By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
BRISTOL, R.I. — Brown University and the Pokanoket Tribe recently reached a settlement ending the tribe's 35-day occupation of sacred land. The agreement keeps the university's 375-acre property available for tribal use while Brown maintains ownership of the land.
The deal was signed Sept. 21 and the tribe vacated the encampment four days later. The terms state that the land known as "Mount Hope" is “historically Pokanoket” and a yet-to-be-determined parcel will be protected through a trust.
The two-page agreement also declares that the Pokanoket Tribe has been dispersed among other Native American tribes and aboriginal people of New England and that some of the those groups will be allowed to participate in future governance of the land. The admission appears to settle a point of contention by the Pokanokets claiming that they are an independent aboriginal nation and independent of other state and federal recognized tribes.
In initial negotiations with Brown University, the Pokanokets disputed Brown’s assertion that other tribes such as the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, the Mashpee Wampanoags and Narragansett Indian Tribe had claim to the land.
“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,” said Russell Carey, executive vice president for planning and policy at Brown University.
The Providence-based university also agreed to pay for a survey to determine the land that should be placed in the preservation trust. The protected land will have a governance structure to ensure stewardship of the property. Brown University will decide which groups get access to the land during the effort to establish the governance agreement.
The occupation by the Pokanokets began Aug. 20 with a peaceful takeover of a field overlooking Mount Hope Bay. The Po Metacom Camp included about 20 tents, several trailers and makeshift shelters.
After two meetings failed to bring about a resolution, the Pokanokets and their supporters held a march Sept. 5 through the East Side of Providence that concluded at the main gate of Brown University.
Soon after, the two sides held a series of meetings at Po Metacom Camp and in Providence, which eventually led to the resolution.
Brown University acquired the land from the Haffenreffer family in 1955. The property, known as Potumtuk, is considered the spiritual home of the Pokanoket Tribe. It marks the start of King Philip’s War. Pokanoket leader King Philip, or Metacom, was killed and butchered by Colonists on the property in 1676.
The land went through a series of private ventures and eventually became home to the Haffenreffer collection of Native American artifacts. The museum moved to Providence in 2006. A warehouse at the site stores many of the collection's 1 million artifacts.