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Region 1: EPA New England

Narragansett Indian Tribe

Locations and Land Status

The Narragansett Indian Tribe Reservation is located in southern Rhode Island, within the town of Charlestown (Washington County), Rhode Island. The northern boundary of the Reservation is Alton Carolina Road (RI-91), and the southern boundary is Post Road (US-1). The eastern boundaries are Carolina Back Road (RI-112) and South County Trail (RI-2), and the western boundaries are Kings Factory Road and Shumankanuc Road. The Administrative offices are located at 4375-B South County Trail, Charlestown, RI 02813.

The Tribe's land is comprised of land (1,943.50 acres) held in Trust by the Federal Government and fee lands (406.52 acres). Tribal lands are undeveloped with sensitive water resources, which include an EPA designated sole source aquifer and two ponds; Schoolhouse Pond (91 acres) and Deep Pond (18 acres) located in the southern portion of the Reservation; and a 923 acre Atlantic White Cedar wetland, situated in the northern portion of the Reservation. Along with the Trust property, there are 406 acres of fee lands. The total number of Tribal enrollment is 2,615 (January 2007) tribal members, with approximately 871 members residing near Tribal lands.


The Narragansett Indians are descendants of the aboriginal people of present-day Rhode Island. Around 1635, the Narragansett Tribe was comprised of five sub-tribes. Rhode Island founder, Roger Williams, acquired land-use rights to Providence from the Narragansett Sachems (kings). In 1675, English settlers massacred the Narragansett people and confined the survivors to a reservation in southern Rhode Island.

During the 18th century, the colonial government abolished the positions of the five Sachems. Tribal lands were lost to non-Indians through incurred debts. The Tribe clung to 15,000 acres until 1880, when the State of Rhode Island “detribalized” them without federal sanction. To date, the Tribe maintains its traditional, formal, Tribal Government; recognizing Sachems, Medicine men, women and Tribal Council.

In December 1934, the Narragansett Tribe of Indians incorporated under the Indian Reorganization Act. With Federal Recognition, the Narragansett Indian Tribe was able to work towards economic self-sufficiency and cultural revitalization. A Longhouse was constructed in the 1940s to provide a meeting place for tribal members.

In 1975, the Tribe filed suit against the State of Rhode Island and several landowners for return of approximately 3,200 acres of former reservation lands. In 1983, the Tribe received federal recognition and acknowledgement from the Federal Government. The Tribe eventually received 1,800 acres in an out of court settlement. This land was placed in Federal Trust in 1987.

Governing Body

The principal governing body is composed of a Chief Sachem, Medicine Man, Tribal Secretary, Tribal Treasurer, and a nine-member Council. Enrolled tribal members elect this governing body. In addition, the Tribal Government includes several regulatory and oversight boards. These are the Land & Water Resource Commission, Anthropological & Archaeological Commission, Police Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, Economic & Development Commission, Child Welfare Board, Council of Elders, Election Committee, and Permitting Board.

Also, the Tribal Government includes several departments, which are the Education, Finance, Economic Development/Planning, Environmental/Natural Resources, Health and Human Services, Housing, Law Enforcement, Personnel, and Social Services.

Community Planning and Natural Resources Department

Mission Statement

The mission of the Department of Community Planning and Natural Resources is to promote sustainable community development and to protect, restore, maintain and manage the natural and cultural resources and to expand the Tribe's capacity to exercise it sovereign rights, through planning, analysis, education and implementation for the benefit of present and future generations so they will live safer, fuller lives in harmony with their environment and cultural heritage.

The Department of Community Planning and Natural Resources provides coordinated assessment and servicing of the Narragansett Indian Tribal Reservation and Tribal Community. The mission of the department is to promote sustainable community development and ecological functions, and to expand the Tribe's capacity to exercise its sovereign rights, through planning, analysis, education, and implementation. The goals of the department are to develop a sound economic base that will lead the Tribe to a future of self-sufficiency and enable the Tribe to continue providing services if funding from the federal government should decline or cease. The Planning Department develops ways to facilitate economic development and helps to envision future development of the Reservation lands, while being mindful of the need to protect natural resources and traditional Native American values. The Department also works with all other tribal departments to assist in departmental planning and works with Tribal members to assist them in developing the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the creation of businesses.

The Department of Community Planning and Natural Resources carries out many functions of the Narragansett Tribal Community including the following:

Economic and Community Development is to enhance the Tribal Community's quality of life by creating a positive business climate that leads to job creation and the creation, retention and enhancement of existing businesses.

Environmental Protection and Natural Resources Management is committed to protecting the health and welfare of the Tribal culture, Community, and the natural environment by preserving, conserving, restoring, and enhancing the Reservation environment through the collection and analysis of high quality natural resource data and facilitating environmentally sound resource management, planning, policy development, and community outreach. The program is also committed to the protection of the environment and human health on the Narragansett Indian Reservation through management and regulation of use activities. Programs include: indoor and outdoor air quality, non-point source pollution, management and clean-up of solid and hazardous waste, planning for hazardous incident response, emergency response, Hazard Mitigation and Planning, control of invasive species, Safe Drinking Water, wetland protection and regulation, habitat restoration, habitat management, shoreline study, sensitive areas and other natural resources, environmental ordinance and policy development and environmental review. The programs identified are funded through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Geographic Information Services (GIS) is responsible for providing accurate information and assistance to support all Tribal Departments. GIS maintains and creates information to aid in the development of maps and data analysis to support Tribal activities and issues. The program maintains a large database of layers including: zoning, parcels, buildings, roads, realty information, wells, and vegetation, natural and cultural resources. These layers cover the Tribe's Reservation and Fee areas as well as surrounding areas and are continually expanded and updated.

