Letters to the Editor, Opinions

Letter: Pokanoket land

By
Tuesday, September 5, 2017

To the Editor:

As a Brown University graduate, I am appealing to President Christina Paxson P’19 and Brown’s leadership/administration to return the 375 acres they currently “own” in Bristol to the Pokanoket tribe. (This land was donated to Brown by the Haffenreffer family in the 1950s, according to a University statement).

Brown has long been touted as one of the “most liberal” of the Ivy League schools. As such, one would think that their sensibilities would lead them toward returning this land to the Pokanokets. In the past, Brown has advocated for social justice and civil rights. One might also think that such a school would be in favor of returning ancestral lands to an indigenous tribe that suffered so greatly under the yoke of imperialist settler colonialism. About 375 acres of land is presumably a drop in the bucket for a university with a $3.2 billion endowment.

In a letter to the Brown community on behalf of their Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative, the University requested that students and faculty not share anything from the FANG (Fighting Against Natural Gas) Collective — a group partnered with the Pokanokets — such as sponsored petitions, fundraising drives or materials, and that people ask the University “any questions you may have before sharing out information.” This sounds like a patronizing attempt to sanitize or censor any information that the Pokanoket tribe wishes to disseminate in their efforts to reclaim their ancestral land.

Also in that letter, the University states, “There is a delicate yet important technical difference between holding Native ancestry and holding nation status, and that is at the heart of the issue here.” The University never goes on to explain exactly what this “delicate yet important technical difference” is. This appears to be an attempt to delegitimize the blood history of the Pokanokets, thereby abrogating their claim to their ancestral lands.

I am certainly grateful to Brown for providing me with a scholarship to earn my master’s degree, and I applaud their efforts to provide scholarships to students of lower socioeconomic status. I also hope that Brown does the right thing, recognizes the legitimacy of the Pokanoket’s claim and returns the land to its rightful stewards.

David Andrews MA’12