I am pleased to share that Brown has established an official land acknowledgment as part of a set of five commitments the University is adopting to build a better understanding of the relationship between our campus community, the Indigenous peoples of this region, and the land on which Brown is situated.
The land acknowledgement recognizes and honors the fact that the University is located within the ancestral homelands of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. Acknowledging this fact, and committing to a set of actions to educate our community and support broader engagement with the tribe and other Indigenous peoples of the region, is critical to understanding our shared history and developing strong relationships.
The commitments arise from a year-long exploration led by the Land Acknowledgement Working Group (LAWG) I charged in March 2021. Their work included delving into bodies of scholarship, knowledge-building with members of our community and learning directly from the Narragansett Indian Tribe. The deep reflection and historical context that accompanied the LAWG recommendations laid the groundwork for the important work we’ll do as a community to establish a foundation for strengthening relationships with the Narragansett Tribe and Indigenous peoples of this region.
Brown will take the following actions as we engage in continued dialogue with local Native and Indigenous peoples and across our community:
--Commitment 1. The University will adopt the official land acknowledgment statement developed by the Land Acknowledgment Working Group and supported by the Narragansett Indian Tribe. Education and guidance for its use will be provided to the community on a land acknowledgment website, and members of the Brown community are strongly encouraged to follow this guidance when they choose to use a land acknowledgment.
Official Land Acknowledgment: “Brown University is located in Providence, Rhode Island, on lands that are within the ancestral homelands of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. We acknowledge that beginning with colonization and continuing for centuries the Narragansett Indian Tribe have been dispossessed of most of their ancestral lands in Rhode Island by the actions of individuals and institutions. We acknowledge our responsibility to understand and respond to those actions. The Narragansett Indian Tribe, whose ancestors stewarded these lands with great care, continues as a sovereign nation today. We commit to working together to honor our past and build our future with truth.”
This land acknowledgment statement relates to the Brown University campus in Providence and therefore would be used most often at the beginning of events and gatherings held in Providence. However, we are not establishing a specific requirement for when it would be used, but rather providing it to the community with the principled expectation that it be used and read in a manner that is respectful and in honor of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, who have called Providence home for centuries and continue to do so today.
--Commitment 2. The University will commission and support new original scholarship regarding the origins and founding of Brown University and its relationships to the Indigenous peoples in and around what is now southern New England. Recognizing the preliminary nature of the Land Acknowledgment Working Group’s findings, new scholarship commissioned by the University will include collaboration between Indigenous peoples of the region and the John Carter Brown Library, the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative and other academic units at Brown.
--Commitment 3. The University will establish a working group to work closely with the Narragansett Indian Tribe to explore how Brown can effectively honor and memorialize its College Hill location as part of the homeland of the Narragansett people.
--Commitment 4. The University will support increased educational opportunities and access for youth of the Narragansett Indian Tribe and other tribal youth from New England. To advance this work, Brown will establish a working group in Fall 2022 to coordinate efforts around existing initiatives, including [email protected], Brown Summer High School, the College Access initiative, and other programs.
--Commitment 5. The University will increase investment in the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISI) and the Native Americans at Brown (NAB) student organization. This will include building support for the new NAISI faculty director and the Critical Native American and Indigenous Studies undergraduate concentration, a new offering as of the Fall 2022 semester. This also will include establishing a residential program house in the 2022-23 academic year that centers on community building for Native and Indigenous students and those with an interest in Native and Indigenous studies and the historical and contemporary experiences of Indigenous peoples (this work is underway).
These commitments will move forward through the University’s established governance processes and/or under the guidance of groups identified to act on their implementation. For the land acknowledgment, community members may begin using it immediately if they choose, and an initial website with guidance for its use is live on the brown.edu website as of today:
It’s important to note that the commitments we will pursue as a University arose from a thoughtful process of outreach and engagement. Beginning in February 2022, the recommendations of the LAWG were shared first with the Narragansett Indian Tribe (after the LAWG met previously with the Narragansett Tribal Medicine Man and Historic Preservation Officer to help build understanding of the tribe and their relationship to the land), and then with other Indigenous peoples in the region.
In addition to the Narragansett, the University shared the recommendations with more than a dozen representatives from local tribal communities. Following this outreach, the Brown campus community was provided with an extended opportunity for feedback and input over the course of the Spring 2022 semester, including a presentation and discussion at the April Brown University Community Council meeting. Faculty, students and staff strongly supported the recommendations. Comments focused on support for the land acknowledgment, as well as support for new investments in Native and Indigenous studies and Indigenous students, and further education of the Brown community.
The five commitments the University is adopting provide a framework and process for moving toward implementation of the goals at the core of the LAWG’s recommendations.
Pursuing the commitments is the beginning of a process of learning and relationship-building with the Narragansett Tribe and other Indigenous peoples in the region. Beyond the existing commitments of support and education, the new research and scholarship the University commissions may lead to new actions as we build deeper understanding of disparate and connecting histories.
I again want to thank the members of the Land Acknowledgment Working Group as they conclude their work and we move to a new phase of this important effort. I also appreciate the many faculty, staff and students who participated in campus discussions and provided feedback in recent months.
I am excited to begin efforts over the summer to establish a framework for advancing Brown’s commitments. I look forward to the work we’ll do together as a community in the months and years ahead.
Christina H. Paxson