Tribe member challenges sun rite in letter to Salazar

Wampanoag man’s claim may aid wind farm

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (center) joined Wampanoag leaders at sunrise on Feb. 2 for what they called a traditional rite. One Aquinnah Wampanoag member has questioned the authenticity of that rite. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar (center) joined Wampanoag leaders at sunrise on Feb. 2 for what they called a traditional rite. One Aquinnah Wampanoag member has questioned the authenticity of that rite.
By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / February 19, 2010

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The already twisted Nantucket Sound wind farm saga just got a bit stranger: A Wampanoag tribal member says it is “fabricated cosmology’’ that his tribe performs sun ceremonies that need an unobstructed view of the Sound - as the tribe has claimed in a campaign to halt the energy project off Cape Cod.

But the tribe member made the allegation only after his law firm was recently hired by the developers of the Cape Wind project.

Jeffrey Madison, a Martha’s Vineyard lawyer, wrote in a Feb. 9 letter to US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that his father and grandfather were both tribe medicine men. “I am stating to you with complete honesty and knowledge that I never participated in, witnessed, or even heard of a sacred spot on the horizon that is relevant to any Aquinnah Wampanoag culture, history or ceremony. Nor did I see, or hear, either my father or grandfather conduct such ceremony,’’ he wrote.

Madison also submitted a petition to Salazar with eight signatures of other Wampanoag tribe members, saying they did not believe the wind turbines would “materially interfere with any significant cultural activity.’’

Critics of the project immediately challenged Madison’s assertion be cause the firm he works for, Wynn & Wynn, was hired about two months ago to help strike a compromise with the tribes.

The Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag tribes say that the 130-turbine project should not be built because they need an unobstructed view of Nantucket Sound for spiritual sun ceremonies and the seabed, once exposed land, is sacred ancestral ground.

Resolving their concerns, which are supported by the National Park Service, is considered the last significant hurdle in Cape Wind’s nine-year effort to gain federal approval.

Salazar, who several weeks ago watched the sun rise over Nantucket Sound with members of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, has said a final decision on the project will be made by April.

Bettina Washington, the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal preservation officer, said she had not heard of the letter and the tribe would not comment until officials had read it.

Mashpee Wampanoag tribe members did not immediately return calls.

Madison was chairman of the Gay Head Board of Selectmen for 15 years and is a former member of the Wampanoag tribal council. He played a prominent role in the tribe’s failed efforts to build a casino before being fired in 1997, according to a previous Globe story. He declined to comment yesterday.

Some of the eight members of the Aquinnah Wampanoag tribe who signed the petition said they supported the wind farm. Natalie Francis said she signed the petition because “I don’t think [the wind farm] would bother’’ cultural ceremonies. She said she was not aware of any sun ceremony, but does not keep up on the tribe’s rituals.

Opponents of the wind project said Madison has no credibility since his firm is being paid by Cape Wind - and the petition reflects the opinions of a tiny group out of hundreds of tribe members.

“The tribes’ position that Nantucket Sound is sacred is supported not only by the tribes, but the Massachusetts state historic preservation officer and the National Park Service,’’ said Audra Parker, president and chief executive of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, the proposed wind farm’s main opponent. She noted that the United South and Eastern Tribes Inc., an organization of 25 federally recognized tribes, recently signed a resolution supporting the Wampanoag claims in Nantucket Sound. “This seems to be another example of Cape Wind capitalizing on a disgruntled tribal member,’’ she said.

Supporters of Cape Wind have long said the Native Americans are acting on behalf of the Alliance - which has worked closely with the tribes - to continue to stall the project.

Cape Wind representatives declined to speak with a reporter. But, in comments they submitted to Salazar before the end of a public comment period last Friday, representatives said that the tribes’ early concerns about the project focused mostly around fishing - and that tribe members didn’t raise the sun salutation issue until 2008.

“Thus, there is now serious reason to question both the veracity of and the weight that should be afforded to the current tribal assertions of an essential tradition of sunrise ceremonies,’’ Cape Wind representatives said.

Madison’s letter says that his tribe makes offerings to the Creator “at ‘first light’ but first light is a period of time not a place. The notion that locating wind turbines in Nantucket Sound will impose on, impact or harm any cultural tradition is just plain false. I believe it to be a fabrication, invented by a small number of Tribal members.’’

A spokeswoman for Salazar declined to comment last night.

Beth Daley can be reached at