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Occupy Enlists The Quinnipiac
by Thomas MacMillan | Mar 26, 2012 10:00 am
Posted to: Downtown, Occupy Wall Street
In its last-ditch fight to stay on the New Haven Green, Occupy New Haven brought in a medicine man from the tribe that occupied the land before the Puritans.
Medicine Man Fox Running (pictured above) told his new friends Sunday that in his view, the fight’s already lost. He advised them to pick up their tents and buy some land elsewhere. He also offered a history lesson that fueled their case questioning the Green’s ownership.
Meanwhile, occupiers are trying to enlist another Quinnipiac, the tribe’s sachem, Iron Thunderhorse, to join them in their legal battle against the city.
Iron Thunderhorse won’t be able to make it to Wednesday’s possible showdown over whether Occupy New Haven can remain on the Green, though. He is in prison in Texas on rape and kidnapping charges.
Gordon Fox Running Brainerd, a 77-year-old Branford man who’s a Bear Clan medicine chief in the Quinnipiac tribe, showed up at Occupy New Haven’s embattled encampment on the Green Sunday afternoon for a teach-in on Native American history.
The land belongs to everyone, Fox Running told a group of two dozen occupiers under a tarp canopy in the camp’s central compound.
Unfortunately, modern society doesn’t recognize that fact, he said. As it is, your best bet is to pool your money and get some private property of your own, he said.
Fox Running said he’s not picking a side in the battle of Occupy vs. the City. The five-month-old occupation is the last standing New England outpost of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which swept the nation last fall with a message of opposition to corporate greed, income inequality and money in politics. It’s been fighting to keep its spot on the Green amid city efforts to remove it.
Nearly two weeks ago, a last-minute legal appeal forestalled the removal of Occupy New Haven and raised the question of to whom the Green really belongs. The people of New Haven? The Proprietors of the Green, a self-perpetuating private body descended from the colony’s founding Puritans? Or, as occupiers are now asking, does it belong to Connecticut’s “original peoples”—the Native Americans?
They won a temporary victory on March 14, when a federal judge issued a two-week restraining order enjoining the city from removing them.
The court victory came through the efforts of attorney Norm Pattis, who filed a complaint on behalf of eight occupiers. As part of his legal work, Pattis has been delving into the history of the Green and the Proprietors of the Green, the central square’s technical owners. Part of Pattis’ complaint challenges the very existence of the group, which formed in the 17th century. The matter will be taken up in federal court in New Haven on Wednesday.
In the meantime, the challenge to the proprietors’ authority has inspired some occupiers to take the matter even further.
“We’ve decided to try to return the land to the native peoples,” said occupier Ben Aubin. “Through speaking about the Green, we realized we’re entering into a decolonization campaign.”
Occupier Tommy Doomsday acknowledged that if occupiers are successful in handing the Green back to the descendants of indigenous people, it will mean Occupy has to leave too.
That’s fine, he said. “We’re going to get kicked off here one way or another.”
Occupy New Haven is looking to form alliances with Native Americans in the state, who may have a firmer claim on the Green than the Proprietors do, Aubin said. “We’re reaching out to all original peoples of Connecticut.”
As a result of that effort, Fox Running arrived at the Green Sunday. Wearing traditional “regalia,” the mustached man took a seat on a plush red couch in front of an upside-down American flag. Two dozen occupiers, on folding chairs and milk crates, gathered around.
Chicken Fat In A Bonfire
Fox Running began with a history lesson on the interaction between the indigenous people of “Turtle Island” (now known as North America) and the European colonizers. Waves of disease in the 1600s wiped out the majority of the native peoples of Connecticut, which “made it easier for Europeans to come here and occupy land,” he said.
Europeans made treaties with the local tribes, and “purchased” land from them, concepts that the indigenous people did not understand, Fox Running said. “They had no concept that you could own land.”
