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The Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe received it's state recognition status by the Common Wealth of Massachusetts proclamation on January 27th 1997.
In 2021 Tribal Council began the organizing effort to seek Rhode Island State Recognition status. Since it's inception, the project has had promising support, while also receiving shameful words from other tribal groups condemning the Seaconke Wampanoag's recognition efforts.
The opposition from tribal individuals only serves to highlight the colonial mindset engrained into the historical narrative, setting Native people against each other, detracting from the wellbeing of all. It should be noted however, that discussions are being had within the community to settle differences and find common ground.
Efforts for this legislative process was set in motion by generations before us- as a hope to protect our resilience and existence as Native peoples in this state collectively.
This forward thinking led to the a 1936 Act by the General Assembly of Rhode Island for the observance of “Indian Day” in Rhode Island. The general assembly amends and adds to chapter 294. Which reads in part “in recognition of the several Indian tribes of Rhode Island\ and which had so great and significant a place in the history of the state.” Chapter 294 Sec 2 – The governor shall annually issue proclamation setting apart a day as Indian day and recommending that it be observed by the people of this state with appropriate exercises in the public schools and otherwise commemorative of the Indian tribes of Rhode Island, including the Narragansett, Wampanoags, Nipmucs, Aquidnecks and Animatics.” 1
The 20th century saw many words said and acts done in recognition and support of Native tribes but very little follow-through has become the culture. In fact, often the opposite is true, tribes are met with opposition, acts of bureaucratic gatekeeping, and arbitrary conversations to impede tribal progress.
It is truly reprehensible that opposition of pro-native legislation is echoed by members of a neighboring tribe whose families and historical records are entwined with our own.
The argument becomes the difference between political opinion verses our natural
non-transferable rights as Native people. The right to our historical existence and our collective traditional lifeways are rights that belong to our children.
The question could be asked, does a state recognition authority disconnect us from those unassailable rights, or highlight misleading statements that disregard contextual analysis and evidence?
Maintaining our birthrights as Seaconke Wampanoag Native people must be protected from exploitation from those that seek to benefit and seek personal gain at our expense.
Native tribal recognition is also an issue that is discussed in many state houses across the country. The National Conference of State legislatures (NCSL) published “State Recognition of American Indian Tribes”.
Tribes that seek state recognition do so, however, because recognition acknowledges their historical and cultural contributions within that state. 2
These actions by other states across the country gives credence that the Rhode Island State Legislature can do the same.
[1 Rhode Island Executive Order No. 39, Gov. Phillip W. Noel, https://catalog.sos.ri.gov/repositories/2/digital_object_components/3034]
[2 National Conference of State Legislatures www.ncsl.org]