Date August 31, 2017
Media Contact

Brown statement on proposed agreement with the Pokanoket

Brown University issued this statement on Thursday, Aug. 31, regarding a proposed path toward an agreement to resolve concerns of Pokanokets encamped on University-owned land in Bristol, R.I.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On Wednesday, Aug. 30, Brown University proposed a path forward toward an agreement with the Pokanoket tribe, which established an encampment on Brown-owned property in Bristol, R.I., on Sunday, Aug. 20. On Thursday, Aug. 31, the Pokanokets refused the proposed path forward.

Brown issued the following statement at approximately 4:45 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 31. Previous Brown statements related to the encampment can be viewed here.

Brown Statement on Proposed Path Forward with the Pokanoket

Brown University is committed to a respectful process that resolves the Pokanoket encampment and addresses the future stewardship, conservation, preservation and sustainable access to the Haffenreffer / Mt. Hope property in Bristol, Rhode Island. Toward this end, the University has proposed a plan that respects the interests of the Pokanokets, as well as the interests of the multiple Native peoples with historical connections to Brown’s property.

The University is deeply concerned and saddened that this plan — as well as all efforts and entreaties to work toward an inclusive resolution — has been refused by the Pokanoket, based on their contention that other Native tribes do not have a legitimate interest in or a connection with this land.

The Pokanokets established their encampment on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017. Representatives from Brown met with the Pokanoket leadership on Tuesday, Aug. 22, and were presented with documents that demanded that the University grant them exclusive ownership of the Brown-owned Mt. Hope property. These documents had not been previously sent to Brown, and the Pokanokets have acknowledged publicly that Brown had no previous knowledge of their efforts to work with the State of Rhode Island to secure title to the land. Brown has record title to and ownership of the land, which was donated to the University by the Haffenreffer family beginning in the 1950s. It houses a museum, research center and nature preserve.

The University met again with the Pokanoket leaders on Aug. 28 to better understand their concerns. On Aug. 30, the University presented the Pokanokets with a “Path Forward Principles and Parameters” document. It outlines a proposed process to develop and implement a plan for the Brown property in Bristol that ensures conservation, preservation and sustainable access to Native tribes with ties to the property.

Key aspects of the plan include the following:

  • “a consultative process … that respects the historical interests of the various Native peoples related to this land”;

  • “conservation and preservation of, and sustainable access to, the historically significant and sacred sites on the property in a manner that is beneficial and respectful to the Native peoples that are related to this land, to the University, and to other stakeholders”;
  • “consultation and engagement with all Native peoples with an interest and stake in the past, present and future of the Bristol property,” consistent with principles of open access to Native peoples;
  • “a thorough cultural and environmental resource survey, including oral history, geographical information, and archeological and historical research, of the Bristol property;”
  • development of “consensus recommendations for the future of the property”;
  • Brown’s commitment to provide funding and staff to carry out the process; and
  • an end to the encampment to initiate this process.

Brown is disappointed that the Pokanokets (responding through legal counsel) have asserted that they are not concerned about the claims of other tribes to the land, and that such claims are “totally wrong.” The encamped Pokanokets have proposed another meeting to take place soon, and Brown is committed to further discussions with the hope of reaching agreement about a stewardship approach that is inclusive of the Native peoples that have a historical connection to the Bristol property.

Unfortunately, the modern Pokanoket group refuses to recognize the connection of the other peoples to the land, and that is something Brown does not find ethical or acceptable as owners and stewards of the Bristol property.

Regarding History Between Brown and the Pokanoket in Bristol:

Brown has demonstrated over the years increasing commitment in stewarding the Bristol property in recognition of the fact that there are multiple Indigenous and Native tribes and peoples that regard this land as sacred and central to their history. These tribes include the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Assonet Band of the Wampanoag Nation, the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, the Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe, and the Narragansett Indian Tribe.

Brown and the Pokanokets share an acceptance of the colonial history of the property. The land was the ancestral home of Metacom, known also by his English name King Philip, the leader of the Pokanoket Wampanoag people. It was the site of his death in 1676 during “King Philip’s War.”

The University does recognize that these lands were historically Pokanoket. Brown also recognizes that after King Philip's War people from the Pokanokets were dispersed among several other Native tribes. Families with these histories therefore feel a deep connection to the Bristol lands owned by Brown.

In that spirit, the University has been working earnestly and in good faith to address the concerns of the encamped Pokanoket people in ways that are responsive to the concerns of the local tribes, which include others with ancestral ties to the Pokanokets.

In recognition of the deep cultural significance of the Bristol lands, Brown on Aug. 21 (soon after the encampment was established), initiated extensive efforts to engage with other tribes and nations to ensure that any discussions with the Pokanoket would be sensitive to Brown’s efforts to sustain and build its relationships with all of the area’s tribes. For years, Brown has made efforts to ensure that any Native person, including Pokanoket, is able to use the land for spiritual ceremonies or community needs.

Brown is making every effort to resolve the situation, particularly in light of its mission to advance knowledge and understanding of Native, Indigenous and Aboriginal issues through the work of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s Collections Research Center, which is housed on the Bristol property. In addition to work directly with Native community members and its public exhibitions and events in Providence, the Haffenreffer Museum uses collections from the center to educate about 3,000 children in public and private schools across Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts each year.

The museum has been actively involved in complying with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. It has repatriated human remains and grave goods from the Burr's Hill cemetery in Warren, Rhode Island, to a consortium of Wampanoag tribes including the Mashpee Tribe, the Aquinnah Tribe and the Assonet Band of the Wampanoag Nation. The Pokanoket Tribe was part of the consultation process. The museum also participated in the reburial ceremony at Warren on May 13, 2017.

The Pokanoket encampment is impeding the ability of museum employees and others to enter the property and conduct their work. Brown hopes to reach a resolution that will avoid interference with the teaching and research at the core of the University’s mission to advance knowledge and understanding.

Brown will continue to work earnestly to engage the Pokanokets and local Native tribes with great respect for the history of erasure of Native peoples throughout New England and this country. We are committed to being inclusive of all Native peoples with ties to the Bristol lands owned by Brown.