University News

Legal claims cloud University, Pokanoket encampent dispute

U. proposed to consult with indigenous groups on condition that land be broken up

Science and Research Editor
Sunday, September 17, 2017

Since the Pokanoket Tribe began an encampment on University-owned property in August, contradictory claims to the land have clouded communications between the two entities, surfacing layers of complex ancestries and historical legal acts.

The University offered a plan Aug. 30 to Pokanoket leaders outlining a timeline to work toward an agreement with the Pokanoket encampment. Leaders there rejected the proposal the next day.

In the proposal, the University suggested a 12 to 18 month process during which it would consult with stakeholders, including indigenous groups with ties to the contested land, the city of Bristol and the state of Rhode Island. The University also offered to fund a study investigating the oral history, geography and archeological and historical significance of the land. The plan rested on the condition that the encampment is broken up.

University researchers from the Steering Committee of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative at the University released a statement to the encampment Aug. 24 casting doubt on the indigenous ancestry and status of the Pokanoket Tribe.

In a Sept. 6 post on the Po Metacom Camp Facebook page, Sagamore Po Wauipi Neimpaug noted that communications from Brown to its students “are forcing the Pokanoket Tribe to reassess Brown University’s good faith commitment.”


The sagamore of the Pokanoket spoke about his ancestry in a video posted to the camp’s Facebook page Sept. 25, stating that his ninth-generation grandfather was King Philip, or Metacom, the leader of the Pokanoket. King Philip, for whom King Philip’s War was named, was murdered on the contested land.

The NAISI Steering Committee’s statement acknowledges that members of the tribe may have native ancestry, but notes that records used by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe — a federally recognized nation — indicate that the Pokanoket Tribe became part of the Mashpee community following King Philip’s War.

In a statement released Sept. 25 on behalf of the Council of the Pokanoket Tribe, Sagamore Po Wauipi Neimpaug recounted the Pokanoket Tribe’s lineage through “rigidly kept oral tradition” passed along through generations of his family. He stated that after King Philip’s War, members of the Pokanoket Tribe became recognized as Shetucket Indians and part of the Seekonk Indian Tribe. “The Pokanoket Tribe has very few bloodline ties to the Mashpee,” he wrote. “This is who we are as a people.”

Neesu Wushuwunoag, director general of the Federation of Aboriginal Nations of America and Ponham Sachem of the Mashapaug Nahaganset Tribe, felt insulted by the NIASI Steering Committee’s statement. “That’s a very colonial mindstate to have that you get to decide who the Indians are or are not when our bloodlines speak for themselves,” he said. “You’re not going to tell me I’m not who I am.”

The tribe belongs to an association that requires evidence of aboriginal ancestry. In a letter to the general public and Brown community, Wushuwunoag wrote on behalf of FANA that member nations of the organization must “demonstrate a lineage and heritage that predates the occupation of the United States government in their ancestral lands.”

Despite these contentions, the Pokanoket have not received recognition from the state. A resolution introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly’s January 2007 session stated that “This General Assembly of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations hereby formally recognizes the Pokanoket Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation.” The resolution did not pass, but was held for further study.

Legal Action

Like the state of Rhode Island, the federal government does not recognize the Pokanoket Tribe. The NAISI Steering Committee’s statement noted that without federal recognition, the Pokanoket Tribe would not have the ability to place the contested land in a federal trust, a shift which allows for the operation of Native American reservations.

Other land claims have been made by indigenous groups in the area. In 2005, a case in Rhode Island District Court addressed a claim for land in the northern part of the state made by the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe based on aboriginal title, according to court documents. The case was dismissed because of the Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act. The Act extinguished all aboriginal titles to land in Rhode Island and approved previous transfers of state land “from, by, or on behalf of any Indian, Indian Nation, or Tribe of Indians” as lawful when it was signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

The Pokanoket are not seeking federal recognition, or the establishment of a federal trust — the group created their own Tribal Trust under the guidelines of the International Hague Trust Convention, Wushuwunoag said. No parties rebutted the Tribe’s official notice, he added.

To Wushuwunoag, the relationship between the University and the Pokanoket Tribe is “an international relationship,” he said. “It’s an eye-to-eye, nation-to-nation relationship, and it all comes down to who was here first.”

The International Hague Trust Convention, which took place in 1985, addressed law applicable to trusts and how trusts are recognized. The United States is a signatory to the treaty, but has not ratified it, according to the Hague Conference on Private International Law website. The treaty has not entered into force in the United States.

The FANG Collective, which has publicized Po Metcom Camp since it began Aug. 20, responded to the NAISI Steering Committee’s message with its own statement Aug. 25. FANG voiced its support for the search for sovereignty on the part of indigenous groups regardless of federal recognition and noted the right to self-determination defined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2007, at which time the United States was one of four votes against. The United States is now in support of the Declaration, according to the U.N. website, but the Declaration is not legally binding.

Standing Firm

The University has emphasized the importance of strong relationships with all indigenous communities in the area in its communications. The NAISI Steering Committee’s statement noted that organizations including the FANG Collective “jumped into supporting and orchestrating the cause without reaching out to Aquinnah, Mashpee, Assonet, Herring Pond Wampanoag or Narragansett” groups.

The FANG Collective said in a statement that it had reached out to several indigenous nations in the Northeast to discuss possible effects of infrastructure projects, but did not specifically address their communications surrounding this land claim by the Pokanoket Tribe.

The message from the NAISI Steering Committee asked students to refrain from sharing any materials from the FANG Collective on social media and encouraged that they reach out to NAISI faculty before sharing information.

In the University’s Aug. 31 statement, it reaffirmed its commitment to “work earnestly to engage the Pokanokets and local Native tribes” and noted its desire to reach an agreement without disrupting the University’s instruction and research.

The Pokanoket encampment will continue, Wushuwunoag said, until Brown “does the right thing.”

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  1. Paul R. Jones says:

    Brown is being buffaloed by a Pokanoket Tribe fraud upon the United States Constitution! The worst part about this fraud is…Brown is buying it…even more worst that buying this fraud is the Brown attorney’s who are Constitutionally naïve.

    The United States Constitution makes for no provisions for:

    1. Indian sovereign nations. None of the asserted tribes possess any of the attributes of being a ‘sovereign nation:’ a. No U.S. Constitution recognition b. No international recognition c. No fixed borders d. No military e. No currency f. No postal system g. No passports h. et al

    2. Treaties with its own constituency

    3. Indian reservations whereby a select group of U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” reside exclusively and to the exclusion of all others, on land-with rare exception-that is owned by the People of the United States
    according to federal documents readily available on-line that notes rights of renters as ‘occupancy and use’ by these distinguished U.S./State citizens with “Indian ancestry/race” only with the land owned by the People of the United States.

    4. Recognition of ‘Indian citizenship’ asserted by various tribes. There is no international/U.S. Constitution
    recognition of “Indian citizenship” as there is no ‘nation-state’ from which citizenship is derived.

    A simple question for politicians and MSM to answer…a question so simple, it is hard:

    “Where is the proclamation ratified by the voters of the United States that amends the Constitution to make the health, welfare, safety and benefits of a select group of U.S./State citizens distinguishable because of their “Indian

  2. Blah, blah, blah. More legal speak and high falutin ‘ babble to justify the continued oppression of Native people. It’s amazing to watch an institution of social justice warfare and their philosophical adherants try to slither their way out of this one.

  3. No one at Brown–professors, students or administrators–is facing the clear problems that Brown is facing Brown is becoming increasingly irrelevant

    Boiling Frogs – Brown in the Era of Disintermediation

    OK, I’ll get to the boiling frogs analogy in a minute. In the meantime, how is Brown subject to disintermediation, and what does recent history tell us about industries where disintermediation has taken place? More importantly, how has Brown (not) positioned itself to deal with potential threats to its existence as a top educational institution?
    When we think about the Internet changing industry, we think of books (Amazon), banks (Quicken), travel (Expedia, Orbitz…), boxed software and advertising (Google).

    Retail stores are becoming increasingly sidelined as Amazon, Ebay and others are encroaching on their turf. Meanwhile, the healthcare industry and universities are facing wrenching pressure to change how they deliver their products.

    These trends seem far from the ivied halls of Brown. What characteristics do disintermediated businesses have in common? Many of us associated with Brown will recognize the signs that Brown administrators and faculty fail to acknowledge.

    Comfort in bricks and mortar. It’s somehow comforting to walk among buildings that were first occupied 200 years ago. Impressive libraries, medical schools and dorm buildings convey a sense of permanency.

    Banks once built impressive structures. Here in San Francisco, they’ve been converted to restaurants, antique malls and retail stores.

    A focus on the trivial. The best example of this is Christina Paxson’s “strategic plan.” Rather than focus on the big issues of “how do we teach, how much do we charge, and where do our students come from,” she focuses on community relations, nips and tucks in the graduate schools, and politically correct repositioning.

    This is similar to Barnes & Noble focusing on store layouts when Amazon was undermining its core business.

    Unwillingness to gather key data. Core data on Brown’s performance are hard to find. Although it ranks high in what it charges ($67,000 per year for an undergraduate) and what it’s graduates earn once they’re in the workforce (9th overall), it’s mum on yield rate (54%) as compared to Stanford (72%) and Harvard (92%). This suggests that Brown is most students’ second- or third-choice school.

    Blackberry (RIM) and Nokia continued to rely on outdated statistics to claim they were doing better than they were. Both ignored the fact that Apple and Samsung earned 95% of the profits in the mobile handset business.

    Bloated infrastructure. Brown shares this vice with other top schools. Its layer upon layer of additional administrators has not led to a concomitant improvement in the quality of education. There are 281 departments shown on Brown’s web site, ranging from Community & Government Relations to eight departments for Dining Services. There are 4,450 employees at Brown for 8,540 students—that’s less than two students per employee! It’s no wonder that Brown must charge $67,000 per student today.
    General Motors’ laser-like focus on productivity per employee saw it nearly double productivity as it cut its global number of employees to 217,000.

    Lack of customer (student) focus. Christina Paxson’s plan focuses on everything but the primary consumer—students.

    So, as Christina Paxson blithely tells donors to “shut up and give,” Brown is sliding to mediocracy and irrelevance

    Boiling frogs:
    1 Put a frog into a pot of lukewarm water
    2. Slowly heat the water at rate that keeps the frog comfortable.
    3. When the frog realizes that he’s in danger, he’s already boiling.

    Do you as a professor, student or administrator see the downward drift?
    Do you even care?

  4. Brown owns this land. Period. It was legally given to them. This tribe has no claim to the land in 217 and are just being bullies.

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