In March 2021, Brown launched a year-long exploration into the relationship between the University, the land on which it sits on College Hill, and the local Indigenous peoples who were once the land’s sole occupants.
In a letter to the campus community, President Christina H. Paxson shared that Brown had convened a Land Acknowledgment Working Group (LAWG) to develop recommendations that would help the University understand and acknowledge the full history of its relationship with Native and Indigenous peoples and lands.
Members of the LAWG were administrators, faculty, students and staff, with some identifying as Native American and others contributing extensive knowledge of Indigenous history and culture and equity, diversity and inclusion. The formation of the LAWG was announced to the Brown community, the Narragansett Indian Tribe, and to the leadership of other tribes and Indigenous peoples in Rhode Island and Southern New England.
Members of the LAWG recognized that in order to develop a University land acknowledgment, they must first understand the history of the land on College Hill. The group’s work included conducting research, learning from faculty with knowledge of the area’s Indigenous history, and meeting with and learning from Narragansett Tribal Medicine Man and Historic Preservation Officer John B. Brown on the tribe’s reservation in Charlestown, Rhode Island.
The LAWG shared with President Paxson in February 2022 a set of recommendations that led with a necessary reflection on the history of the lands in Providence on which the University sits, as well as the Indigenous peoples with ancestral ties to the land. This history formed the essential basis for the LAWG’s work as reflected in its recommendations. The history explored the arrival of colonists on the shores of the Seekonk River in 1636; the ways in which white colonists and Native Americans conceived of land ownership and stewardship differently; and colonists’ eventual dispossession of Indigenous peoples’ ancestral homelands.
Beginning in February 2022, the recommendations of the LAWG were shared with the Narragansett Indian Tribe and with other Indigenous peoples in the region.
In addition to the Narragansett, the University shared the recommendations with more than a dozen representatives from regional tribal governments, Native American organizations and Indigenous immigrant communities: The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe; Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut; Eastern Pequot Tribal Nation; Golden Hill Indian Reservation; Schaghticoke Tribal Nation; Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe; Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah); Nipmuc Nation; Chaubunagungamaug Nipmuck Indian Council; Chappaquiddick Tribe of the Wampanoag Nation; Herring Pond Wampanoag Tribe; Pocasset Wampanoag Tribe; and Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe.
Following this outreach, the Brown campus community was provided with an extended opportunity for feedback and input over the course of the Spring 2022 semester. Faculty, students and staff strongly supported the recommendations. Comments focused on support for the land acknowledgment, as well as support for new investments in Native and Indigenous studies and Indigenous students, and further education of the Brown community.
In May 2022, the University established its official land acknowledgment statement among five short- and long-term commitments to foster engagement in meaningful relationships with local Native and Indigenous peoples and to increase support for education and scholarship.
The work aligns closely with Phase II of Brown’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, which launched in the Spring 2021 semester.
The land acknowledgment commitments build on the work of Brown’s Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative (NAISI) and Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice (CSSJ). Since 2016, NAISI has focused on increasing understanding of the cultural traditions, histories, political experiences, and contemporary experiences and knowledge of Native American and Indigenous peoples, including local tribes. And in recent years, the CSSJ has committed to studying the close relationships between European settler colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade and Native American dispossession.