As Edward Atwater writes in his “History of the Colony of New Haven to its absorption into Connecticut,” “Momaugin the Indian Sachem of Quinnipiac” and his tribesmen were weakened by disease and had observed the benefits of living with the English settlers since their arrival in April of that year. “Which with all thankfulness they now acknowledged, they jointly and freely gave and yielded up all their right, title and interest to all the land, rivers, ponds, and trees with all the liberties and appurtenances belonging unto the same in Quinnipiac to the utmost of their bounds east, west, north, south, unto Theophilus Eaton, John Davenport and others, the present English planters there and to their heirs and assigns forever.”
The Quinnipiac were given some 1,200 acres as a reservation, which was gradually whittled away by the Europeans. They were finally coerced to move to Waterbury, where the land was sold out from under them, Fox Running said. “Many of my ancestors scattered.” They remain scattered today, he said.
Fox Running then spoke about the dangers of modern society’s obsession with technology and its destruction of the planet. He warned about the dangers of overpopulation and global warming; he predicted New Haven will be underwater in 50 years.
Occupier Don Montano asked Fox Running about the idea of occupiers going to Ft. Nathan Hale—the site of the original Quinnipac reservation—and “re-occupying the land.”
“I think you have about as much chance of that as a piece of chicken fat in a bonfire,” Fox Running said.
Occupier Aubin said some occupiers are thinking of “returning to the land.” He asked for advice on how to proceed with a “vision quest.”
“We’d like, for a little while, to maybe live as Quinnipiac,” said occupier Ty Hailey.
That requires respect and gratitude for the land and its gifts, Fox Running said.
“If you’re going to do this in a native fashion…” he began, as a PVC tarp support-post suddenly slipped off its chair-milk-crate-cinderblock platform and nearly clocked an occupier on the head.
“Make sure you put your house together properly,” finished Norm Clement, a confederate member of the Quinnipiac sitting next to Fox Running.
Fox Running ended the meeting by standing and offering a prayer.
“Grandfather,” he began.
“Mother!” interrupted occupier Sara Gregory with a shout.
“Sara!” other occupiers groaned.
Fox Running continued with his prayer for guidance for “these young people,” to help them “out of the rut” they’re in.
Outside the tent, Fox Running was asked what he thinks about the Occupy movement.
“I never really got a good sense on what the premise behind this is,” he said.
As for his thoughts on Occupy’s right to continue to camp on the Green, Fox Running articulated a position nearly identical to that of the city.
“This Green is supposed to be for public use,” but it can’t be used by the general public because Occupy is here, he said.
Fox Running said he doesn’t yet have a clear opinion on whether or not Occupy should be allowed to continue to stay on the Green. “My answer to you is a question: What is your goal in occupying this land?”
“Get out of the damn city,” he said to Hailey. “Get together all your quarters and go out and buy a piece of land in the countryside somewhere. How else are you going to get a piece of land to occupy?”
Fox Running lit up a USA Gold cigarette. He said he’s sure Occupy doesn’t stand a chance of holding onto the Green.
“I think the powers are going to prevail, unfortunately,” he said. “History tells the tale, doesn’t it?”
Paging Iron Thunderhorse
Clement (pictured) respectfully disagreed with Running Fox. Clement said he’s a Penobscott from Maine. He was given the name Momowetu by Quinnipiac sachem Iron Thunderhorse, who made him a confederate member of the tribe.
Indigenous people have a 500-year history of resistance, he said. Buying land is not the way out, because the government can take the land anyway, through eminent domain, Clement said.
“You have to fight the system, and that’s what Occupy is all about,” he said.
Clement said he has been working on contacting Iron Thunderhorse—in prison in Texas—through the sachem’s wife, Little Owl, who lives in Indiana. Clement said he’s looking into the possibility of Iron Thunderhorse getting involved as a party to Occupy’s legal action against the city and the Proprietors.
Irving Pinsky, a lawyer who represents Occupy, said he hopes to speak with Iron Thunderhorse on Monday.
Iron Thunderhorse’s wife, Little Owl, responded to an email from the Independent on Monday.
Occupy has already connected with at least one other local Native American leader. Aubin said the group has been talking with Aurelius Piper, the Peace Chief of the Golden Hill Paugussetts. The tribe has a rich history of attempts to re-claim lands allegedly illegally taken from them, including claims to land in more than a dozen towns in Connecticut, from Westport to Branford.
