Rep. Vella-Wilkinson to host Seaconke Wampanoag briefing on tribal history, relationship with R.I.


STATE HOUSE — Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick) will host a presentation by the Seaconke Wampanoag tribe on Wednesday at the State House.

The event will take place Wednesday at 2:45 p.m. in Room 101 on the first floor of the State House.

The topic will include the history of the Seaconke Wampanoag tribe and its relationship with the state of Rhode Island. The Seaconke Wampanoag people historically inhabited the parts of Rhode Island east of the Providence River and stretching northwest toward present-day Woonsocket.

The event comes at a time when Representative Vella-Wilkinson has introduced two bills that would create state tribal recognition.

The first bill (2023-H 5020) would provide a procedure for a Native American tribe to petition the state for recognition by providing the House of Representatives with certain documentation. The General Assembly could then forward the petition to the governor for enactment through legislation.

“While state tribal recognition does not confer the same benefits as federally recognized tribes, it does acknowledge the historical and cultural contributions,” said Representative Vella-Wilkinson. “In some cases, state recognition qualifies the tribe for federal and state support. For example, four federal agencies—the U.S. departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services—have the statutory and regulatory authority to provide funding for state-recognized tribes.”

The General Assembly would retain the right to restrict gaming licensure and/or permission to establish a casino; creation of a state reservation or relinquishment of government land; and approval for state sales tax-free economic development ventures.

A second bill would grant tribal recognition to the Seaconke Wampanoags, a population that historically lived on lands that are now part of Northern Rhode Island.

The legislation (2023-H 5021) would officially recognize the Seaconke Wampanoag tribe for the limited purposes of assisting in establishing eligibility for federal benefits and to protect the tribe in preserving artifacts, ceremonies and practices.

“This legislation will go a long way in helping members of the tribe to be eligible for federal education, job training, and housing benefits and federal protection for the sale of artwork,” said Representative Vella-Wilkinson. “The Seaconke Wampanoags are an integral part of this state’s history, and this bill offers protections for the tribe to engage in traditional religious practices and ceremonies; preserve and protect artifacts, and ensure that handicrafts made by tribal members may be sold as ‘Indian made.’”

The legislation has the support of Seaconke Wampanoag Chief Darrell Waldron, who said, “The states have divided us, this bill will reunite us.” Waldron serves as executive director of the Rhode Island Indian Council.

Both bills have been referred to the House Committee on State Government and Elections.