[RELATED COVERAGE: Listen here to Narragansett Indian Tribe members Randy and Bella Noka discuss the significance the shore holds for them.]
Councilors approved the fee waiver in a 3-2 vote after two hours of impassioned public comment from members of the Narragansett Indian tribe and their supporters, as well as landowners opposed to the permit. free access to the beach of Rhode Island’s only federally recognized American Indian. tribe.
“This is our land. You are on homeland,” Narragansett Indian Tribe First Councilor Cassius Spears, Jr. said at Monday night’s meeting. “Every day, wherever you walk, you are on native land. Giving this one the ability to walk the beach without a payment barrier is the least you can do.
City Council Speaker Jesse Pugh called the proposal “an opportunity to establish a new and healthy relationship with the Indian tribe, for which the city is named.”
But a homeowners group urged councilors to cast their vote, citing concerns about potential costs and overcrowding, and calling for further study of the proposal.
Speaker Nancy Lucivero asked if Pugh, who put forward the proposal, was acting in the best interests of townspeople.
“It’s not in the best interest of me,” Lucivero said. “And there are so many other people who feel the same way. I have no problem with the Narragansett Indian Tribe. However, the beach in our city is crowded. We as taxpayers pay to enter the beach, and the beach is submerged as it is.
Joe Cardello asked councilors about overcrowding on the beach and the effect of allowing free access for the tribe, which has around 3,000 members.
“You don’t know the answer,” Cardello said. “You must answer these questions to give a 3,000 cover [passes]. I don’t care who it is. I don’t care if it’s the Indians or anybody else. But I’ll tell you this: If you’re going to give anybody a free pass, it should be the taxpayers of this town, because we pay the taxes.
Some proponents of the fee waiver have questioned whether the pushback was motivated by bias and argued that giving free access to tribal members would have little impact on beach operations. They said it was very unlikely that all tribe members would actually get the passes, let alone come on the same day, and many tribe members are children under the age of 12. who could go on the beach for free anyway.
The Town of Narragansett already offers free season passes to residents 62 and older, disabled veterans and serving members of the military.
Tribal member Chico Champlin asked why some city councilors wanted to continue studying a proposal that had already been reviewed and recommended by the city’s coastal access improvement committee.
“Why do we have to continue to study with my tribe?” said Champlin. “Nobody else is educated but this tribe. Nobody. Why, because we’re Indian? You’re trying to abolish us, just annihilate us. We’re still here, aren’t we? Seriously, think -y. Grow up, please.
Board Chairman Jesse Pugh and Board Members Deborah Kopech and Patrick Murray were the three votes in favor of the fee waiver. Councilors Susan Cicilline Buonanno and Ewa Dzwierzynski voted no.
The new fee waiver does not include free parking, a change that had also been suggested by the city’s coastal access improvement committee.
Alex Nunes can be contacted at [email protected]