Brown University and Pokanoket tribe members who have been encamped on University property in Bristol, Rhode Island, since Aug. 20 have reached an agreement regarding the land.
Signed on Thursday, Sept. 21, the agreement is aligned with the University’s goals of being inclusive of all tribes with a historical interest in the land and with the Pokanoket’s interest in acknowledgment of the tribe’s historical ties and cultural history regarding the property.
The agreement outlines a plan for Brown to transfer a portion of its Bristol property into a preservation trust to ensure the conservation of the land and sustainable access by Native tribes in the region. Per agreement terms, the Pokanoket tribe members ended their encampment on Sept. 25 and will not reestablish it while work to survey the land and create a governance structure to manage a trust is underway.
“We have worked together with the encamped Pokanoket people in good faith to address their concerns in ways responsive to the concerns of other tribes as well, which was a foremost priority for Brown,” said Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy at Brown, and the principal negotiator for the University. “We’re very pleased that the Pokanoket have agreed to engage other Native tribes to establish a trust that will both preserve this land and ensure sustainable access to its sacred sites in a way that is inclusive of other Native peoples. This was Brown’s goal.”
The agreement commits the Pokanoket currently encamped on the Mount Hope property “to initiate and engage in a process with the other tribes with a historical interest in this land … who are willing to cooperatively participate in such a process.” According to the agreement, Brown is willing to help identify and support a mediator to assist in facilitating an agreement among the tribes.
In addition, while the amount of land to be placed into the preservation trust is yet to be determined by the University’s transparent land survey process, “the University is committed to identifying and transferring an amount of land that is substantial, sufficient, and appropriate” to meet the University’s goals of conservation, preservation, and sustainable access to the land that is placed in preservation trust.
In the agreement, Brown University:
- “acknowledges that the Mt. Hope lands to which it has record title in Bristol, Rhode Island, are historically Pokanoket and that part of the land contains sacred sites that are important to the present-day Pokanoket Tribe and Pokanoket people, who are dispersed among many tribes, and other Native American, American Indian, and aboriginal peoples of New England.”
- “commits to the orderly transfer of a to-be-determined amount of the lands into a preservation trust, or similar entity, which will ensure appropriate stewardship and management of this unique historical, sacred and natural resource for generations to come.”
- “commits to fund and complete a cultural resources survey to determine the amount and boundaries of the land to be placed in the preservation trust.”
- “commits to promptly commission and fund a land survey to begin the process of determining the configuration of the land to be placed in trust and the land to be retained by the University.”
- “commits to providing support and participation, as appropriate, in the process” established by the encamped Pokanoket “to arrive at consensus regarding a governance and organizational structure which can oversee and ensure appropriate stewardship and management of the preservation trust.”
- agrees to “grant reasonable cultural access, including visiting the property from time to time for purposes primarily related to the historical and cultural elements of the land, to all parties with a historical interest in the land” during the process to arrive at a consensus regarding a governance and organizational structure for the stewardship and management of the preservation trust or similar entity.
“The onus is on the Pokanoket Tribe currently encamped on the Mt. Hope property and the other tribes who are willing to cooperatively engage in good faith, with the assistance of a mediator, if necessary, to determine and agree upon a viable governance and organizational structure that will enable the University to transfer the to-be-determined amount of land into the preservation trust,” the agreement states.
Brown and leaders of the Pokanoket encampment finalized the agreement following a series of meetings both on the Bristol land and in Providence. From the outset of discussions, Brown and the encamped Pokanoket shared an understanding of the history of the property. The land near Mount Hope is the ancestral home of Metacom, known also by his English name, King Philip, the leader of the Pokanoket Wampanoag people, and the site of his 1676 death during King Philip’s War.
Brown submitted to the Pokanoket Aug. 30 an initial proposal to resolve the encampment in Bristol, and that draft was revised several times with support from separate legal counsel representing the University and the encamped Pokanoket before reaching the final agreement. The University negotiated the agreement with representatives of the encamped Pokanoket and the Federation of Aboriginal Nations of America.
The agreement calls for the present-day Pokanoket tribe to invite the other Pokanoket peoples, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the Assonet Band of the Wampanoag Nation, the Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe, the Pocasset Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation, and other appropriate parties with a historical interest in the land to participate in formalizing a governance structure to oversee the preservation trust.
Brown stipulated in the agreement that the cultural resources survey of the land must be conducted in a manner that provides for input from all the parties. This includes “full and transparent access to the report and any other survey output before any final determinations are made.”
“Brown is confident that the parties will work together because there is a strong common interest in preserving this historic land for generations to come,” Carey said.
The Bristol land was donated in parcels over time to the University by the Haffenreffer family beginning in the 1950s. The property is home to the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s Collections Research Center, which holds more than 1 million ethnographic objects, archaeological specimens and images from all parts of the world, as well as a multipurpose outing center used for summer programs and environmental research.
“Brown University and the Haffenreffer Museum staff have long been committed to productive working relationships with Indigenous Nations in the area, especially given the tremendous historical and cultural importance of the Mount Hope area,” Carey said. “We look forward to building on those relationships as we work with the Pokanoket and other groups to preserve this tremendously significant historic site.”
While the agreement outlines no specific timetable for the trust to be formed, the University is committed to completing the cultural resource and land surveys “as expeditiously as possible.” The University has offered to support efforts of the interested tribes to arrive at consensus regarding a governance and organizational structure to steward and manage the preservation trust, “as needed and requested.”