Wampanoag chief aims to file claim to RI lands
By JOHN HOWELL
Saying most of Rhode Island and sections of Massachusetts and Connecticut were unfairly taken from them, Chief Sachem Wilfred Greene of the Wampanoags said yesterday he and 39 other Indians plan to file a class action suit, which conceivably could be the nation.s largest Indian land claim ever.
Greene is no stranger to Warwick. He made his mark as a boxer years ago and last fall came to the defense of the city when the Narragansett Indians sought Federal District Court action to halt sewer construction on West Shore Road in the vicinity of Buckeye Brook. The Narragansetts feared the sewer construction would disturb Indian graves they believed to be in the area.
Greene disputed the claim of the Narragansetts, saying it was the Seaconke Wampanoags who lived in the area. The court found the city had taken adequate measures to identify any historical items unearthed by the project and to take protective action, allowing the work to continue. No Indian artifacts were found during construction.
But the dispute over sewer construction is tiny compared to the action Greene, and those working with him, intend to initiate. As Peter Bauer, who has been working with Greene, explained, a finding in favor of the tribe could result in the payment of hundreds of millions of dollars. The money, paid by the federal government, would be for the lands taken as well as compensation for the lost use of the property.
Bauer said the fact that the Wampanoags are not a federally recognized tribe does not affect the claim, as those bringing the class action are Indians. As part of the action, the tribe will seek federal recognition.
Also, on the issue of whether the lands belonged to the Narragansetts or another tribe, Bauer says neither Greene nor the Wampanoags were notified at the time the Narragansetts filed their land claim in 1978.
Greene said he spent 12 years researching Wampanoag land claims, but in recent months two .master deeds. and scores of other documents have been found that support Indian claims.
In a statement issued yesterday Greene says ancestral homelands extend from present day Boston south to East Greenwich and west to the Connecticut River.
.Our land claim is so well documented and so clear from verified early American documents that it will be the largest land claim in the history of the U.S.,. Greene said.
The statement reads that many Indian tribes lost their individual and tribal sovereignty after the King Philip.s War.
.I want to see all tribes have their sovereignty returned to them. Most lost it after the King Philip.s War, which was not a legal war, was not sanctioned by the king and was investigated later to find out how war was declared without the king.s order,. Greene said.
Bauer held up an inch-thick document, which he said will form the basis of the claim. He would not release the document, saying it will become public when the case is filed in federal court.
Greene has called on Native Americans or persons of color known as an American Indian who claim to have ancestors from the Wampanoags, Seaconke Wampanoag and Pokanoket Wampanoag to contact him at 615-9592 or 378-6443.
Also working with Greene are attorney Earl Pasbach and Bob Cooper, who is assistant to the sachem.