This statement was updated in February 2021:
Rep. Sabadosa and I drafted this joint statement. It’s the second communication we’ve sent out on the issue of the Northampton roundabout. View the first here.
Thank you to all who have called and emailed with your concerns about the archeological site in Northampton. In partnership with Representative Sabadosa and Congressman McGovern, my office has engaged deeply to understand this issue that falls under the purview of both the state and federal governments.
The first and main priority of all of our offices remains the full consultation and involvement of Native American leaders in the region.
Here’s what we’ve done since our last communication on this issue:
- We have had conversations with the representative from the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the site observer during this project.
- We have continued our conversation on this issue with MassDOT.
- We have had conversations with the Western Massachusetts representative on the Commission for Indian Affairs, who is in communication with the Nipmuc Nation and the Abenaki leadership.
- We have engaged with the Federal Highway Administration to get a better understanding of the issue generally, and specifically the ways in which officials are engaging with and taking the counsel of Native tribes, especially the Wampanoag Aquinnah representative.
- We have spoken with all parties about our strong commitment to respecting Native American wishes and intentions.
Here’s what we’ve learned:
- We have come to understand that construction work is halted on the project until at least August 6 and have written to MassDOT to indicate that we believe that all work must stop until at least August 6 and/or when tribal representatives have been fully consulted and heeded.
- The Nipmuc Nation and the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, both state recognized tribes, have released statements about the Skibiski petition and the artifacts found on the site. The Nipmuc Nation’s statement is here and the Elnu Abenaki Tribe’s statement is here.
- Under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, Federal agencies (the Federal Highway Administration, in this case) are responsible for taking into account the effects of any project on historic properties and consulting on the Section 106 process with State Historic Preservation Offices (SHPO) and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPO).
- The Federal Highway Administration has four federally-recognized tribal partners for this project: the Narragansett Indian Tribe, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians. They have been sent the initial report draft memos and have had opportunities to review and to offer comment. These Tribes have currently been sent a Completion Memorandum with another opportunity for comment. As is required in Section 106, tribal partners are currently engaged with the Federal Highway Administration to ask questions, voice concerns, develop solutions, and resolve issues.
- It is our understanding that federally-recognized tribes have a long-standing and significant relationship and communication with state-recognized tribes. It is our intention to file a bill to make the state’s responsibility more explicit in the next session.
- The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Federal Highway Administration, MassDOT, and the four federally recognized tribes, states that final reports will be made public for further research and learning. During a recent call, the Federal Highway Administration representatives confirmed that this was always the intention “as the archeological work has been paid for by public dollars” and significant findings such as these must be available for study and research in a way that would protect the site from looting and site disturbance. We will seek similar confirmation from state entities.
Clarification on the MOA:
It was not immediately understood by all parties that no tribes or Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs) signed the MOA. Whatever the full effect of the MOA is, it does preserve public participation in the project going forward, including that of the Tribal Historic Preservation Officers (THPOs). For example, the MOA provides the THPOs with notice and an opportunity to consult if additional archeological resources or human remains are discovered, even without THPOs’ signature on the document. The MOA also guarantees that a final data recovery report will be public. My focus throughout has been ensuring that all my interested constituents are heard throughout this process, including indigenous communities. I will continue to keep them — and you — informed.
We want to be clear: there is still much more to be understood and there’s a fair amount of complexity. We will stay fully engaged, together on behalf of constituents.
Thank you for your concern.