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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Narragansett Leaders accuse the CCA of prejudice, propaganda and racism

Paulla Dove Jennings and Randy Noka write Westerly Sun opinion pieces countering recent anti-Narragansett media blitz by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance
Narragansett/Niantic tribal elder Paulla Dove Jennings, who is
also curator of the Tomaquag Museum
By Will Collette

One of the Charlestown Citizen Alliance’s (CCA) favorite ways to fire up its base it to draw on widespread opposition to a casino in Charlestown[1]. However, the CCA also uses fear of a casino to justify opposing any project, however meritorious, the Narragansett Indian Tribe proposes, according to tribal council member Randy Noka and tribal elder Paulla Dove Jennings.

Narragansett Tribal Councilor Randy Noka
Both council member Noka and Ms. Dove Jennings were responding to a July 27 article that focused on the CCA’s fears of a tribal casino (but did not include the Narragansett’s side of the story[2] according to Noka’s August 10th op-ed in the Sun) and an August 1 follow-up editorial by the Sun.

Noka noted that the Sun editorial took the one-sided facts presented in the July 27 story to chastise the Tribe for failing to complete the tribal elderly housing project that was the focus of long-running litigation by Charlestown and the state against the Tribe[3].

Noka told the Westerly Sun that comments[4] by Indian hater Joe Larisa[5] that the tribe’s long-stalled low-income elderly housing project was a front for the tribe’s desire to build a casino was just fear tactics and propaganda…It’s always some kind of negative position against the tribe. It’s ‘us against them. As long as the tribe is held down or there’s no benefit to the tribe, it’s good for the rest of us.’ The tribe and a casino are always given in the same breath.”

Tribal elder Paulla Dove Jennings was even more blunt in calling the CCA out. In a letter to the Sun, she called their attitudes (Larisa and the CCA)…wicked prejudices” that reminded her of the practices of the Ku Klux Klan.

She specifically challenged the CCA to explain why they only seem to oppose a Narragansett casino, no matter where it might be. She asked the CCA to explain its silence about the state’s two existing non-Indian gaming facilities, especially now that those operations are seeking to expand into full casinos.

Ms. Dove Jennings also held out a plea for reconciliation to the CCA, writing the Creator… will forgive your angry, racist rants…As Princess Red Wing once said, ‘If you want peace in your heart, you’ve got to lay aside your prejudices or you will never have peace.’”

I spoke to Tribal Council member Randy Noka at the Tribe’s ninth anniversary memorial of the infamous “Smoke Shop Raid.” He told me the Tribe wishes, above all else, to be allowed to carry on with projects that will provide the tribe and its members with economic self-sufficiency and that all the talk about a casino in Charlestown was a smokescreen to keep the tribe impoverished.

Noka made basically the same statement to the Westerly Sun calling the anti-casino “propaganda, tax-payer funded fear tactics.”

It should be noted that Randy Noka and Paulla Dove Jennings are on opposing political sides within the Tribe. However, in their separate statements, they both drew essentially the same conclusions from the Sun’s July 28 article and August 1 editorial.

[1] The “Voice of the CCA” Mike Chambers wrote recently to claim that town Democrats like to create what he calls “hobgoblins” – phony or trumped up fears. But I think Chambers is actually projecting the CCA’s standard practices. 

The CCA’s six year history has been one of setting up these “hobgoblins” and then campaigning against them. Examples include the CCA crusades against the Tribe, “greedy developers,” Chariho schools, families with children, senior citizens who own cats, etc. If you look at the CCA’s priorities set by their Steering Committee, they are defined more by what they hate than what they care for.

[2] Which is very unusual since the article was written by Chris Keegan, one of the Sun’s best and most experienced reporters who has covered tribal issues for a number of years.

[3] Council member Noka castigated the Sun editors for their one-sided coverage and pointed out that many of the reasons why the elderly housing project was never completed lie with roadblocks put up by the state and by Charlestown.

[4] These comments appeared in that July 27 front page Westerly Sun article.

[5] Former East Providence Mayor Joseph Larisa has been on the Charlestown pay-roll for several years as its Special Counsel on Indian Affairs. Larisa’s principal role has been to oppose anything the Tribe wants to do, whether it’s in Charlestown or elsewhere. 

For example, when the Tribe attempted to negotiate with Governor Lincoln Chafee to take over the financially troubled Twin River slot parlor in Lincoln, Larisa was among the first to jump in to oppose the tribe.  He did that even though it was in Charlestown’s self-interest for the Narragansetts to buy Twin River. That would have provided a permanent solution to Charlestown’s fear of gaming here in town. Charlestown has paid the ethically challenged Larisa around a quarter of a million dollars to fight the Tribe.