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Sand and Gravel Mining, Real Estate, and “Green Energy” Threaten the Pine Barrens of Southeastern Massachusetts

By Hartman Deetz (Mashpee Wampanoag) 

Imagine walking through a museum in Japan and seeing a glass case containing a bronze plaque with the words inscribed on the surface, “George Washington slept here in 1776,” with the explanation that this bronze plaque was an important part of American history. As an American, you would assume that something had been lost in translation. So it is for a lonely rock that was formerly set on the side of an ancient dirt road in Plymouth, Massachusetts, labeled “Sacrifice Rock,” along with its bad translation, “Manitoo Assun.” A better translation would be “God’s Stone.” Like the bronze plaque that commemorates an inn that once sheltered George Washington, this stone itself was not important, but the place it marked. When the Pine Hills Development started building in the largest undeveloped woodlands in Massachusetts, they carefully moved the stone and placed it in a new location with signage explaining the reverence Native people had for the stone. Something was lost in translation.

With development and industry, when big investors decide they want a resource, they move without regard to what would be lost. When concerns are raised about potential ways their plans could cause harm, often representatives of the investors come up with quick easy solutions that seem to lack fundamental understanding of the problems. From the Mayflower Pilgrims noting their Native guides through to myself in 2002, Wampanoag people have put offerings on the stone in recognition of the sacredness of the place. But since it was moved to a new location, I have had no reason to stop or make offerings. When the stone was moved, what was lost is lost forever. 

The pine barrens in southeastern Massachusetts are under a similar threat from developments, but more so from sand and gravel mining, real estate, and so-called “green” energy development. The unique environment of the pine barrens has been formed over thousands of years; the delicate balance of the ecosystem includes the smaller plants, the animals, and the chemistry of the soil. The sand serves as a filter for the groundwater underneath. This aquifer serves as drinking water for residents, something that is irreplaceable.

Water is the foundation of all life, from the grasses up to the trees and the birds that live in the branches, and us, human beings. But the great lie of corporate personhood has created an abomination, the idea that a company can have legal standing as if it were a living, breathing person. But the corporation does not breathe, it does not love, and it does not need food or water. Its only sustenance is the bottom line. 

Today in America, we have two classes of people: the lower class human person, and the elevated class of the corporate “person,” who has more rights and less accountability. Often the extracted resources are exported and the profits from investments rarely stay in the zip codes—if even the nation—they are extracted from. If, for example, the groundwater for the townspeople gets ruined, it may even be seen as an opportunity for corporate interests to maximize profits with solutions like selling bottles of drinking water, as we have seen for years in locations like Flint, Michigan, or Navajo reservations. But for the townspeople who gain no benefit from those profits, once the water is gone, it's gone. When it is lost, it is lost forever.