Dancers at a Narragansett Tribe powwow. Photo: Jack McLane

Narragansett Tribe faces opposition from citizens after signing water agreement

Citizens of the Narragansett Tribe are opposing a water deal signed by their leaders.

The tribe agreed to serve as a standby water source for a $1 billion gas-fired power plant being proposed in Rhode Island. But citizens say the deal was never brought to a vote of the people as required by the tribal constitution.

"The tribal body was never made aware that any deal was in the works and have had no meetings or opportunities to have a say," Brian Lightfoot Brown, a citizen who has written opinion pieces for Indianz.Com, said in an email after reports of the agreement appeared in the local media.

Tribal citizens who were surprised by the deal held a protest on Friday, Rhode Island Future reported. They are hoping their stance will help defeat the Clear River Energy Center, which is being proposed by an international company called Invenergy Thermal Development LLC.

"It’s a breach of our own culture and norms to be selling this water. The Earth is sacred and water is sacred," Loren Spears, the executive director of the Tomaquag Museum, told Rhode Island Future.

John Brown, the medicine man of the Narragansett Tribe, is seen at the National Congress of American Indians mid-year conference in Connecticut on June 12, 2017. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

But John Brown, the tribe's medicine man, defended the deal, telling ecoRI News that Invenergy is respecting the tribe's ancestral territory. In a press release distributed by the company, he noted the potential for additional revenues.

“We are fortunate to have plentiful water supplies on our reservation, and so it makes a lot of economic sense for us to serve as a backup provider for the Clear River Energy Center,” Brown said in the press release. “This provides the tribe with a steady source of much-needed new revenue that we can use to support our community.”

Invenergy turned to the tribe after its agreement with the town of Johnston was hit with a lawsuit. The town agreed to serve as the primary water supplier for the power plant but opponents say the deal violates state law.

The plant would be located in the town of Burrillville. Narragansett headquarters are about 45 miles south, in Charlestown.

Due to the distance, the deal with the tribe would require water to be shipped from the reservation to the site of the power plant. Benn Water & Heavy Transport has agreed to transport those shipments as well as serve as a backup supplier.

Read More on the Story:
Narragansetts say tribe can’t sell water without a vote of the people (Rhode Island Future October 3, 2017)
Narragansetts agree to supply backup water to proposed Burrillville power plant (The Westerly Sun September 30, 2017)
Invenergy announces water deal with Narragansett Tribe (Rhode Island Future September 28, 2017)
Invenergy Solidifies Water Plan with Tribe Backup (ecoRI News September 29, 2017)
Narragansett Tribe agrees to be a backup water supplier for proposed Burrillville power plant (The Providence Journal September 28, 2017)
Invenergy Names Narragansett Tribe As Backup Water Supplier For Power Plant (Rhode Island Public Radio September 28, 2017)

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