Indigenous Ceremonial Stone Landscape Protection

Indigenous Ceremonial Stone Landscape Protection


The hills and valleys of New England are dotted with Ceremonial Stone Landscapes put in place by the Indigenous peoples of this region. In 2003, the 24 members of the United Southern and Eastern Tribes (USET) passed a resolution stating, “For thousands of years before the immigration of Europeans, the Pau Waus and medicine people of today’s New England region used sacred ceremonial landscapes to sustain the people’s reliance on Mother Earth and the spirit energies of balance and harmony.” For Doug Harris, Preservationist for Ceremonial Landscapes for the Narragansett Indians, and other tribal members, the stone structures embody prayers that continue to live as long as the stones are kept intact.


In April 2017, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) granted the Tennessee Gas Pipeline the right to construct the Connecticut Expansion Project, which led to the destruction and desecration of Ceremonial Stone Landscape features in Sandisfield, Massachusetts. Any time a federal license or federal funds are required for a project, the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires a federal agency, such as FERC, to consider the impact on historic and cultural resources before the project is licensed or funds are expended. The NHPA requires consultation with federally recognized Indian Tribes for projects that are on tribal lands. It also requires consultation with any tribe that “attaches religious and cultural significance” to the property, irrespective of where it is located.


FERC did not follow this protocol for this pipeline project, and unfortunately, FERC regularly violates the NHPA by delaying the review of these features until it is too late to avoid them. Indigenous cultural heritage, including sacred Ceremonial Stone Landscapes, are routinely and disproportionately destroyed by energy infrastructure – partly because they aren’t recognized, and partly because they aren’t valued.


When Doug Harris, the Deputy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Office (NITHPO), learned that one-third of the 73 identified ceremonial stones would be taken apart, he decided to challenge FERC’s order. On April 9, 2017, NITHPO moved for party status in the FERC permitting process and opposed the start of construction a few days later. On May 10, 2017, NITHPO requested a rehearing of FERC’s order that authorized construction, and on January 10, 2018, FERC denied this request. The next step will be to petition for review of FERC’s orders in the appropriate U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.


Sadly, in July 2017, one-third of the ceremonial stones in Sandisfield, Massachusetts were destroyed. But even though harm has been done, good can still come out of it. The goals of this appellate review are to clarify and enforce federal law, namely the National Historic Preservation Act, FERC’s consultation requirements, and FERC’s fiduciary duty to Tribal Nations. The U.S. Court of Appeals will issue an order that will be binding on FERC after reading the parties’ briefs and questioning their counsel in oral arguments. If NITHPO prevails on some or all of its claims, then FERC will have to comply with the court’s holdings in future pipeline projects across the country. That means this challenge will have national implications.


Climate Action Now MA is supporting NITHPO’s efforts by running a campaign to raise funds for legal expenses, such as attorney and court fees. They identify two main reasons to support the protection of Indigenous Ceremonial Stone Landscapes: justice for Indigenous Americans and restoring accountability to our federal government. This project combines both of these goals in one lawsuit against FERC, the agency that oversees all interstate gas pipelines and many other energy infrastructure projects in the U.S.


Anne Marie Garti, who has been focused on federal pipeline projects since 2012, was retained by NITHPO to challenge FERC’s order. Anne Marie developed the legal strategy and led the grassroots group that stopped the Constitution Pipeline from being built. Lawyers, landowners, and groups across the U.S. are now following her lead as she continues to defend against the industries’ challenges to her victory. Anne Marie agreed to work for NITHPO at a reduced rate after performing a legal analysis of the facts and law. She believes there is a high likelihood of success, and that if NITHPO wins, this case will set a strong precedent for future pipelines, as well as other federal projects.


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