Aubin said he’s hoping to have Native Americans join occupiers on Wednesday as they face the threat of possible removal from the Green, depending on the outcome of that day’s court hearing.
“I support the Occupy New Haven movement,” Chief Piper said in a phone conversation. “They are actually standing up for the indigenous tribes in this area. They’re speaking up for us.”
As for joining the occupation this week, however, Piper was non-committal. “I made no plans to be anywhere at any particular time.”
“Coates” And “Alcumy Spoons”
City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts had no comment on the question of Proprietors versus Indians. Head Proprietor Drew Days did not respond to a request for comment.
Attorney Pattis weighed in on Friday. “When I was a kid, I was taught that Manhattan was turned over to settlers for $24 of trinkets,” he said. It sounds like New Haven was transferred the same way, he continued. “We’ve got another case of unjust enrichment in our midst.”
In a March 18 post on his blog, Pattis wrote that his research found that land that is now New Haven was purchased from the natives for “twelve coates of English Trucking cloath, twelve alcumy spoons, twelve hatchets, twelve hoes, two dozen of knives, twelve porengers & foure cases of French knives and sizers.”
In that post, Pattis agrees with Fox Running’s statement that the Indians didn’t have the same understanding of the transaction as the English did. “Go ahead, a native American might have thought, give me some warm clothes and knives, and I will sign your paper: do you really think that a piece of paper can transform land given to all into yours alone? I suspect some Indians thought the Europeans fools, much as we would if a man were to give us a car in exchange for our promise that he would never die. Some promises are essentially meaningless.”
The post concludes, “Perhaps the folks occupying the Green can take up a clothing drive. Let them collect old coats and kitchen utensils. Make a big stack of these items on the Green and then offer the Proprietors the items in exchange for the land. Absurd, you say? No less so than claiming that title so acquired almost 400 years ago vests in a group now asserting ownership in what everyone regards as a public space. Or do acts of unjust enrichment and what amounts to thievery flow in one direction only?”
“Can somebody challenge a 1649 land purchase?” he asked. It’s an interesting question, but not one he intends to raise before the court on Wednesday, Pattis said.
However, if any Native Americans want to secure legal counsel, “they’re welcome to join the pow-wow,” he said.
So, does the Green belong to the city, the Proprietors, the occupiers, or the Native Americans?
“Who knows whose Green it is?” Pattis said. To settle that very question, he’s raised a “quiet title action” that he’d like to have considered by the state Supreme Court. He hopes to settle the issue of ownership of a piece of land, and thus quiet any challenges.
The question again goes back hundreds of years. In 1810, the state legislature recognized the Proprietors of the Green. But, Pattis said, the state constitution adopted in 1818, some portions of which are still in effect, “prohibits the granting of hereditary title.” It states, in Article 1, Section 20, that “No hereditary emoluments, privileges or honors, shall ever be granted, or conferred in this state.”
The question then, is if self-selected perpetuation of the members of Proprietors of the Green amounts to hereditary title, Pattis said. “We want it to get the state Supreme Court.”
It’s not right that a private body can tell people what to do on land that’s enjoyed by the public, Pattis said. It’s like if “Skull and Bones” said everyone had to eat Chinese food on Wednesdays, he said.
In a Sunday blog post, Pattis writes that the New Haven’s “first official act” was to execute a Native American named Nepaupuck for the crime of murder and then place his severed head on the Green.
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This is hilarious, I have not laughed this hard in a while. Thank you NHI for this truly funny piece.
When you are scraping the bottom of the barrel for support, and the best person you can find tells you to pack it in, you really ought to listen.
Also, Norm Pattis said this: “It’s not right that a private body can tell people what to do on land that’s enjoyed by the public, Pattis said. It’s like if “Skull and Bones” said everyone had to eat Chinese food on Wednesdays”. That’s also hilarious, because it’s a false argument. Forbidding someone from doing something is entirely different from mandating that someone do something. A lawyer should know better.
Occupy really is making a difference now! They have provided my whole office with huge entertainment for the day.
Being one of the 99% I support the occupy movement. Being a poor homeowner who is barely scraping by because of the high property tax and over spending I am not in support of the encampment. It has already cost the overtaxed residents of this city $80,000 and climbing.
