Several New England communities offering free beach passes to Native Americans: ‘It’s a small but meaningful step’

Several communities in Massachusetts and Rhode Island offer their own form of redress to Native Americans by granting free summer beach permits to tribal members.

In Massachusetts, the Cape Cod towns of Truro and Wellfleet will begin offering free permits to anyone with proof of tribal identification this summer, while Eastham began doing so in 2020. In Rhode Island, the Narragansett City Council voted earlier this month to offer permits to Narragansett Tribe members.

“The Town of Narragansett is named after the Aboriginal people of this area, the Narragansett Indian Tribe,” the town’s Coastal Improvement Committee wrote in a letter to council recommending the decision. “The Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island have been systematically deprived of their rights to their lands and access to coastal waters. Narragansett City Council now has the opportunity to right, in part, a glaring wrong and make a difference in the lives of the descendants of the tribe. …This is a small but significant step in fulfilling our citywide responsibility to honor and recognize the sovereignty of the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island by restoring coastal access to the beach. from the city.

The city will offer beach walking permits to tribe members, but they will still have to pay a parking fee. seasonal passes are $25 for adults and $10 for children 12-17 and seasonal parking passes are $50.

In Truro, the city’s Select Board passed a similar scheme in February, granting free access to members of the local Wampanoag tribe and any other Native American tribes.

Helen McNeil-Ashton, vice-president of the Truro Historical Society, said at the time that the idea was “one of many small initial steps by which the community of Truro can recognize and honor members and neighbors of the Wampanoag Nation who have lived here for 12,000 years before Europeans arrived and who are still very present and might like to visit the beaches,” according to the Provincetown Independent.

Beach passes are not required in Truro until June 18. Resident tags are usually $25 for the season.

Brian Weeden, president of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, welcomed recent decisions by local communities to allow Native Americans access to area beaches.

“In our creation stories, we say the first Wampanoag boy was made from the foam of the sea and therefore we come from land and water,” he said. “We are sailors and we need the ocean to survive. It has been our sustenance for hundreds and thousands of years.

He added that while these measures are appreciated, it is not the end of what local communities have to do.

“It’s definitely appreciated after 400 years of colonization and gentrification,” Weeden said. “It’s a step in the right direction, considering what they’ve done to our people. At the same time, we have a long way to go.

Associated Press material was used in this story.

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Nohemi M. Moore