Metro, News

Marching, Pokanoket demand U. return land

Negotiations between U., tribe stalled due to disagreement over various tribal claims to land

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Members and supporters of the Pokanoket Nation marched Tuesday from Brown Street Park to the University demanding the reclamation of University-owned property in Bristol. Approximately 40 people attended the march and chanted next to the Van Wickle Gates as first-years entered for convocation. The protest comes two weeks after the Pokanoket established an encampment, Po Metacom Camp, at the disputed land in Bristol. The site is considered the tribe’s holy ground as the site of the beheading of the Pokanoket chief Metacomet, whose English name was King Philip, in 1676. The land was donated to the University by the Haffenreffer family, which acquired the land in 1903 to use as a summer home, according to the Haffenreffer Museum’s website.

The march was organized to “make a statement,” said Harry “The Hawk” Quanunon Edmonds, sachem of the Pokanoket Nation. “We want our sacred land back.”

Some Brown current and former students marched alongside the Pokanoket, including members of the Fighting Against Natural Gas — or FANG — Collective, which has helped to advocate for the tribe.

In a letter to Sagamore Po Wauipi Neimpaug of the Pokanoket Nation published online, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 said plans to resolve the dispute “will not and cannot initiate while the current encampment is ongoing” but that the University will solidify its plans after the encampment is completely cleared.

The University submitted a proposal to the tribe, which would offer to complete a “cultural and environmental resource survey” and commit to work with “all Native peoples … with an interest and stake in the past, present and future of the Bristol property.”

Negotiations have been stalled due to a disagreement on whether other tribes in the area also have claims to the contested property, Neimpaug said.

In a statement published online, the University wrote that it “does not find ethical or acceptable” that the Pokanoket Nation “refuses to recognize” that several Wampanoag tribes, which are federally recognized and also native to the area, and the Narragansett Indian Tribe also consider the land as sacred.

The Pokanoket Nation “is not recognized by the other federally recognized Wampanoag communities,” wrote the Steering Committee of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative in a community-wide email Aug. 24.

But Neimpaug said that Pokanoket identity was criminalized and punishable by death during King Philip’s War in the 1670s. So Pokanoket tribe members thus referred to themselves as Wampanoag to avoid punishment, he added.

The University “recognizes that these lands were historically Pokanoket” and “that after King Philip’s War people from the Pokanokets were dispersed among several other Native tribes,” wrote Director of News and Editorial Development Brian Clark in an email to The Herald. The University has given other tribes access to the Bristol property as well, in addition to the Pokanoket. “There is no dispute that this site holds great significance for a number of native and indigenous peoples,” Clark wrote.

The NAIS also emphasized that “the Pokanoket Tribe is not recognized by the federal government or the state.” Neimpaug said the Pokanoket does not seek federal recognition, viewing its entering under the U.S. government’s jurisdiction as a loss of their rights.

The Bristol property houses the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s Collections Research Center. “Some of the things that are in that museum belong to my people,” Neimpaug said. The museum’s collection includes artifacts that were part of an exhibit on King Philip, he added.

Every year, the Pokanoket perform many sacred ceremonies, such as the Strawberry Thanksgiving and a cultural summer camp on the land, but “we don’t feel as though we should be asking (Brown) permission” to do so, Neimpaug said.