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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — For years Native American tribes have been fighting for state recognition across the United States.
As of now, Rhode Island doesn’t recognize any, but two bills are being discussed at the State House.
Rep. Camille Vella Wilkinson said these bills could make for a historic moment by letting Rhode Island “step up to the plate.”
One of the bills would officially recognize the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe while the other would establish a procedure for tribes to petition for state recognition.
“We’re not invisible. I am concerned and I do feel racially discriminated against by Rhode Islands’ authority. Going to the legislature is an opportunity to get a fair deal,” said Chief Darrell Waldron, Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe.
Rep. Wilkinson has been working with the Seaconke Wampanoags for the past three years, saying the bill will protect and preserve the tribe’s history while also recognizing the original inhabitants of the land.
“The bill itself says they don’t want money, they don’t want land, and they don’t want a casino,” Rep. Wilkinson said. “I see this not only as a healing moment but a historic moment, let Rhode Island step up to the plate.”
Chief Waldron said there has been immense support, but the Narragansett Tribe — the only federally recognized tribe in Rhode Island — is against both pieces of legislation.
“While the federal government has recognized and acknowledged us, the state of Rhode Island still hasn’t, so how can you not recognize the original habitants and recognize some splinter group of someone trying to come into our territory, we don’t think that’s proper or correct in any fashion,” said Chief Sachem Anthony Dean Stanton, Narragansett Tribe.
Chief Stanton added he has nothing against the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe, but said it took decades to obtain recognition at the federal level and wants them to go through the same process.
“I think that it is due to historical trauma,” Chief Waldron said. “And just the way we have been treated for centuries and what we have we want to protect, right you know everything was taken away and you want to protect that.”
Gov. Dan McKee’s office sent a letter to the committee citing in part, “neither of these bills set up a process that would include the necessary input from anthropologists, historians, genealogists or anyone else with the requisite expertise to make these determinations.”
Chief Waldron pushed back saying they “did not use any methodology, genealogy, or anthropology to detribalize them, they just did it.”
“Putting people against each other is old it’s from the colonial days, it’s time to heal,” he continued.
Rep. Wilkinson told 12 News she is currently seeking legislative support from House Speaker Joe Shekarchi.
For now, the bills are being held in the state government and elections committee for further study.
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