Posted on January 25, 2022

3 Rhode Island Towns Adopt ‘Land Acknowledgements’ Honoring Native American Tribes

Antonia Noori Farzan, Providence Journal, December 31, 2021

Not too long ago, college campuses and gatherings of left-wing activists were the only places where you were likely to hear a “land acknowledgement” statement.

Now, you only have to go as far as Barrington Town Hall.

Over the last year, a few towns across Rhode Island have started honoring the area’s original Native American inhabitants by adopting formal land acknowledgement statements that are read at council meetings. Warren started the trend this summer, followed by South Kingstown and Barrington.

“It seemed like the appropriate next step to really owning our history,” said Warren Town Council president Keri Cronin.

Unlike the other towns, Warren doesn’t require that its land acknowledgement statement be read at every council meeting. But the full text has been printed on a sign that was recently erected outside Warren Town Hall, welcoming visitors to “Sowams, the ancestral home of the Pokanoket people.”

It’s one of several new historic markers that have gone up around town in recent years, all highlighting the history of Warren’s native people, and the town’s role in the slave trade.


William Guy, the sagamore of the Pokanoket, told The Providence Journal this summer that he was gratified to see Warren “trying to right the wrongs that have been done.”

While the Pokanokets are not a federally recognized tribe, they’re still an active presence in the East Bay, and played a role in crafting the land acknowledgement statements that were adopted in Warren and Barrington. (The Narragansett Indian Tribe does not consider the Pokanokets to be a legitimate tribe.)


So far, the land acknowledgement statements have been universally well-received, officials say.

“I am not aware of any pushback or anything negative,” Cronin said, adding that there was a “stark contrast” with the responses that she received after Warren opted to fly a Black Lives Matter flag outside Town Hall.


Present-day South Kingstown was the site of the Great Swamp Massacre, the bloodiest event in Rhode Island history. In 1675, a white colonial militia slaughtered hundreds of Narragansetts, including women and children, even though the tribe had remained neutral up until that point in King Philip’s War.

In October, the Town Council unanimously approved a land acknowledgement statement proposed by Councilwoman Deb Bergner, which is now read at the beginning of each meeting, after the Pledge of Allegiance.

“The Town of South Kingstown pays homage to the indigenous people and land on which the town is now located,” the statement says. “Let this acknowledgement serve as a reminder of our ongoing efforts to recognize, honor, reconcile and partner with the Narragansett Tribe whose land and water we benefit from today.”


Barrington became the latest town to adopt a land acknowledgement statement in December after receiving a request from Barrington Interfaith Partners.


{snip} The Tomaquag Museum, which has published a guide to land acknowledgements, says they should be the first step in a process that ultimately ends in “land return to Indigenous nations.”