Brown University GET OFF THE LAND; Mt. Hope is Pokanoket [FULL STATEMENT]
A joint statement by Students and Alumni for Po Metacom Camp (SAPMC) and Progressive Student Organization — Providence (PSO-PVD)
October 7, 2017
Part I: Introduction and Background
On Sunday, August 20th, members of the Pokanoket Tribe of the Pokanoket Nation established the Po Metacom Camp in order to hold and reclaim Potumtuk, their sacred land, also known as “Mt. Hope” or the “Mt. Hope lands.” About a month later, on September 21st, the Pokanoket Tribe and Brown University signed an agreement led to the closing of the Po Metacom Camp.
The agreement signed by the tribe and by Brown is not the conclusion of this struggle by any means; rather, it is just one step in a longer process. While the Pokanoket Tribe has now officially ended their encampment, many of the details of the transfer of land to them have been left ambiguous. The amount of land Brown is willing to repatriate is yet to be determined and no clear timeframe has been established. While this agreement is a positive step in that it commits Brown to transfer some amount of land, we feel that the University’s requirement that the Pokanoket close the encampment was a clear expression of the University’s intention to continue business as usual. We cannot allow Brown to dictate the direction of the land transfer process.
We demand that Brown turn over all 375 acres of Potumtuk immediately. Mt. Hope is still Pokanoket land. Brown University has no right to Potumtuk.
PSO and SAPMC believe in the right for all oppressed nations to self determine their own future and it is with great enthusiasm that we write this letter in support of the Pokanoket Nation who are fearlessly taking back what has always been theirs. Our goal is to reignite support for the Pokanoket Tribe among students and alumni, cutting through the fog of misinformation and distortion that have pacified support for the tribe.
To conclude Part I of this paper, we will put Brown’s behavior into context, interrogating its claims to hold a legitimate title to the Mount Hope lands as well as its misleading framing of this dispute. In Part II, we develop this argument by presenting an analysis of Brown as a settler colonial institution concerned primarily with the perpetuation of its own wealth and power. We refute its claims to “good stewardship” by presenting a historical examination of the militarism, profiteering, environmental harm, and neglect which characterize Brown University’s relationship with the Mt. Hope lands.
We will proceed from there to respond to the statements issued by Brown, by the Native American and Indigenous Studies (NAIS) initiative, and by individual professors which seek to discredit the Pokanoket Tribe. In Part III, we respond to claims that the Pokanoket do not hold nation status and thus cannot make land claims, and in Part IV, we respond to claims that falsely portray them as antagonistic towards other tribes’ connections with the land. These arguments, founded on blatant inaccuracies, are being deployed by Brown in order to cement its own continued control over the Mt. Hope lands. The statements opposing the Po Metacom Camp from Brown and from “progressive” faculty members and institutions like NAIS act to provide ideological support for Brown University’s colonial interests.
To conclude Part IV, we will reject the pervasive idea that Brown students should take a neutral or uninvolved stance with regard to the encampment, and call on all students of Brown University and progressive people broadly to demand that Brown immediately repatriate Potumtuk to the stewardship of the Pokanoket Nation. We encourage all those with questions to visit the Po Metacom Camp Facebook page[i] and/or message our Facebook pages[ii] [iii] with any questions.
On Brown’s Permitting of Indigenous People “To Assemble Peacefully”
On August 20, 2017, Brown University released a statement on their website commenting on the encampment. In it, the University states its support for the “right of individuals to assemble peaceably to express their views, provided that their actions do not infringe upon the rights of others…or interfere with the rights of others to take part in the activities of Brown’s academic community and campus life.” [iv]
We categorically reject the University’s framing of this dispute as one between two parties with equally legitimate concerns. This implies that the Pokanoket Tribe’s concerns (specifically, its efforts to reclaim land that European settlers violently stole from them) are equivalent to Brown University’s institutional concerns and activities. This is the liberal myth that frames the Pokanoket Tribe and Brown University as each having legitimate claims to the land, with the issue at hand being to harmonize two equally valid sets of concerns. Brown University is an elite institution that rests on the exploitation of workers and nationally oppressed people. The Pokanoket Tribe is composed of dispossessed people who are taking back their land. These two interests are not equal and they should not be treated as such. We must be very clear that Brown University’s efforts to end the encampment and continue business as usual are nothing more than one contemporary iteration of hundreds of years of settler-colonial violence and dispossession against the Pokanoket Tribe and other indigenous peoples and oppressed nations.