Permitting is the review and inspection of activities occurring on the Reservation to assure that the activities are being carried out in accordance with the Tribe's Ordinances and Regulations. The Department of Community Planning and Natural Resources oversees the Permitting activities along with the Land & Water Resources Commission and Building Officials. Permits include: land-use activities, building & mechanical/plumbing, demolition, Environmental Protection, Hunting, Zoning, and Planned Developments.

Environmental Concerns

Potential environmental problems which threaten the Reservation are potential water pollution of both surface and ground water sources, incremental non-point source pollution from surrounding residential development and Tribal development, long range air pollution, hazardous waste from refrigerators and other items illegally dumped on their land, polluted run-off from highways bordering Tribal lands, lead paint, presence of Radon indoors and biological and chemical contamination of drinking water.


The Tribe's long-term goal is to protect Tribal lands and natural resources for future generations. This can only be accomplished by building Tribal capacity and working closely with partners.

The Tribe's land-use planning is based on the 1986 Land-Use Plan and subsequent Zoning and Development Review Ordinances coupled with a Comprehensive Plan. The Land-Use Plan is based on a land capacity analysis and combined with Tribal adopted Drinking Water Ordinances and ISDS Standards. The plan establishes procedures to protect environmentally sensitive lands, watersheds, flora, fauna and groundwater. The Forest and Water Quality Management Plan also incorporate environmental protection in their formulation.

Natural Resources and Environmental Programs Include:

EPA Performance Partnership Program (PPG): The PPG program is the building block of all EPA grant programs. It is a broad program that is used to build capacity, outlines environmental issues and concerns, provides for testing, and was the framework for the development of the Tribal EPA Agreement with the EPA.

BIA Water Quality Protection Program: The Water Quality Program was established in 1990. Monitoring for baseline data began in coordination with the University of Rhode Island's Watershed Watch Program. Weekly monitoring of surface waters is conducted on the two ponds located within the boundaries of the reservation. Future plans are to expand monitoring to surface waters found outside of the Reservation and to monitor streams within and outside of the Reservation.

Checking water quality
EPA Safe Drinking Water Program: The program began in 1995. In 1989, the Tribe passed its own Drinking Water Regulations. Testing includes nitrates, bacteria, lead, radon and copper. All Tribal facilities are tested monthly, quarterly and yearly. Tribal member homes are tested if there is a need or emergency.

BIA Forestry Management Program: The Forestry Program was established in 1986. The purpose of the program is to maintain the traditional, spiritual and aesthetic values of the forest, provide for watershed protection, conduct silviculture practices, provide recreational use, and limited wood take. Current activities include forest inventory, silviculture management and establishment of CFI plots, wildfire and protection prevention, forest management planning, senior firewood program, and forest fire management.

The Crandall auto salvage yard, which is on tribal land, is being assessed by tribal and R1 solid waste personnel.

BIA Wildlife Parks and Recreation Program: The Wildlife Program began in 1986. The purpose of the program is to protect and manage the fish and wildlife, natural and recreational resources of the Tribe. Current activities include developing environmental regulations; developing a recreational plan, patrol of the reservation, monitoring/maintenance of beach area, grass mowing, boundary signage, and roadway inspections.

EPA Wetland Protection Program: The program was established in 1994. The Natural Resources department formulated a long-term approach to the protection of its critical wetland resources. Over the last several years, the Tribe has conducted wetland boundary delineation, compiled an inventory of the flora and fauna found, and conducted wetland bird survey. Water quality information is needed on the water quality and flow/drainage patterns. Other activities under this program include vernal pool studies and road repair activities in areas where storm-water runoff impacts wetlands.

The Environmental Enforcement Program began in 1999. The Tribe is developing Environmental Protection plans, environmental laws, hunting and fishing regulations with traditional and cultural aspects. The Tribe established two deer check stations. The purpose of the stations is to gather data on age and weight. The Tribe seeks to expand the program to include liver testing and testing for Chronic Wasting Disease. This program was augmented by a grant from the Administration for Native Americans.

Geographic Information Systems Program: The program began in 2000. GIS work is focused on mapping reservation boundaries and all aspects of natural resources and land use on the Reservation. The GIS Mapping Specialist works closely with the Natural Resources and Planning departments.

EPA Lead Program: the Director of the Adult Vocational Training manages the program. The program was established to provide Lead Inspector training to Tribal members. Other activities associated with this program include the Little Moccasins yearly workshop, which highlights lead poisoning prevention education for parents and children, and evaluation of lead-based paint hazards in Tribal homes.

EPA Air Quality Program: The Mercury Testing program was established in 2001 to determine Mercury levels in fish tissue taken from the tribally owned ponds. The next step under this program is to conduct a consumption survey. Before that can be done, a QUAPP must be developed; that task is currently under way.

Natural Resources Conservation Service/RIDEM: Riparian Restoration activities are currently being conducted on tribal lands. The project consists of reintroduction of native plants significant to the area and culturally significant to the tribe and to eradicate invasive plants.

FEMA: Hazard Mitigation planning. The Tribe is in the process of developing a hazard mitigation plan.

Proposed Environmental Programs

Proposed environmental programs include: Air Quality Program, a formal Environmental Education program, non-point source program, recycling program, water-quality standards development, groundwater protection studies, storm water protection management, fish farming and emergency response, and the development of an integrated resource management plan.

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