Warren Town Council approves first municipal Land Acknowledgement in New England

Four hundred years after the first visit by Plymouth Pilgrims Edward Winslow and Stephen Hopkins to the home of the Pokanoket Massasoit Ousamequin, who had struck a treaty with them four months earlier, the Town Council of Warren, RI passed what is believed to be the first municipal Land Acknowledgement in New England. The Acknowledgement, which received final Town Council approval on July 13, 2021, was authored by members of an American Indian Study Committee and approved by the Pokanoket Nation Council. The Land Acknowledgement declares the Town’s recognition of its Indigenous origins.

It reads: Welcome to Sowams, the ancestral home of the Pokanoket people for ten thousand (10,000) years prior to settler colonization. We pay tribute to the tribal elders and people of this community who served and continue to serve as stewards of the lands and waterways of Rhode Island and Massachusetts. We recognize the unique and enduring relationship that exists between Indigenous People and their traditional territories.  We acknowledge that our community was a part of the larger ancestral homeland of the Pokanoket Nation. Let this acknowledgement serve as a reminder of our ongoing efforts to recognize, honor, reconcile and partner with the Pokanoket people for the benefit of the lands and water of Sowams.

Sowams was the name of the area occupied by the Massasoit whose leadership extended over sixty tribes throughout southeastern Massachusetts and East Bay Rhode Island in the 1600s. On July 3, 2021, the Town commemorated the July 1621 meeting at a ceremony held next to the Massasoit Spring, the site in Warren where Ousamequin’s settlement was thought to be located.

The Land Acknowledgement was initiated by an eight-person committee appointed by the Town Council in October 2020 to look at ways that the town’s precolonial history could be better appreciated. In addition to the Acknowledgement, the Town has installed a new interpretive marker near the Spring describing its history, has updated the Sense of Pride unit for school children to reflect the Town’s Pokanoket origins more accurately, and has worked with the Warren Athletic Hall of Fame to reinterpret the use, prior to 1993, of a Native American mascot.

In the future, the Town will be issuing a Proclamation of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 8th. Also on August 8th, the public will be invited by the Pokanoket Nation to an event at Burr’s Hill Park in Warren, the site of Ousamequin’s burial to engage people in learning about the past and present of the Pokanoket People.