I give credit to the kids that have stuck with it. As stated by another poster a week ago, set up an info booth with signs ect. (I am sure that no one will object to that).
I recall a law in CT were if I take care of a piece of land for 15 years and a day it can legally become mine. I think that applys to the park to. Adverse Possession.
Yes… let’s fight the ownership of the green. Let’s show the world how strong and brave and powerful our movement is by picking a fight with folks who have done nothing to injure us. That will fix all our problems in New Haven. Meanwhile, folks are still getting shot… folks are still unemployed… kids still aren’t learning, our taxes are still too high, folks are still hungry… folks are still being foreclosed out of their homes… and money is still running our political systems. But at least we’ll have made a point. So what if it is a point that no one gets or really cares about. It’s a POINT!!!
Questions: How many of the folks fighting to stay on the green have been there since the start? How many arrived AFTER city hall asked them to leave? How many pay taxes in New Haven? I mean, if you’re trying to save the green for the public I would think it’s because we’re paying for it. So how many of you “occupiers” actually pay?
And what do you want it for anyway? It can’t be to protect it. You’re DESTROYING it!!! You want to learn something from the Native Americans then learn how to take care of the land. I’ve seen you nail signs to beautiful trees, you’re killing the life giving grass. AND THE PLACE STINKS!!!
To me this group sounds like a bunch of adolescent kids playing fort joined by a few so-called ‘grown ups’ who just like to fight (and get their picture in the paper.)
Lastly, since you claim the green belongs to the public I, as a member of the public, humbly request that you drop this frivolous lawsuit and GET OFF MY GREEN!!!
I look out my window, and what do I see? Green grass growing in my (organic) yard. Time to pack it in, guys. You did some real good, but now you are just undoing the good you did.
Well said Curious and cedarhillresident!.
“Occupier Aubin said some occupiers are thinking of “returning to the land.” He asked for advice on how to proceed with a “vision quest.”
This is pretty ridiculous. The Occupy Movement has quite literally just displayed its own lack of an ‘identity,’ and ironically used a frequent tool of the 1%: cultural appropriation.
This plays into a much larger discussion of race and class of course, but seeing the occupy movement take its cues from the dominant ideology/power, whether knowingly or not, shows that it is time for this to end or risk losing the movement’s symbolic power.
“Scraping the bottom of the barrel” Well, that’s a blatantly racist comment. Why is seeking the help of Native Americans the bottom of the barrel? I think its a sign they understand the history of the land and the roots of oppression here.
That being said, I am a little weary of their requests for “vision quests” as that trivializes indigenous religions. Would they ask for a Jewish activist to give them a Bar Mitzvah? Tribal religion isn’t something to just have a weekend experience with and they shouldn’t try to steal the culture. Also, I’m disgusted with Sara Gregorys total lack of respect. Don’t ask for a meeting with Natives than disrespect their elders during a prayer. That’s white privilege and entitlement issues in a nutshell, thinking she has the right to yell at an indigenous man in his own homeland. Racism like that has no place in the movement.
This whole thing has become ridiculous. Along with RevKev, I would like to know how many occupiers are New Haven residents and how many have been at the New Haven encampment since the beginning. I would also like to know exactly what Occupy New Haven has accomplished since they plunked down on our, yes, OUR Green five months ago. I don’t want to hear the tired rhetoric about what the occupy movement has done overall. What has Occupy New Haven, IN PARTICULAR, done, other than squawk, march on City Hall a couple of times, create an eyesore, and likely leave Gordon Fox Running Brainerd shaking his head in confusion and disgust? We are all confused about what it is you stand for, what you hope to accomplish, and how you are going about trying to accomplish it. Sitting on your butts on the Green isn’t accomplishing squat.
This is truly sad. What began as a movement for which many had high hopes has devolved in New Haven into a ludicrous argument with, once again, no immediate regard for the issues that urgently confront this country today. I, too, would like to see a list of what the Occupiers have accomplished since their movement, broadly, put a spotlight on any number of wrongs way back last fall. Precious little, it seems.
