Indigenous sovereignty + Environmental Justice

The Cape’s Conflict with Clean Energy

Commercial energy development on Cape Cod threatens the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe’s sovereignty.

Michaela Morris

July 25, 2023

Located behind a hip-high picket fence off the winding and cracked Gibbs Pond Road, the Onset VFW includes a small gazebo, a stretch of grassy land used for parking (or, occasionally, food trucks), and the John Best Cruz Sr. Pavilion. Often, the site hosts benefit concerts, bingo, and holiday parties. But on the afternoon of July 31, 2021, the VFW hosted the “Honoring the Land” rally. 

Poised behind a microphone at the front of the pavilion, Chairwoman of the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe Melissa Ferretti delivered the opening remarks. “We have called this land home for thousands of years,” she said. “Our ancestors are buried here and our descendants can still be found here today.” Onlookers perched on picnic benches and stood in loose circles. Several held up their phones, recording her words. 

“We have called this land home for thousands of years,” she said.

The rally responded to proposed solar farm developments on Cape Cod. Most recently, Borrego Solar and A.D. Makepeace––a Massachusetts-based industrial cranberry grower––had submitted a proposal for a 42-acre solar farm at 27 Charge Pond Road, a 76-acre solar farm at 140 Tihonet Road, and a 49-acre solar farm at 150 Tihonet Road in Wareham, MA. The event galvanized opposition against these industrial-scale solar projects. 

In her opening remarks, Chairwoman Ferretti went on to recall her childhood. She reminisced about her elders’ deep knowledge of plants, animals, and the land. Growing up, she said, she remembered eating venison and hare more often than chicken and beans. “My elders used to call this living off the fat of the land,” she said. “Imagine how heartbreaking it was for [them] to watch the land they loved and relied upon to be forced into sale, destroyed, and assaulted over and over again. When is enough enough?”

scales - Logo for The [F]law

To combat the climate crisis, large scale development and implementation of clean energy infrastructure is required. “A stepwise approach is no longer an option,” the United Nations Environment Programme stated in its latest climate report, published on October 27, 2022. “We need system-wide transformation.” This system-wide transformation requires major and rapid changes to the power sector: the energy supply system accounts for 42% of global greenhouse gas emissions, ranking as the top global emissions contributor. 

The United States––on both a state and national level––has taken action to retool its energy system. On August 16, 2022, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law. The Act provides $750 billion for energy, healthcare, and tax reforms, with $369 billion earmarked for climate solutions. Its clean energy provisions employ a system of tax incentives, grants, and other funding mechanisms to spur investment in renewables.