It is unfortunate that members of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe are subject to harassment while exercising their rights to fish outside of state regulations. Tribe members deserve their rights, given the history of their people.
But there is more to it, as David Weeden and Michael Frye explained to our reporter last week. It’s not simply about status or special treatment; it’s about deep cultural roots and identity.
Fishing, hunting and foraging, Mr. Weeden said, are inseparable from Native American culture and religion.
Mr. Frye struck deeper into the issue. “People are taught growing up that we don’t exist anymore; then, when they see a native, it’s on TV, the Midwestern-looking native.” Aboriginal rights are recognition of existence as a people.
These are issues that deserve empathetic consideration by non-natives.
But we hope that tribe members are aware of another element that probably is in play in incidents of harassment.
Marcus Hendricks, in our story last week, recalled an incident in which he was harassed while fishing for striped bass on the Canal. Striped bass are sometimes the subject of conflict among non-natives, as well. Some recreational fishermen argue bitterly that there should be no commercial exploitation of the fish. There are, quite simply, not enough of them.
River herring too are the center of controversy at times. It took a political battle to ban trawlers from fishing for herring within 12 miles of the coast. And if a fisherman nets a herring from a run to use as bait, he risks getting yelled at, Native American or not.
Sometimes it’s about the fish, not the fishermen.
Striped bass are overfished. The populations of river herring have been decimated. This, of course, was not caused by Native Americans; it was non-natives who let greed get the better of them and created the problem.
But at the end of the day there is a reality to contend with. Too many fish are dying, and we all need to acknowledge that.