I had to reread this article several times. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading.
“Meanwhile, occupiers are trying to enlist another Quinnipiac, the tribe’s sachem, Iron Thunderhorse…He is in prison in Texas on rape and kidnapping charges.”
I have no further comment about this.
“‘We’ve decided to try to return the land to the native peoples,’ said occupier Ben Aubin. ‘Through speaking about the Green, we realized we’re entering into a decolonization campaign.’”
This is plain childish. The Occupiers have run out of options and now they want to give the land to the Quinnipiacs, a group that has ceased to exist as a nation for centuries. What does this accomplish? What does this even have to do with the Occupy movement? I used to identify a lot with the Occupiers’ goals and ideals but this is plain stupid. Even Fox Running, the medicine man, thinks the Occupiers are being ridiculous.
Do the Occupiers want to be taken seriously or not? Handing the Green back to the Native Americans makes as much sense as handing the entire country back to the Native Americans and the rest of us going back to the lands of our ancestors. Sure it sounds good in spirit, but it’s just absurd.
I’ve studied Native American history for years and I am very sympathetic to their plight. Reservations were a shoddy apology for centuries of genocide and persecution by the American government. The Occupiers identifying with the persecution of the Native Americans trivializes their sad history. The Occupiers had a point when they made light of the current injustices in the US. But saying they face the same injustices as the Native Americans is something that offends me greatly. I’ve lost any remaining respect I had for Occupy New Haven. I want them off the Green as soon as possible.
Mr. MacMillan, I loved this article, but have you considered submitting it to SNL? And please don’t misread me, I mean that as no reflection on your journalism (I’ve always loved your writing, especially so, the series on Midge Renault), but more that the subject matter you’re writing about is worthy of comedy. I hope you understand. Your piece is excellent. The subject is the comedy.
Let’s see. Ben Aubin says they’ve “decided to try to return the land to the native peoples”. Excuse me, who the Hell are you? You don’t get to decide anything about land that’s not your’s to begin with.
This “group” (ONH’s actions, or more precisely their lack of actions, has long lost the notion of a “movement”, and I refuse to identify them as such) then brings in a speaker to bolster their views, and he tells them it’s time to pull up the tents and move on. Mr. Goldfield, I’m not sure even Tom Wolfe would have scripted this.
Next, we have an apparent reach-out to Thunderhorse, who’s been incarcerated for 35 years for rape, kidnapping and robbery. That really solidifies your case.
“We’d like, for a little while, to maybe live as Quinnipiac,” Ahh, I’ve got nothing. Low-hanging fruit.
ONH has “jumped the shark”. They’ve lost any authentic credibility they may have had in the beginning by simply NOT achieving anything in New Haven except biting the hand that feeds (literally, remember NHPD bringing dinners to them?). After the City has bent over backwards to accommodate them, been extremely lax in the ordinances that were being violated and basically just placated them, they bring the City to court. And I guess the thank you was the “brown boots” comment. Class stuff from a lawyer.
ONH has hurt the nationwide movement by accomplishing nothing except attacking those who’ve helped them. Many people have called for them to state what they’ve accomplished, but I see no response except stale rhetoric. Any attempt at dialogue by opposing views is met with hostility. I’ve experienced that firsthand. ONH has misinterpreted the concept of change, by their warped view that they’re accomplishing something by fighting to hold on to their stance on the Green. Yup, them staying there is really changing the class dichotomy. Absurd.
Please, will one of ONH state clearly, without rhetoric, what they’ve accomplished, beyond establishing a camping site. Because we all could have done that by buying a tent at Sports Authority and driving to Sleeping Giant park. Other than that, you’ve got nothing.
Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman are rolling in their graves.
I believe Pattis is wrong and that the Indians were aware of land rights and possessory interests. It is believed that tribes to our East feuded over land before the arrival of the white man.
And I’m pretty sure the land deal was struck only after the whites turned down the Indians offer of the blue part of clam shells in exchange for the tools and other commodities.
I’m curious, what is Pattis’ opinion on the Indian tricking the white man into thinking he has a good chance of getting rich if he puts 100 dollar bills into a slot machine?