With Corporate Resolution in hand, the organizations got to work outlining their mutual objectives codified within an MOU. The organizations formalized three primary goals in February 2021.
- Cultural Respect Easement
First, NEWT and NLC will enter into an agreement called a Cultural Respect Easement. A Cultural Respect Easement (CRE) opens the door to untold stories on the land through oral tradition. These stories are held deep within the DNA of land and when shared, give life to untold cultural legacies—legacies of ancient knowledge, ideas, culture or lifeways that are preserved and shared through storytelling from one generation to another. This act of oral tradition speaks to and ensures the protection of indigenous cultural values, practices, and lifeways rooted in Native preservation principles of land.
“The Cultural Respect Easement welcomes indigenous people to regain access to lands they have been separated from for, in most cases, centuries,” explained Ramona. The grantor (in this case, NEWT) is in a sense making a land justice statement by inviting indigenous people to share a cultural landscape with which they desire reconnection. “Access may be desired to exercise spiritual and cultural practices including recitation of historic information in the form of oral tradition, a legacy for future generations,” said Ramona.
“Establishing CRAs in the southeastern Massachusetts area will also rekindle indigenous connectedness to the ancestral homelands that have been lying dormant for centuries,” added Leslie. “We remain dedicated and committed to rescuing land, preserving indigenous cultural lifeways, oral tradition, and its ancient stories for both native and non-native people.”
Many lands conserved by land trusts across New England, and the country, have public access. However, such an idea is often exclusive to certain people, even if unintentionally so. It’s important to ask, who is the public access for and what kind of access is being promoted? It’s most often in the form of recreation such as hiking, biking, rock climbing, etc. These uses are not always welcoming to or consistent with the traditional relationship between Native Americans and their homeland, nor are they always compatible with the habitat needs of certain wildlife species.
For tribal communities, open space and open access to land is inherent. And, it often looks different than what land trusts define and implement as recreation-based public access. The alienation of indigenous peoples from sites of spiritual and cultural significance has been around for centuries, yet those lands and connections still remain, regardless of years of separation. Land absorbs history, yet most of the original North American folklore embedded in the earth is being lost.
“The reality, as I learned during these conversations, is that Native Americans don’t often feel welcomed on conservation land, or land trust land, even when it is open to the public,” said Jon. “It’s frankly a privilege I was ignorant to until very recently. As I learned more, I concluded that there was nothing at odds between our forever-wild management style and providing access to the Wampanoag Nation.”
“While some may say our stories are not lost, but frankly hidden by the shade of modern technologies called ‘progress,’ progress for indigenous peoples includes the continuation of indigenous lifeways as an extension of life with the natural world; the preservation of age-old, practices that secure our cultural survival,” said Leslie.
NEWT describes wilderness as land that remains largely “untrammeled,” a word the land trust extracted from the Wilderness Act of 1964. Untrammeled places are where nature directs the ebb and flow of life and where resource extraction is prohibited. It is a commitment to providing plants and animals with places where they will not be deprived of freedom of expression or action (the Webster definition of untrammeled).
The groups have identified a number of uses that they both find compatible with a commitment to untrammeled lands and traditional use, the specifics of which will be ironed out in the Cultural Respect Easement in the coming months.
After exploring this concept, over time, the groups recognized that while described in different ways, their values are similar: they both share reverence for the natural world, recognize humanity as part of nature rather than separate from nature, and share humility in accepting that humans are but one species among many–all of which have intrinsic value.
“When we had that conversation and I recognized the shared values, I felt confident this partnership would work,” said Ramona.