To the Editor:
Given the shockingly racist statements attributed to him in Tuesday’s edition of the Warwick Beacon, Carlo Pisaturo should resign or be removed from the Warwick Sewer Authority.
While urging the Authority to renege on an agreement with the EPA, the state and the Narragansett Tribe, Pisaturo allegedly said, “Forget all the stuff with the Indians and do it the conventional way,” and, “Pocahontas and Tonto have had their day. It’s over.”
American Indians have not “had their day.” It is true that they are a cornerstone of our shared history, but they are not strictly about the past. We live among them as friends and neighbors, as real people, not as fictional factotums such as Tonto, or as complex historical figures such as Pocahontas.
The crux of the issue is this: the Sewer Authority must install much-needed sewer lines through the Tidewater Area, so 800 households there can stop using cesspools that pollute the bay and cost homeowners much money in pumping costs. But this area is near Warwick’s Shawomet section, sometimes referred to as “Old Warwick,” because this is where the city’s first white settlers obtained a deed of land ownership from the sachems Miantonomi and Pomham in January 1642/3.
Because this area was so thickly settled by Indians for so long, the Sewer Authority agreed to conduct an archeological study of this site. Preliminary findings showed “that a large and potentially significant concentration of Native American cultural materials and features exists in the northern section of Warwick Neck, south of Mill Cove and focused around the Mill Cove Brook. Designated the Mill Cove Site, it contains a wide range of feature and activity areas resulting from Native occupation and habitation between approximately 3,000 and 350 years ago.”
Thousands of Indians lived on this site for thousands of years. Because of that, the Sewer Authority agreed to lay pipe by using “directional drilling” instead of just gouging trenches through the remains of old villages that may contain sacred burial sites and definitely hold educational resources about how the first settlers of this city lived.
Now Pisaturo wants to renege on this agreement to possibly save some money. Everyone agrees that it is a must-do project, and it was on track for completion using directional drilling, until the newly elected Mayor Joe Solomon pulled the plug on it and installed Pisaturo on the Sewer Authority. There are issues that we still need to resolve – for example, Tidewater residents should not have to bear the costs of repaving roads after sewer pipe is laid – but using directional drilling is a solved issue.
The city’s Shawomet section, containing Buckeye Brook, marshes, and a sandy beach, is an asset to all of us. John Brown, the Narragansett Indian Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, says that Shawomet is actually the fragment of a word that can be spelled one of two ways depending on the desired emphasis: mishaoumock or mishaoumette. The first spelling, Brown says, means “the place of the thirty great villages;” the second changes the emphasis to “the people of the thirty great villages.”
The people of the 30 great villages gave us the names of the places that are still home to villages Pawtuxet, Conimicut, Cowesett, Apponaug and Potowomut, to name a few. This is where Samuel Gorton struck an agreement with local sachems allowing Europeans to live here; this is where the great Narragansett sculptor Nancy Elizabeth Prophet was born and raised in the 1890s.
Pisaturo would like to “forget all that stuff with the Indians,” and indeed our textbooks have often tried to do that, to extirpate our nation’s first people from our histories. When we do that we do a disservice to history and disrespect humanity. Forget all that stuff with the Indians? Never! With this attitude, Pisaturo is not fit to serve on a public board making key decisions about important projects.