Brown’s true colors were revealed with their militarized response to the Pokanoket-led march on the university, exposing the absolute bankruptcy of this institution’s professed liberal values for all to see. On September 5, on the day of the University’s opening convocation, members of the Pokanoket Tribe and their Native/Indigenous and non-Native allies marched to Brown University to demand for the repatriation of Potumtuk to the Pokanokets. Although both the tribal leaders and their allies declared that it would be a peaceful march, they were met with the intimidation of armed patrols from both the Brown Department of Public Safety and the Providence Police Department. Abusive cops such as Joseph Donnelly, who has a history of harassing and attacking Black and brown people, were at the protest looking for any sign of “trouble.”[v]
When veteran organizers from Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and elders with disabilities from the Pokanoket Tribe tried to enter the main campus to get water and use the bathroom, they were denied entry by these officers, causing one elder to faint and be rushed to the hospital. Nothing could capture the essence of Brown University more perfectly than the scene of President Christina Paxson giving a rosy speech on the Main Green about the peaceful exchange of ideas[vi] while a band of cops with guns at their holsters lined the Van Wickle Gates preventing Black and brown Pokanoket members from entering.
On Brown’s “Clear Legal Title” to Mt. Hope Lands.
Brown asserts its “clear legal title” to the acres in Bristol. However, as we know, legality does not by any means translate into morality. The title that Brown claims originates from a royal grant awarded by King Charles II of England to the Plymouth Colony following the massacre of Pokanoket and other Native people and the murder of Metacomet during King Phillip’s War by forces led by the British government. The land then passed through the hands of English loyalists, slaveholders, prominent politicians, and big industrialists, before a portion of it was donated to Brown.[vii] These are the origins and the legacy that Brown University claims when it asserts a “clear legal title” to this land. We do not believe that this legacy gives Brown University any legitimate “right” to Potumtuk (or any Indigenous land, for that matter). We affirm that the encampment is not just an attempt by the Pokanoket to “express their views” — it’s an attempt to retake stolen land.
To put it bluntly: we think that the statements by Brown are a load of shit. Strategic and calculated — but shit nonetheless. We affirm that decolonization is not a metaphor, it is not a matter of “talking and listening” between oppressor and oppressed, and it is not a colonial institution “ensuring access.” Genuine decolonization must include nothing less than the full repatriation of stolen sacred lands to the Indigenous peoples who are their rightful stewards.
Part II: Debunking Brown’s “positive stewardship”
In a statement released on August 20, 2017, Brown University justifies its claim to Potumtuk by claiming that Brown is a “positive steward” of the land.[viii] We want to be clear: Brown University is not a “positive steward” of the land, despite what NAIS and the administration may claim.[ix] When the Pokanoket started the camp, they found that under Brown’s stewardship, the trees were not being taken care of, there was trash on the shoreline, and several ancestral graves had been desecrated.[x] Brown has a long history of treating this land as a disposable bargaining chip, with its tenure as a steward being marked by militarism, profiteering, environmental damage, and neglect. This pattern of violence should come as no surprise, considering that Brown is a racist, capitalist, imperialist, settler colonial institution. In presenting this history, we hope to bolster the case for all 375 acres of the Mount Hope lands to be turned over to the Pokanokets, who have expressed their intention to preserve their ancestral land.
We feel that engaging with this argument about the character of Brown’s stewardship is important. Settler colonialism is a system that at its core rests on the displacement of indigenous communities, the theft of indigenous knowledges, and the imposition of a certain set of relationships on the land. The history of Brown’s relationship with this land reflects its status as a settler colonial institution. However, we want to acknowledge that picking a fight on the question of stewardship is a potentially fraught enterprise. Ideas of “good stewardship” have been abused to portray indigenous peoples as incapable of self-determination and bad at managing their own affairs, justifying colonial occupation and annexation. With that in mind, we want to say upfront that we reject attempts to frame this struggle as a mere dispute over whether the Pokanoket or the University would be the “better steward.” Rather, we make these arguments debunking Brown’s “good stewardship” in order to expose Brown’s settler colonial bullshit and to bolster the case for all 375 acres of the Mount Hope lands to be turned over to the Pokanokets, who have expressed their intention to preserve their ancestral land.
When the university received its first donation of Mount Hope property from the Haffenreffer family, much of it was quickly designated to be made into a housing development tentatively being called “King Philip Farm.” By July of 1957, 15 housing units were already ready for sale, and four to five hundred units were planned in total, each with a minimum sale price of $25,000.[xii] This translates to roughly $200,000 per unit counting for inflation — this was expensive housing. Brown’s clear intention with this land from the get-go was not to implement a politics of genuine respect for Indigenous peoples, but rather to squeeze a profit by riding the post-war housing boom.
In addition to Brown’s efforts to make a buck off of housing developments, the property was also being used to facilitate U.S. militarism during the Cold War. When Brown accepted the first donation from the Haffenreffer family in 1955, the land had already been selected by the U.S. military as a site for a Nike Ajax missile installation.[xiii] The U.S. Army quickly moved into Bristol in 1956 to construct missile base PR-38. The Radar Control Area for this base was sited at the top of Mount Hope — a sacred site for the Pokanoket.[xiv] Later, between 1959 and 1960, the missiles at PR-38 were upgraded to Hercules missiles, which were designed to carry nuclear warheads.[xv]-[xvi] Under Brown’s watch, the Mount Hope lands were thus converted into a militarized garrison of U.S. imperialism. This Cold War missile base was in operation until April 1974, when PR-38 was decommissioned and abandoned by the Army.
Following the decommissioning of the missile installation, the town of Bristol expressed interest in buying some of “Brown’s property” in order to convert it into recreational space, leading to some substantial discussion between Bristol and Brown starting in the late 1980s.[xvii]-[xviii] Brown’s primary motivation during these discussions was, once again, to profit as much as it could, seeing the land as a disposable resource. In addition to assessing the dollar value of the property as high as possible, Brown pressed for the town to grant it certain financial and political concessions. Specifically, the University assumed at one point that Bristol would pay for a sewer system covering the Mt. Hope property, and also nudged the town to rezone the entire property so that Brown would have the option to build condos on the land.[xix] True to its nature as a capitalist institution, Brown University was trying to externalize its costs, jack up the land’s monetary value as high as it could, and influence the machinery of the state in order to facilitate the largest future profits possible.
When the town of Bristol incorporated conservation efforts into its 1991 Comprehensive Plan, Brown officials attended public hearings in order to criticize this Plan for rezoning their property in a way that would limit their options for development. Of course, the University was sure to state that it had no formal plans to sell or change the use of the property, but that didn’t stop them from actively advocating for favorable zoning laws which would preserve the option of building condos in the future.[xx] The Comprehensive Plan ultimately passed in 1991, and in 1994 the Town of Bristol also adopted a zoning ordinance, both of which placed limits on Brown’s ability to develop the land by assigning this land to a special zoning category in which 75% of the land must be reserved as open space.[xxi] However, even in the aftermath of the temporary setback posed by the 1991 plan and the zoning ordinance, Brown maintained an interest in implementing lucrative development projects in the future. This much is indicated by the close attention Brown paid to a 1995 court case that, had it turned out differently, would have set a precedent for Brown to initiate a higher density of housing developments on the Mt. Hope land.[xxii]-[xxiii]
In July of 1995, Brown University was cited by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) for having a deficient septic system that was leading to sewage runoff into the soil and water.[xxiv] Apparently, after they couldn’t get the town of Bristol to pay for sewage system coverage back when the town was considering buying the land from them, Brown neglected the issue until 1995. However, because Brown didn’t want to pay the $25,000 (which, to be clear, is a drop in the bucket for Brown) for the necessary renovations, they resorted to tearing down one of the property’s historical buildings, evicting a museum employee who lived there on short notice.[xxv]
Following this incident, Brown announced that it was making plans to move the Haffenreffer Museum from Bristol to Providence starting in 1998.[xxvi] This initial plan was postponed and then fell apart for various reasons, including lack of funding. It wasn’t until 2007, after a new set of violations were uncovered (including the museum building’s noncompliance with the fire code, its poor environmental conditions, and Brown’s failure to bring it up to the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act) that Brown finally moved a portion of its collections to its Providence campus.[xxvii]
Meanwhile, the tribe has had to pay fees, get insurance waivers, and ask permission from Brown University through the Mount Hope Trust (an organization that Brown hired to manage the Mt. Hope land) in order to use their land for sacred tribal ceremonies — a policy that even the executive director of the Trust, Jennifer Bristol, admitted was “awkward.”[xxviii] We would go further: to force Indigenous people to pay fees, ask for permission, and go through regulations in order to access their own land and practice their religion is an exploitative, colonial, and fundamentally racist practice designed to naturalize Brown’s unjust occupation.
As this should all make clear, PSO and SAPMC do not believe Brown is a “positive steward of the land” who has been “working for years” to maintain “positive relationships” with Indigenous people — Brown is a settler colonial institution and, like all settler colonial institutions, profits directly from Indigenous genocide. If Brown really cared about preserving Potumtuk for Indigenous people, why would they allow nuclear missiles on it? Why would they allow rampant environmental harm to occur? Why would they plan to develop condos on it to sell to middle and high income families? Given this violent history, what exactly makes Brown a “positive steward” of the land? How is Brown qualified to care for this land?
If Brown genuinely respected Indigenous people in the community, it would end its unlawful occupation of all Indigenous land, starting with Potumtuk.
Part III: On the Pokanoket being an “unrecognized tribe”
On August 24th, 2017, members from the NAIS steering committee released a statement regarding the encampment which was emailed to the entire Brown student body, faculty, and staff.[xxix] In the statement, the Committee claimed that the Pokanoket are not federally recognized, but more importantly, that they are not recognized by other “federally recognized tribes.” The next day, on August 25th, Professor Adrienne Keene wrote an article on her blog Native Appropriations rehashing the same arguments made by NAIS. She discusses the legitimacy of Brown’s behavior during negotiations, and argues that Brown has been very committed to “peacefully resolving this issue.”[xxx]
We want to respond in some detail to the claims coming from NAIS regarding the Pokanokets’ nationhood status and their claims to Potumtuk. In many ways, this is the crux of the university’s ideological assault against the Pokanoket Tribe.
Nationhood: Legal Recognition or Lived Experience?
In order to address this argument, we need to consider what exactly goes into the creation of a nation. It’s important to state upfront that one cannot simply quantify and neatly categorize a nation. However, we start from the premise that nations cannot be dismissed as an entirely subjective construct or reduced to legal definitions. Grasping the existence of nations as they materially exist is crucial to understand how economic and political life have been historically organized under colonialism and imperialism. J.V. Stalin provides a loose working definition of nationhood in Marxism and the National Question, arguing that a nation is a stable, historically constituted group of people who share the following: 1) language, or the systems of words and phrases they use to communicate with each other, 2) territory, or a place where the people have lived together for a long time, 3) culture, or the specific practices that distinguish them from other nations and national minorities, and 4) economy, or the structures that bind various members of a specific cultural or ethnic group into a cohesive economic unit.[xxxi]
On the other hand, the legal system of national recognition, both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, ignores and leaves out various peoples from the category of “nation” whose histories and political legacies give them a clear basis to claim nationhood, whether they are Kashmiris, Palestinians, Kurds, or even African Americans. All over the world, from Asia to Africa to Latin America, most of the indigenous peoples are not federally recognized. Are they not nations?
Furthermore, it is very possible for people to have lineage to multiple nations of people. For example, Black Cherokee Indians are on one hand Native, but also, because they are descendants of runaway enslaved people, have access and connections to the Black nation in the U.S. Thus, it is conceivable for someone to have Mashpee ancestry and also claim Pokanoket nationhood. NAIS rejects all of this:
“However, according to historical records used by Mashpee for their language revitalization, the Pokanoket families were taken in by Mashpee after the war, and became a part of their community. There is a delicate yet important technical difference between holding Native ancestry and holding nation status, and that is at the heart of the issue here.”
This seems to imply that the Pokanoket dissolved into the Mashpee and stopped being a distinct tribe, a description of assimilation which is ahistorical, to say the least. During King Phillip’s War, the Pokanoket Nation under the leadership of Metacomet waged a heroic struggle against settler encroachment. The colonial government defeated them in battle and instituted a generalized climate of repression against indigenous people across the region, even targeting tribes that had sided with the English during the war (for example, the Natick Praying Indians).[xxxii] However, the Pokanoket Nation, as the group that had made a final stand against the colonists, faced the most brutal repression, with Pokanoket being brutally slaughtered and/or enslaved en masse. In this context of genocidal warfare, and with the colonial state criminalizing the existence of Pokanoket male captives above the age of fourteen,[xxxiii] many Pokanoket families dispersed throughout the Northeast. Even if some of the Pokanoket had in fact been taken in by the Mashpee, this does not mean that they lost their lineage or were eliminated as a distinct nation. To take such a position is to implicitly uphold the colonial logic of indigenous erasure that motivates this repression of indigenous peoples, flying in the face of the continued survival of the Pokanoket in spite of the state’s attempts to eliminate them.
The Pokanoket Tribe has already affirmed their distinct lineage based on their oral tradition, refuting the claims that they had fully integrated into the Mashpee after King Philip’s War.[xxxiv] They have maintained a distinct political structure, an oral tradition, and cultural practices. Today, they are the tribe which is leading efforts to repatriate this sacred land from Brown University, reclaiming their historical identity as part of the Pokanoket Nation. By reclaiming and fighting for Potumtuk today, the Pokanoket are actively reclaiming territory and fighting against the institutional and interpersonal dynamics that dispossess native and indigenous people as a whole.
On the Relationship between Nationhood and Historical Dispossession
This argument concerning nation status is further elaborated in an article by Professor Adrienne Keene in her blog, Native Appropriations.[xxxv] Unlike the NAIS steering committee, Professor Keene does acknowledge the history of dispossession related to federal recognition. However, she argues:
“The Cherokee Nation could kick me out tomorrow, and I would be sitting here as a ‘real’ Native person, albeit one without ties to nationhood. But I can’t collect up my similarly dispossessed family members and start our own new nation–even if we have historic and community ties to an existing nation… dispossession doesn’t mean that one can form their own nation, and holding Native ancestry does not mean one can claim Native title to land.”
It is ironic that Professor Keene mentions the Cherokee Nation because that example is deeply rooted in anti-Blackness. In 2011, the Cherokee decided to limit its membership of people, stripping citizenship rights from about 2,800 African Americans who are descended from enslaved people once owned by wealthy Cherokees. These rights included access to health care, food distributions for the poor, and assistance for low-income homeowners.[xxxvi]
According to Professor Keene’s argument, anyone who was kicked out from a federally recognized nation — in this case, people who have extensive and historical ties to the Cherokee Nation but are also Black — wouldn’t be able to independently fight for their land and their rights as people of the Cherokee nation even though their expulsion from the rolls was a byproduct of anti-Blackness. We strongly disagree with this argument, and we believe that the Pokanokets’ history of dispossession and current lack of federal recognition do not negate the validity of their claims to hold Native title to Potumtuk.
Most importantly, neither the NAIS statement nor Professor Keene’s article actually engage with the Pokanokets’ own claims to nation status using their own methods. The Pokanoket went along another path to secure their rights as a nation, joining the Federation of Aboriginal Nations of America (FANA), a confederation of pre-colonial American Aborigine tribes and nations that are ancestral inhabitants to the lands known as the U.S. As FANA states in its August 24 response to Brown University, “all FANA member nations are required to demonstrate lineage and heritage that predates the occupation of the U.S.” [xxxvii] Using these standards, the Pokanoket have started the process of securing various rights, entitlements and protections, including health care.
Additionally, it is false that the Pokanoket are unrecognized by other tribes, as claimed by NAIS. The Pocasset Tribe in southern Massachusetts wrote a letter of support for the Pokanoket encampment.[xxxviii] The Pocasset are part of the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes, an intertribal league of historic Aboriginal nations of the eastern and southern seaboard of the continental United States.[xxxix] This is an important group that also has been largely important in defending the rights of non federally recognized tribes to have voting rights in the National Congress of American Indians.[xl] Even if recognition by colonial institutions were to be taken as a barometer of legitimacy, we could point to the recognition that the Pokanoket have received from various U.S. municipalities, including the town of Bristol.[xli]
None of this has been challenged or rebutted by Brown University or NAIS. If anyone were to make a serious case for why the Pokanoket do not possess nation status and/or have no legitimate claims to the land that makes up Potumtuk, they would have to explicitly challenge the standards of FANA’s process and/or its legitimacy as an organization. Instead, various individuals associated with NAIS have been going around claiming in private that one of the lead organizers of the encampment is a “fake Indian.” By ignoring FANA and its process, Brown and its supporters erase and ignore the legitimacy of Indigenous methods of self-recognition, reproducing the same settler colonialism that is attempting to destroy Indigenous people through slow and uninterrupted genocide and dispossession. The discourse coming from Brown, NAIS, and Professor Keene on the complexity of nation status, without actually engaging with the Pokanokets’ own claims and methods, has effectively confused students and community members who would otherwise gladly participate in forcing Brown to give up stolen land. This deliberate tactic of confusion and obfuscation only serves Brown’s colonial interests.
Part IV: On the Pokanokets’ supposed antagonism toward other tribes
After the first round of negotiations between Brown University and the Pokanokets collapsed, Brown University released a statement on August 31 in which they recognize the Pokanokets as a tribe, but blame them for the stalling of negotiations.[xlii] Brown must have realized that it couldn’t keep up its baseless arguments disputing the Pokanokets’ status as a tribe with a historical relationship with the Mt. Hope lands. So, in order to continue discrediting them, Brown employed a new tactic: claiming that the Pokanoket are being antagonistic toward other tribes who have connections with this land. Brown writes in this statement that the Pokanoket “are not concerned about the claims of other tribes and [are saying] that such claims are ‘totally wrong.’” According to the statement, Brown has been attempting to balance multiple Indigenous group’s claim to the land “for years” by ensuring that “any Native person, including Pokanoket, can use the land for spiritual ceremonies or community needs.”
Brown’s posture as a “positive steward” negotiating the interests of distinct Nations frames Brown University as a benevolent colonial administrator, capable of managing Potumtuk and Indigenous affairs better than “backwards” Indigenous people. This racist, paternalistic rhetoric has been used to justify settler colonialism and imperialism for centuries. Although Brown’s “concern” about ensuring access of multiple tribes to this land may superficially seem progressive, it insidiously reframes the issues at stake — decolonization and Indigenous sovereignty — as too difficult, something better managed by a friendly colonial power that benevolently grants “access” to its native subjects. Brown’s statements intentionally avoid the fundamental questions — why should Brown own Potumtuk? If multiple Indigenous groups have claims to the land, what makes Brown University, a settler colonial institution notorious for its racism,[xliii] qualified to mediate their clams? Shouldn’t this be an inter-tribal affair? Instead of addressing these questions, Brown’s statements assume, without justification, that Brown should continue owning the land and would manage the land and the various claims made on it better than the Pokanoket could. Thus, we believe that Brown is evoking other tribes not out of genuine respect for their interests, but as an opportunistic ploy to cement its own control over the future of this land.
Contrary to what Brown has claimed about the Pokanoket being unwilling to entertain and discuss with other tribes claims in the area, the Pokanoket have repeatedly asked for Brown University to facilitate a meeting between all tribes claiming an interest in Potumtuk:
”Since the August 28th 2017 meeting the Pokanoket Tribe has repeatedly requested that Brown University convene a meeting with the Tribes that have expressed claims to the lands of Potumtuk. These Tribes include the Mashpee, Gay Head, Aquina and Assonet tribes of Wampanoag heritage to once and for all lay the controversy to rest over who the proper, historical and rightful stewards of the lands of Potumtuk are.” [xliv]
Additionally, the Pokanoket stationed a representative of their tribe at the camp itself to discuss land claims and past grievances with other tribes. There is no mention of these overtures in Brown University’s statements. Why? We believe that Brown is trying to smear the Pokanokets as aggressive in order to present itself as the peace-loving, benevolent colonial administrator that is needed to save the day, a portrayal which only serves to cement its own control over the destiny of this land.
As of now, the only public statement on the encampment published by a local tribe was the aforementioned statement of support from the Pocasset Tribe.[xlv] No official statements by other indigenous nations and tribes have been published disputing the historical claims made by the Pokanoket or the validity of the encampment. There is much speculation about what this means. Some have argued that other tribes do not want to give this issue any more attention and don’t want to be bothered, hoping that this issue will go away. Others have claimed that other tribes aren’t releasing statements disputing the Pokanokets’ efforts because they know that the Pokanokets’ claims are valid. Either way, we feel that Brown’s claims of the Pokanoket invalidating other tribes are overblown, particularly given the lack of public opposition, and that support for the Pokanoket doesn’t mean antagonizing other tribes.
There are many historical precedents for being able to fight for one nation’s specific land reclamation while also acknowledging other land claims in the area. One contemporary example is the Kurdish liberation struggle in Syria. While their war against ISIS rages on, Kurdish forces associated with the PYD, YPG/YPJ and SDF have carved out an autonomous region (Rojava) where the Kurds, an oppressed nation who had been displaced through Syria’s colonization schemes in the region, are reclaiming land. However, the cultural and democratic rights of Arab tribes and other ethnic groups in relation to the land and its administration are also respected.[xlvi] We believe it is quite feasible to actively elevate the Pokanokets’ demand that land be repatriated to them in a way that doesn’t invalidate the possible claims and interests of other indigenous nations and tribes in the area.
However, for many students who are interested in supporting indigenous rights and decolonization, the issue of the Pokanokets’ relationship with other tribes has been a source of confusion. While we recognize that some of this may come from a place of genuine concern for the connections held by multiple Native tribes to the lands of Potumtuk, we feel that it is wrong for people to cite strained inter-tribal relations as a reason to withhold active support for the Pokanokets. In the face of a concrete attempt by the Pokanoket to repatriate their land from Brown, passively waiting for the perfect resistance in which all the interested tribes present a unified joint declaration to Brown is a recipe for complicity in Brown’s oppression. Despite the complications and nuances that are involved in the current situation, we believe that given who the Pokanokets are, the demands they are making, the orientation they have taken toward other local tribes, and the absence of public statements opposing their demands from other local tribes, the correct position is to strongly support the Pokanokets’ demand for the immediate repatriation of all 375 acres of land from Brown University. True and concrete intertribal unity can only happen when indigenous tribes and nations are able to discuss the stewardship of the land without Brown University’s influence.
Brown University and its NAIS initiative have used divide and conquer tactics, peddling an eclectic mix of lies and distortions about the Pokanokets’ history and their orientation toward other tribes in order to attack and politically isolate their encampment, all while claiming to have indigenous peoples’ best interests at heart. These organizations, which have a clear, vested interest in keeping as much of the land as possible under Brown’s control, are to our knowledge the only groups that have explicitly opposed the Po Metacom Camp.
Conclusion: Against Neutrality
We believe that there is a significant body of students, alumni, and faculty of Brown University who have taken a stance of neutrality or passivity when it comes to the encampment, Members of this “neutral” camp often frame their lack of support in terms of wanting to stay in their lane as non-Native people, particularly in light of two prominent Native faculty members (Professors Elizabeth Hoover and Adrienne Keene) publicly not supporting the encampment. If this neutrality is an attempt on the part of non-Natives at Brown to respect indigenous voices, it is a misapplied one. This narrow focus on prominent academic Indigenous voices ignores and invalidates the broad base of Indigenous support and organizing that went into developing this encampment, from the Pokanoket themselves, to the various tribes like the Pocasset and the Rappahannock who have declared their support and visited the encampment, to the indigenous communities on social media and in organizations like FANG, DARE, and PrYSM who have expressed their solidarity.
