BRISTOL, R.I. — Dozens of people, including members of a Native American tribe and their supporters, have set up an encampment on Brown University land, saying the land was illegally taken from them hundreds of years ago.
The Pokanoket Nation (pronounced poh-kah-NOH'-ket) says the long-term encampment, started Sunday, is aimed at reclaiming its ancestral home in Bristol, which contains spiritually important sites. The Ivy League university says the land was donated decades ago and it has owned the legal title for more than 60 years.
Winds of Thunder, the tribe's sagamore, or chief of chiefs, called the land its "spiritual high grounds" and said it wants the land back because it was its principal village.
The tribe is not federally recognized, but its members say they are descended from the tribe that helped the pilgrims and its leader, Massasoit, as well as from his son, King Philip, who was killed on the land during King Philip's War, the bloody conflict between tribes and European settlers.
Tribe members said they are engaged in a peaceful protest on land that has been desecrated.
"Brown doesn't have a valid deed to this land," member Pete Straight Arrow said.
Tribe members and supporters have set up checkpoints at the access road to the 375-acre (152-hectare) parcel, which is located about half an hour's drive from the Brown campus in Providence. Brown houses an extensive archaeology collection and environmental lab there.
More than a dozen tents could be seen there on Monday, and the group had brought in firewood, food and water and set up toilet facilities. One child rode a bike through camp, while people in their 80s sat in shade under a tree and others built benches.
Brown issued a statement Sunday saying it upholds the right of people to assemble peaceably "provided that their actions do not infringe upon the rights of others."
The university said the land had been donated in parcels over a period of years beginning in the 1950s and the ownership was legally transferred to it.
"The university has been a positive steward of the land," it said.
The sagamore said the tribe had reached out to Brown over the years about the significance of the land and its ownership claim but the university had recently become unresponsive.
He said Bristol police were allowed through the checkpoint and a Brown University caretaker who lives on the land was being allowed to come and go but Brown University campus police who visited on Sunday were denied entry.
Brown spokeswoman Cass Cliatt did not immediately respond to a question about whether the campus police had been blocked but confirmed the tenants were able to come and go.
Bristol police did not immediately return a message seeking comment.