Local tribes create team to document ceremonial sites near pipeline path
NORTHFIELD — Four New England tribes have joined together to identify and document cultural sites near the route of the proposed 400-miles gas pipeline.
Last month, representatives from the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe, Mohegan Tribe, Narragansett Indian Tribe and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, along with representatives from other tribes, participated in a weeklong ceremonial stone landscape identification training. Upon completion of the program, the Tribal Historic Preservation Offices certified the 12 participants as field specialists.
Under the guidance of the Tribal Historic Preservation Offices and its landscape mapping partner — Ceremonial Landscapes Research — the tribal representatives will work with a mapping team to identify and document ceremonial stone landscape sites on private property.
Northfield Historical Commission member Joe Graveline said if any landowner believes such a site is on or near their property, they should contact their local historical commission, who will deploy a team of specialists to check the area for possible ceremonial sites.
“In the past there wasn’t enough time allocated to do this and cultural resources were destroyed, and in a lot of ways that’s against law,” Graveline said. “The tribes are going to work directly with the historical commissions to assist in identifying cultural features on private property.”
Graveline said when each expert team arrives at a site they will conduct a thorough investigation and create an inventory of the materials on the site. Tribal representatives will use their findings to approve or disapprove sites as historical areas. Approved sites will be submitted to the National Register of Historic Places.
“That would add a strong level of preservation protection,” Graveline said.
This team was created to enforce a state law in which any project requiring funding, licensure or permits from federal agencies must comply with Section 106 of the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966. By law, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — currently reviewing the Northeast Energy Direct project — must take into account the possible effects the project could have on historic sites.
According to the act, before construction can begin, properties that are important to federally recognized tribes and have a cultural or historical significance should be documented in consultation with the affected tribes. Once studies have been completed, the tribes, FERC and the project proponents are required to work together on a plan to avoid, minimize or mitigate the project’s impacts.
A month prior to creating the documentation team, Graveline submitted a document to FERC outlining various Native Americans’ concerns including inadequate time spent developing the environmental impact statement for the NED project and cited a specific negative outcome from the rush of the environmental impact statement of the 2013 Spectra Pipeline Project. According to his research, the study failed to identify and document cultural artifacts that were near the pipeline installation route and resulted in the destruction of historic sites.
“It came out of New York and was a separate licensed pipeline,” Graveline said. “They rushed the project and ended up destroying a number of cultural sites. … It was a hard lesson for the tribes. FERC doesn’t have any particular obligation to protect resource if nobody knows they exist.”