News, University News

Pokanoket Nation forms encampment on University land in Bristol

In efforts to repatriate ancestral lands from the University, indigenous tribe gathers peacefully

Science & Research Editor
Monday, August 21, 2017

Updated on August 21 at 10:40 p.m.

People of the Pokanoket Nation and allies joined together in Bristol Sunday afternoon to establish an encampment at Potumtuk, or Mount Hope, in a call for repatriation of the land from the University. The “long term encampment” follows legal action taken by the Pokanoket Tribe against the town of Bristol and the state of Rhode Island, according to a press release from the Fang Collective, an organization involved with the peaceful protest.

“We would like to sit down with Brown University, right here on this property, and break bread with them and talk about the repatriation of our land back to the stewards of the land, the original people who were here,” said Sagamore William (Po Wauipi Neimpaug) of the Guy Pokanoket Tribe/Pokanoket Nation in a Facebook live video hosted by the Fang Collective that showed the encampment on Sunday. “We’ve done everything possible to engage the powers, and they just don’t want to talk to us, so this is the next step.”


The University’s 402.92 acres in Bristol are valued by the city at $46,224,200, as of 2015 figures from the city’s public records. In a press release Sunday, the University reinforced its claim of ownership over the land, which houses the Haffenreffer Museum of Archaeology’s Collections Research Center and was largely donated in pieces by the Haffenreffer family. An update to the statement Monday morning noted the University’s recent involvement in a ceremony in which other indigenous groups “reburied human remains and funerary objects repatriated from the Haffenreffer Museum’s collection, as well as from other museums.”

The property ownership was legally transferred to Brown, and the University has been a positive steward of the land,” according to the University press release. “Brown has maintained clear legal title for more than 60 years.”

The Fang Collective’s press release presents a contrasting version of events, noting that the Pokanoket Tribe hopes to counter continued neglect of the land and restore its previous flourishing that benefitted its wildlife and inhabitants. “The Pokanoket Tribe are the people who welcomed the Pilgrims, who were seeking religious freedom, to this country. Yet the Pokanoket cannot practice their own spiritual and cultural traditions without having to ask permission to gain access to their own ancestral lands,” the press release continued.

“Given the tremendous historical and cultural importance of the Mount Hope area, the Haffenreffer Museum staff and Brown University have long valued their relationships with local Native American communities,” said the University’s press release.

Our understanding is that tenants of the land are able to come and go,” wrote Cass Cliatt, vice president for communications, in an email to The Herald. “The University believes strongly that our focus should be productive conversations with the Pokanoket,” she wrote, adding that as of Monday morning, the University had not spoken with anyone taking part in the encampment.

The Facebook live video, which received more 40,000 views, requested supplies to sustain the encampment. “They’ve acted as though we are an invisible people, so this is the only means open to us,” William said.

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  1. Does the Nation not know that Brown has only had the land for the last 60 years and that the land was legally donated to Brown? They are barking up the wrong tree here.

    • Robert Mathiesen says:

      It’s likely that the Pokanokets do know all about that donation 60 years ago. They seem to be arguing that the European settler who first claimed that piece of land had a defective title to it, or no title at all. Such an original lack or defect of title, of course, would presumably endure over the centuries as the land passed into the hands of others, down to the Haffenreffers and finally to Brown.

      • Then they should be taking this up with the town of Bristol or Providence, not Brown. The land could not have been bought and sold many times over the last several hundred years without proper title, especially the last hundred years in a title search.

        • Robert Mathiesen says:

          Hogwash, rick131! Defects in titlle orginating in the 1600s, or even the 1700s, are not detected in the usual sort of title search carried out these days. In this particular case, the title search would have to begin with the records of Plymouth Colony up to 1691, then with the records of Massachusetts Bay colony up to 1746, and finally within Rhode island land title records only from 1747 onward. Nor does the mere passage of time erase such legal problems under all circumstances, to the best of my layman’s knowledge. There are also other factors that bear on such a case as this one, though here is not the place to go into them in depth. — And since Brown presently claims ownership of the land in question, Brown will have to be deeply involved one way or another.

          • Hogwash Robert. It is not the current owners responsibility to prove anything. What about all the surrounding land? They can claim the whole state. You better be careful or the Native Americans can claim your house too.

          • Robert Mathiesen says:

            Are you seriously saying that no matter how sound the legal basis of their claim might be, none of that should matter if it comes down to taking your property, or mione, from its current owners??? Because it’s really sounding as though you’re arguing that possession is ten tenths of the law …

  2. Calling all social justice warriors…give any piece of land you own here in North America back to the rightful owners. No excuses!

  3. Ron Ruggieri says:

    I can’t imagine any democratic socialist judge ( not yet possible in capitalist America ) deciding who is more worthy of this private property in land – the fourth or fifth generation of swindling Yankee capitalists or the now corrupted – very CAPITALIST minded – fourth or fifth generation of the Pokanokets.

    The uncorrupted Native Americans had no concept of exploitable private property in land. They believed it was a gift to all of the Great Spirit.

    What is so original Native American about building casinos – about gambling while drunk on ” fire water ” ? A future high court ruling in socialist America : Neither Brown University nor the Pokanokets are rightful and legitimate owners of this land – which is now COMMUNALIZED in honor of the Great Spirit. WE gave it back to HIM ! Or HER !

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