Chief: Tribe was protecting its sovereignty
The following are excerpts from remarks delivered by Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas at a news conference Monday. The transcript was made from a tape provided through the courtesy of Channel 10, WJAR-TV.
[A] couple of things [are] very concerning to us. First of all, to ignore the federal status about the tribe is unacceptable. That’s number one.
Secondly, I was in discussions with the governor. And to sit here and tell you that emotions weren’t running high among the tribe would be a lie, after 14 years of battling to produce some kind of economic development, especially a casino. So our folks were upset.
And I explained to him if we’re going to disagree on a smoke shop, to please do it in a courtroom. Don’t get confrontational.
And it was understood that — at least I had that understanding — that that’s what we were going to do. So when the state police showed up, and their dogs and all of the people in their military garb, the Narragansett Indian tribe did what it’s always done; it stood to protect its land.
And I commend those police officers and tribal council members and tribal members in general for standing to protect our land, something we’ve done years ago. And it’s unfortunate because it’s 2003.
And if you look at it historically, how we fought the colonists years ago, they’d just come in and blow our heads off. . . . And now we’re battling in the courts and we’ll see what happens. But I said today, as I was being taken out of here — in my opinion, illegally, and we will prove that tomorrow when we go to the courts, by the state — that Governor Carcieri should be ashamed of himself.
And I stand by that comment, because of the conversations I did have with the governor Saturday evening and Sunday morning. . . .
So today’s actions were unacceptable, not only by us, but it should be [considered] unacceptable by you, the people of Rhode Island. Absolutely. . . .
. . . the tribe has federal status. And under that federal status, our agreement is with Congress. But for anybody who doesn’t understand that, go back and look at 1996 at what’s called the Chafee rider.
If we were under state law, there would have been no need for a Chafee rider. We are not under state law. That act had to be a congressional act. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have had to do that, the late Senator Chafee.
So I think Governor Carcieri, who’s obviously a smart businessman — and I have a lot of respect for him — a smart businessman should have done his homework. [He] should have done his homework before he took action. Every man is responsible for their actions. Now if I brought this on, as the governor’s claiming — I think he brought it on.
In my conversations with him, I basically said, “Governor, let’s settle this peacefully, in the courts.” Keep in mind, if your sovereignty is attacked I’m talking about non-tribal people — and I’ll give you an example.
When those planes hit those buildings on 9/11, Americans jumped up and were ready to grab arms. But if somebody attacks our sovereignty, we’re supposed to sit back and take it.
So we stand, we stand today, if it means facing fire, they’re gonna have to shoot me or keep cuffing me up — and you’ve seen what they’ve done . . . But I’m proud of our tribe.