Tribal leaders, Brown U. meet over Bristol land dispute

A sign is posted on Brown University land in Bristol, R.I. on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith)

BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) — Brown University officials on Wednesday met with leadership of the Pokanoket Nation as the tribe and their supporters remain camped out on a parcel of land along Bristol’s coast.

Tribal leaders on Wednesday made it clear the encampment isn’t temporary – claiming the land off Tower Street is rightfully theirs.

“It’s not a matter of me proving that this land belongs to me. It’s a matter of your disproving,” said Po Wauipi Neimpaug, sagamore of the Pokanoket Nation.

A sign at the entryway says “no trespassing, property of Brown University,” but just down the road, new signs read “This is Pokanoket land. We are not trespassing!”

The Pokanokets on Sunday pitched dozens of tents, raised their flag and began living on the land, which they say is sacred and owned by the tribe. But Brown University, which has its Haffenreffer Museum on the property, says it was donated to the school years ago.

Tents are pitched on Brown University land in Bristol, R.I. on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Michelle R. Smith)

The sagamore, or chief, said the dispute isn’t about money, but about heritage.

“This land is not for sale or negotiation,” he said. “This is our ancestral village. This is our spiritual high ground.”

The tribe has a set of guidelines for every guest to read if they make it past the gate. It’s allowing Brown employees on the land but says there will be no other concessions.

In a statement Wednesday, a spokesperson for Brown University confirmed the two sides met to begin working towards a resolution.

“Members of the University administration, including staff of the Haffenreffer Museum who have maintained strong relationships with the area’s Indigenous Nations, traveled Tuesday morning to the checkpoint of the encampment to meet with the leadership of the Pokanoket Tribe encampment. Our focus was to listen and become knowledgeable about their position. We also discussed Brown’s access to the land for our academic activities. This was the beginning of a conversation that we expect to continue as we work toward a resolution. We are open to engaging in sustained conversations about ensuring the best long-term solution for access for all the Indigenous Nations in this area.”

But Neimpaug said his tribe doesn’t just want access, since the land is their home.

“I’m not worried about what Brown has to say,” he added. “I’ve already legally transferred that land back into my trust.”

When asked how long he planned to stay camped on the land, Neimpaug said he’s prepared for anything.