Racial justice & sand mining: a Mashpee Wampanoag perspective
by Hartman Deetz
Editor’s note: The Save the Pine Barrens campaign is working to protect the Atlantic coastal pine barrens in Massachusetts from mining and industrial development by companies like A.D. Makepeace and Borrego Solar. The coastal pine barrens in Plymouth, Carver, and Wareham are a rare ecosystem, one of only three coastal pine barrens left in the world, and house many species, protect the freshwater resources for people living in the area, and help mitigate climate change. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is involved in the coalition campaign to protect this special ecosystem and its finite land and water. The Wampanoag people have been living in the region for more than 15,000 years and have a connection to the land, which has been continuously exploited for resources. This exploitation must stop now. The following article gives Hartman Deetz’s perspective on the importance of saving the Massachusetts pine barrens. Deetz is an enrolled member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe.
Could you imagine walking through a museum in Japan and seeing a glass case containing a bronze plaque with the words inscribed on the surface “George Washington slept here in 1776”? Without an explanation, this plaque is trivial, and visitors would likely be confused. Removed from time and space, the plaque becomes irrelevant, its meaning lost in translation. The place the plaque once marked, not the plaque itself, is what holds importance.
This is also true for a lonely rock that was formerly set on the side of an ancient dirt road in Plymouth, Massachusetts, labeled “Sacrifice Rock” along with its bad translation “Manitoo Assun.” A better translation would be “God’s Stone,” marking a sacred place, like the bronze plaques that mark inns that sheltered Washington. This stone itself was not important, but the place it marked is sacred. When the Pine Hills Development started building in the largest undeveloped woodlands in Massachusetts, they carefully moved the stone and placed it in a new location with signage explaining the reverence native people had for the stone. But something was lost in translation.
With development and industry, when big investments decide they want a resource, they move to extract the resource without regard for the resulting loss. When concerns are raised about potential ways their plans could cause harm, often representatives of the investors come up with quick and easy solutions that lack fundamental understanding of the problems. The Mayflower Pilgrims noted that their native guides put offerings on the stone in recognition of the sacredness of the place. Wampanoag people have continued doing this into the present. I did this in 2002. But since the stone moved to a new location, I have had no reason to stop or make offerings. When the stone was moved, what was lost is lost forever.
The Pine Barrens are under a similar threat, partially from development, but primarily from sand and gravel mining. The unique environment of the Pine Barrens has been formed over thousands of years. The delicate balance of the ecosystem includes the smaller plants, the animals, and the soil chemistry and makeup. The sand itself serves as a filter for the groundwater underneath. This aquifer serves as drinking water for residents, something that is irreplaceable.
Water is life, the foundation of all life, from the grasses up to the trees and the birds that live in the branches and us, human beings. But the great lie of corporate personhood has created an abomination, the idea that a company can have legal standing as if it were a living breathing person. But the corporation does not breathe, it does not love, and it does not need food or water, its only sustenance is the bottom line. Today in America we have two classes of people: the lower class human person, and the elevated class of the corporate person. The corporate person has more rights and less accountability. If the drinking water for the townspeople gets ruined, it may even be seen as an opportunity for corporate interests to maximize profits, solutions such as selling bottles of drinking water as we have seen for years in locations like Flint Michigan or Navajo reservation. But for the townspeople who gain no benefit from those profits, once the water is gone, it’s gone. When it is lost, it is lost forever.
If we continue to bend to the profit motives of the insatiable corporate persons, enough will never be enough. Did the townspeople bend to the will of the non-living person of Frankenstein’s monster? Of course not. They took care of one another and confronted the monster by the strength of numbers. They joined together and drove out the undead to save the living. The needs of the global marketplace are like the needs of the undead; the corporate person is a quilt work of dead material, oil, sand, gravel, gold, and lithium, who lives on quarterly profits. Much like the idea that the value is in the stone, or the bronze plaque, the real value is often lost in translation. Water is life; it is irreplaceable. We must look at the needs of the living and let the dead bury the dead. We cannot bend to the profit motives of the sand and gravel miners. We must save the Pine Barrens and the water they protect.
— Hartman Deetz is an enrolled member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe