As the Pokanoket Tribe set up their encampment on property claimed by Brown University, I talked to Sagamore William (Po Wauipi Neimpaug) Guy of the Pokanoket Nation at the makeshift gate set up at the entrance to the land. Most vehicles arriving were part of the encampment and allowed entry. Those that were not part of the encampment were allowed to come and go as they pleased, as long as they were not there to cause trouble. As I recorded the Sagamore’s comments in the video below, you can hear the gatekeepers yelling to raise and lower the metal cables used to maintain the entrance to the land.
The Sagamore issued me a media pass to cover the occupation and was quite relaxed, with a quick smile. His attitude was one of inevitability: The encampment was simply the next step in the process of reclaiming this land for the Pokanokets. The Sagamore told me that this was the land where his great-plus grandfather, Metacomet, was killed and his body mutilated. Metacomet’s wife, Wootonekanuske, and oldest son were then sold into slavery in Bermuda.
Yet despite this history, the atmosphere at the camp and at the gate was cheerful and optimistic. No one knew what the reaction of the authorities or Brown University would be to this encampment. But as evening approached, it was becoming clear that no official response would be coming too soon.
“We would like to sit down with Brown University, right here on this property, break bread with them and talk about the repatriation of our lands, back to the stewards of the land, the original people that were here, the original inhabitants,” said Sagamore Po Waupi Neimpaug. “We’ve done everything possible to engage the powers that be in Rhode Island and they do not want to talk to us so this is the next step in trying to reach out. They’ve acted as though we are an invisible people. This was the only means left open to us.”
“Point blank, the law says the land’s Pokanoket,” said Ray “Two-Hawks” Watson, also at the gate. “And that’s the end of the conversation.” Watson was there as an ally to the Pokanoket.
When a Bristol Police officer arrived he was more concerned with the free flow of traffic in and out of the area than with the establishment of the encampment or any legal wrangling between the Pokanoket and Brown University. He briefly visited and left.