Yes, the situation is complicated and nuanced, and yes, there are many aspects of Native politics in which the participation of non-Natives is unwelcome and inappropriate. However, the Pokanoket Tribe, in initiating this struggle, have made the question of land into a public debate. They have called for public support in the name of indigenous rights, declaring that this issue is common sense enough that non-Natives should take a side. To choose neutrality or non-involvement in this situation is to choose the status quo, to choose Brown, to choose occupation.
We cannot stand by as Brown University continues upholding the dispossession of an oppressed people. Indigenous people should be able to independently make decisions on how their lands are used. With Brown University actively occupying and controlling the property, we as students and alumni must fight to get Brown off that land. This is an especially important fight now that the camp has concluded for now. We cannot rest until Brown University gets the FUCK OUT OF MT HOPE!!!!
MAKE THE UNIVERSITY SERVE THE PEOPLE!
SUPPORT INDIGENOUS SELF DETERMINATION ALWAYS
MT HOPE IS POTUMTUK, BROWN GET OFF THE LAND!!
[v] ‘Robinson, meanwhile, has filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court, accusing Allen and Officers Christopher Ziroli, Mark Hubbard, Sean Lafferty, Matthew McGloin, Matthew Rampone, Jerome Lynch, Clifford Torres and Joseph Donnelly of using excessive force, assault, battery, false arrest and engaging in malicious prosecution.”
[xvii] Loving, Susan. “Acreage owned by Brown U may be sold after study; town, state hope to buy some of it.” Bristol Phoenix, March 24, 1988. Page 1.
[xix] “Hereshoff: Brown is assuming too much in figuring value of land.” Bristol Phoenix, November 16, 1989. Page 15.
[xx] “Brown doesn’t want Mt Hope’s zoning changed; says town’s plan ‘overemphasizes’ university’s land.” Bristol Phoenix, March 21, 1991. Page 1.
[xxi] Pagliarini, John A. Jr. “Transfer of development rights: a legal blueprint for the town of Bristol, RI” (1999). Open Access Master’s Theses, Paper 416. Page 4.
[xxv] Hayes, Ted. “1888 building on Mt Hope property in jeopardy of being torn down.” Bristol Phoenix, August 3, 1995. Page 2.
[xxviii] Luce, Patrick. “‘It’s always about the Farm’: Trust aims to build next generation of Mount Hope Farm stewards.” Bristol Phoenix, January 8, 2015. Page 1.
[xxxi] https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1913/03a.htm#s1 This definition of nationhood was first developed by Vladimir Lenin who argued for the need for oppressed nations to self determine their future. It was then further developed and codified by various other thinkers like J.V Stalin, James M. Blaut etc.
[xxxiii] Shurtleff, Nathaniel Bradstreet; editor. “Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England. Court Orders. Volume V. 1668–1678.” W. White Press, Barnstable County (Mass.), 1856. Page 210. See also Brigham, William; editor. “The compact with the charter and laws of the Colony of New Plymouth : together with the charter of the Council at Plymouth, and an appendix, containing the Articles of confederation of the United Colonies of New England, and other valuable documents.” Dutton and Smith, Boston, 1836. Page 177.
[xli] Not that we should care too much what a settler colonial institution thinks about the existence of a tribe. http://webserver.rilin.state.ri.us/BillText05/HouseText05/H6065.htm
[xlvi] https://peaceinkurdistancampaign.com/resources/rojava/the-project-of-a-democratic-syria/, see also http://aranews.net/2016/08/kurds-arab-tribes-discuss-federal-system-project-northern-syria/, https://anfenglish.com/kurdistan/arab-tribes-in-rojava-say-amnesty-international-distorts-the-truths-12951, http://carnegie-mec.org/diwan/55650?lang=en