Ray Watson, Ketasoot Sâchem for the Historic Mashapaug Nahaganset Tribe, has filed an “alien tort claim for environmental justice” in United States District Court against the State of Rhode Island, the City of Providence and the City of Cranston. Watson has been pursuing this case for years, and seems to have finally overcome the legal hurdles that have prevented him from filing the suit earlier.
The main point of the lawsuit, said Watson, speaking outside the Rhode Island State House, is environmental racism, that is, the State of Rhode Island polluted the habitat of the Mashapaug because of who they were, racially. “You denigrated my habitat specifically because I was Indian,” said Watson.
The first part of the argument, said Watson, is that “you took my land, and it’s not yours. It’s mine. You never compensated, you took it.” Watson cited International, US Constitutional and state law as having been violated in the taking of the land.
Watson said that his ancestors were reclassified from Native American to “colored” in the 1800s, allowing the state to steal indigenous lands and to force people off their lands. This reclassification robbed Watson and other Mashapaug of certain rights indigenous people have under the law.
Watson maintained that forcing indigenous people onto reservations and then stealing reservation lands is a form of apartheid. He said that his land was stolen and his people’s lands denigrated specifically because they are Indian.
If we got our lands back, asked Watson, how could his people return to the life that his ancestors once had? The answer, said Watson, is that, “We can’t. We need to be fairly compensated for it.”
A lot of Rhode Islanders don’t know about the history of indigenous people and the way they were treated in Rhode Island, said Watson. There are no treaties with the tribes here on the east coast and in New England. “They got [treaties] when the went out west, so they got legal documents that said the land was theirs, but here, after the King Phillip’s War they massacred us, they sent us to reservations and they took they land, no contract.”
Watson reached out to the FANG Collective member Morgan Victor to serve the lawsuit to Rhode Island, Providence and Cranston.
For a fuller explanation, check out the video below: