Bristol, RI – The federally unrecognized indigenous Pokanoket Nation, along with other tribes and their allies, have taken direct action to repatriate land that they say was stolen from them during colonial warfare over 300 years ago.
The Pokanoket were the first to welcome Puritan colonists to the continent with open arms, but later responded to settlers’ encroachments by waging what is now known as Metacomet’s War or the King Philip’s War, in which they repeatedly bested colonial forces but were eventually defeated.
The land, which is currently claimed as Brown University property, is the site where Metacomet, the spiritual and political leader of the Pokanoket during King Philip’s war, was executed (and his body quartered) by European colonists.
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In the wake of the violent subjugation of the Pokanoket by colonists, it was made punishable by death for any male over the age of fourteen to say out loud that he belonged to the Pokanoket. Metacomet’s family was also sold into slavery, although his children did eventually escape to continue his lineage, which can be traced directly to the living Sagamore William (Po Wauipi Neimpaug) who is leading the reclamation of the land containing several of his people’s ancient sacred sites.
Brown University has allowed ceremonies to be held in the area but has been ignoring recent legal filings by the Pokanoket. The filings assert that the land belongs to the Pokanoket and that there exists no deed showing the nation had ever sold or gave the land to Brown, or that the previous owners who sold to Brown had ever legitimately acquired the land from the Pokanoket. This conflict was exacerbated recently when Brown staff took down a Pokanoket flag that had been raised on a flagpole on the property.
As of Sunday August 20, a group consisting of about 100 Pokanoket tribespeople, supporters from other tribes, and non-indigenous allies had started an encampment to enforce the repatriation of the land to its original inhabitants.
In interviews with Unicorn Riot, Tribal leaders spearheading the land reclamation effort told us Sunday afternoon why they thought this was an important action to take to preserve the history and future of their sovereign aboriginal nations.
A press release from the Pokanoket nation articulated their claim to the land and their motivations for reclaiming it from Brown Unversity:
The Pokanoket Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation, the Headship Tribe of the largest Aboriginal Nation in Colonial time, has reclaimed their land right at Potumtuk (lookout of Pokanoket) the seat of the massasoit to repatriate lands that were illegally taken from the rightful ownership and control of the Pokanoket Tribe for the past 371 years.
Brown University does not have an Aboriginal Title to the land, given that King Philip’s ancestral line has never signed over their right to the land. The tribe has used the law and legal avenues to to make known their legal standing and rightful land ownership of the Pokanoket Nation. Response to their communications have been delayed for too long.
In 2015 the Pokanoket Tribe raised the Pokonoket Flag declaring their right to the land. The Tribe has a lawsuit seeking pending against the town of Bristol and the State of Rhode Island and has recorded Public and Constructive Notices to tho the town of Bristol.
As a result of the ongoing neglect of the environmental needs of Sowams and due to the Tribe’s historic significance to and aboriginal relationship with the land, the Pokanoket tribe is taking the lead to ensure that Sowams is properly reconstituted to its pristine, healthy and productive environmental state, creating a sustainable habitat for the local wildlife and surrounding local community.
A statement released by Brown does not address the historical or legal claims of the Pokanoket to the land, repeating only that it has owned the property for more than sixty years after buying it from a family in the 1950s.
Brown University owns land in Bristol, Rhode Island, that is currently the site of an encampment set up by the Bristol-based Pokanoket Nation during the early evening of Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.
The University upholds the rights of individuals to assemble peaceably to express their views, provided that their actions do not infringe upon the rights of others — including the free exchange of ideas — or interfere with the rights of others to take part in the activities of Brown’s academic community and campus life. Our interest is in the safety of those assembled.
Brown owns approximately 375 acres of land in Bristol, which was donated in parcels over time to the University by the Haffenreffer family beginning in the 1950s. The property ownership was legally transferred to Brown, and the University has been a positive steward of the land. Brown has maintained clear legal title for more than 60 years. – Brown statement on Pokanoket Nation encampment
Later on Sunday afternoon, both Bristol Police and Brown University Police detectives had arrived on the scene but left after conversations with tribal leaders about why they were there. It is unclear if Brown will request police removal of the Pokanoket and their supporters from the cultural heritage site; those now occupying the land say they have no intention of leaving.
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