Wampanoag tribal members harassed for pursuing aboriginal fishing rights

Marcus Hendricks scoops up some herring from the Herring Run Recreation Area in Bourne on Thursday afternoon. He was going to use the herring as bait. Hendricks and other Wampanoag Tribe members say they have been harassed at herring runs as people think they are harvesting illegally. [Merrily Cassidy photos/Cape Cod Times]▲

Herring fill the fish ladder at the Herring Run Recreation Area in Bourne. Tribal members who carry valid identification cards are allowed to harvest herring for sustenance.▲

Tribal member Marcus Hendricks says he has been getting harassed often lately while fishing for herring. People will yell at him or call the police and say he is trespassing or fishing illegally.

One woman approached him last week without a mask on and began to holler at him to stop fishing, he said.

Hendricks, who is part of the Mashpee and Nipmuck Wampanoag tribes as well as the Pequot, fishes every day at different herring runs on the Cape. He, along with many other tribal members, has been getting harassed by people who are unaware of aboriginal rights to fish and harvest.

Since January, the Massachusetts Environmental Police have received 12 calls from the public for alleged violations in state herring runs that were ultimately found to be tribal members legally harvesting fish, according to Craig Gilvarg, press secretary for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0

The Environmental Police have received five calls from tribal members reporting incidents of harassment in the past two months, Gilvarg said.

The harvest of river herring was prohibited by the state Division of Marine Fisheries in 2006, but that does not apply to Native Americans. Those who carry valid tribal identification cards are allowed to harvest herring for sustenance.

Several federal and state court rulings have affirmed exclusive tribal rights to hunt, fish and forage. In a 1984 case, a Barnstable District Court judge ruled in favor of the tribe’s rights to hunt and fish to sustain itself without obtaining a permit from the town or state. A 1905 federal case, United States v. Winans, found that tribe members have access to take fish even if they are on privately owned land.

Hendricks said there are no repercussions for people who harass tribal members while fishing.

“We get harassed, but no one’s issued a citation, no one’s issued a verbal warning,” he said.

Other members of his family have had bad experiences, he said, with some relatives having their vehicles vandalized while they are fishing. One of his cousins was sprayed with Mace while fishing for herring at Santuit Pond, Hendricks said. That cousin could not be reached for comment.

“During this pandemic … we’re out getting food,” Hendricks said. “We have an essential right to go get food, and here we have people that are out doing whatever they want to do. Are they getting food or going for a walk in the woods?”

Natasha Cash, a Yarmouth resident and tribal member, fishes daily with her family and has started to wear a GoPro camera that is recording at all times in case an incident occurs.

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