recognized federally as an Indian Nation.

“The Tribe is opposing these two pieces of legislation basically because it shortcuts a recognition process,” Killoy said. “It allows the General Assembly to either recognize the Seaconke Wampanoags without sufficient evidence and documentation supporting that they are a Tribal Nation.”

“Why would the State of Rhode Island, without review by experts, consider legislation that grants recognition to a single group, while at the same time, consider a second bill that establishes a recognition process?” Narragansett Tribe Chief Sachem Anthony Dean Stanton said in a prepared statement. “The State of Rhode Island has never acknowledged the Narragansett Tribe but has historically opposed the Tribe’s exercise of its governmental powers.”

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.