Randy and Bella Noka are two tribal members who will be at Monday’s Narragansett Town Council meeting. They spoke with South County Bureau Reporter Alex Nunes at the Charlestown Breachway about the significance the shore holds for them.RANDY NOKA: Certainly there's a different realm coming here, and breathing this air, and listening to the surf. It's a refreshing awakening. Everything about it–it brings a different feel. It opens your eyes and minds and heart more.

BELLA NOKA: Having access to the ocean has always healed us. It's a place where you go for that. It's medicine. It's our native, traditional medicine.

ALEX NUNES: Right now the tribe doesn't own any, or hold any shoreline adjacent lands. So if you do want to come to the shore, you have to go to areas where you can get access. So you have to pay to get access, like at a town beach or a state beach. Given the significance that this holds to you and has held for your people for so long, what do you think of that?

BELLA NOKA: I don't care for paying to get and gain access to Grandfather Ocean. This is where we were placed. This is who we are. This is our way. It's natural to go to a place that does our healing. I don't know of many people who pay to get into their church, or their mosque, or their temples. I don't know anyone who pays to get into a place that they worship. This is our way. This is the indigenous and aboriginal way of our people. Who is to violate that way? And I believe that those people who have and continue to are being exposed for this behavior.

ALEX NUNES: There's been a lot of activism in the last few years around shoreline access, broadly, and you've gotten involved with that. What's that experience been like to see more people become interested and involved in this cause?

BELLA NOKA: Well, I find it interesting, because people don't realize what they have until they lose it, or [are] on the verge of losing it. And many people have moved in and have changed their way of living. And now they're feeling the blunt force of what has happened to us for so long. And they're understanding a little better.

RANDY NOKA: People's eyes are open for different reasons now. But the arrogance of someone who says, “Oh, I own to the ocean. I own to the shore and beyond.” It’s like, “I own up to the sky.” That concept of ownership and “Don't come near my property or you're trespassing”: What makes a person have that mindset, that feeling, that entitlement? What makes people think that they're so much better than someone else that they can own anything just by looking at it?

ALEX NUNES: I guess those people say, you know, “I've purchased this land, so I can do that if I choose.” What do you think of that response? I mean, that's what people have said.

RANDY NOKA: Well, purchasing, and certainly we have our property and all and, yes, how this country, if you will, or the world has evolved–there's properties, and taxes, and whatever. But it stops somewhere. It doesn't go out to the shoreline and beyond into the water however their deeds might be. It doesn't extend that far. At least something has to be available to everyone, certainly as we're working on for the Narragansett people and other native nations.

BELLA NOKA: We predate their deeds. This is our way, and you are violating your very own Constitution when you don't allow us our freedom of religious practice, our rights to pursue the pursuit of happiness. You are violating all of what you say. So does it just apply to few and not to all, not to the indigenous people of this land? We are the aboriginal people of Rhode Island, and we have a right to be in connected with our creation, to practice our ceremonies. For those who are going out there and saying, “You cannot enjoy the freedom of Grandfather Ocean that connects to Mother Earth, you cannot enjoy that”–then there's a violation in the pursuit of that happiness, and that freedom, and the medicinal purposes that come from the two joining each other. We also need to go between these little fire districts and these little protected preserves, and find out what exactly are they preserving? Because all it is is a protection of land so that people don't build next to them. And the reason why they are in place is because they have political favors and influential friends that protect their land. And this is because of M-O-N-E-Y. And that is what they know. And that is what they love. And no matter what it is, they will sell their soul for that. And that is something we don't do.

ALEX NUNES: What was your reaction when you heard that the town of Narragansett was considering waiving access to Narragansett Town Beach for tribal members?

RANDY NOKA: Certainly, there's not many moments or points that one could identify that says, “Oh, yeah, this was done for the tribe.” No, it's usually done to the tribe, done against the tribe. You know, it's more than just fees being waived that shouldn't have been applied anyways. It's an understanding, a moment of reflection of historically what's been done. They're finally going to do something right. It shouldn't be necessary, but it is. So they're doing something right.

ALEX NUNES: Bella and Randy Noka, thanks very much for speaking with me.

BELLA NOKA: Thank you. Taûbotne. 

RANDY NOKA: Thank you.

Alex Nunes can be reached at anunes@thepublicsradio.org