A historic gathering quietly took place on January 7, 2016, in Washington DC that may have broad positive implications for Native Americans in the United States. The purpose of the event was to file tort claims in the D.C. District Court to seek redress for centuries of genocide, slavery, and environmental racism.

The names are familiar to anyone with even a passing history of pre-colonial America.  Pokanoket, Nahaganset, Nehantick, Mashapaug, Usquepaug, Nipmuc, Lenape, Cherokee.  These are the first contact tribes here in 1524 when Giovanni da Verrazzano arrived in Narragansett (Nahaganset) Bay of Rhode Island, when the Pilgrims, in 1620, nearly a century later, accidentally landed on what is now Cape Cod, and when Henry Hudson, in 1609, sailed into what is now New York Harbor and met the first inhabitants of what is now known as New Jersey.

The participants of the gathering are members of the Federation of Aboriginal Nations of America (FANA), a group of the first contact indigenous nations mentioned above, who greeted the European colonists, and who are also members of the UN-recognized NGO, National Association for the Advancement of Indigenous People (NAAIP), headed by Hemoc Xelup, a citizen of the Nehantick-Nahaganset Nation.


The member tribes of FANA are not under the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).  In the United States, only some indigenous tribes have surrendered their sovereign rights to come under the control of the BIA which holds their lands in trust, grants permission for any activities taking place on reservation lands, and dictates how the tribe’s governance operates. Many historically documented indigenous tribes in the United States have chosen not to file the paperwork to become tribes under the BIA, due to a desire to keep their traditional governance structure and their sovereign and treaty rights, and indigenous land rights intact.

The goal of FANA was to create a confederation to welcome other indigenous tribes that want to preserve their rights and work together to move America forward in a positive way.

FANA supports the legal actions taken on behalf of the Nations involved in the filings to seek justice and has provided assistance to each Nation to substantiate their individual claims.


The Sagamore, Sachems and Chiefs filing torts on January 7, 2016 who represent the Pokanoket Nation, the Nehantick-Nahaganset Nation, and the Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians were:

William Winds of Thunder Guy, Sagamore (Grand Sachem) of the Pokanoket Nation (consisting of four tribes) (Bristol, Rhode Island), a 10th generation direct descendent of Massasoit Ousamequin (Yellow Feather) who shared the Pokanoket traditional October Thanksgiving harvest feast with the Pilgrims in what is considered the First Thanksgiving, and signed the first Treaty between the Pokanoket, the Nipmuc and the Pilgrims, and also a direct descendent of Simeon Simons, the Pokanoket aide/body guard to George Washington.

Neesu Wushuwunoag – Sunnâdin Sachem, Nehantick-Nahaganset Nation/ Pomham Sachem, Mashapaug Nahaganset Tribe (Providence, Rhode Island).

Dr. Ronald Yonaguska Holloway, Principal Chief of the Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians (New Jersey and Pennsylvania).

Other Chiefs and Sachems present to support the filings were:

Chief Darius J. TaliYona Ross (TaliYona Quosa), former Chief of the Ani~Tsalagi Onaselagi Northeastern Band (which was folded into the Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians in August 2015) and current member of the Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians Tribal Council.

Quenikom Pau Muckquashim – Touwúttin Sachem, Nehantick-Nahaganset Nation/Mascus Sachem, of the Usquepaug-Nehantick Nahaganset tribe (South Kingston, Rhode Island.)

Tort Claims

The tort claims were filed in the D. C. District Court in Washington DC at the same time in a historic show of solidarity.

The content of the claims against the Defendants directly address “racist policies that were put into place by the defendants to fraudulently extinguish and/or strip the Plaintiffs of their land claim rights, policies that have ultimately resulted in the inability of the Nations to utilize their lands in a traditional or sustainable manner as a result of environmental denigration and negligence on the part of the Defendants”.

Although the torts filed in the International Court are similar, the Plaintiffs and Defendants in each case are specific to the tribes and defendants involved.  Therefore each case must be adjudicated separately, and each case may be settled between the Nations and Defendants independently. There are four states involved in the claims filed, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania although the actual land traditionally occupied before the colonial era by these tribes was wider and included more states.


The timing of the filing is important.  According to Hemoc Xelup, citizen of the Nehantick-Nahaganset Nation, and head of the National Association for the Advancement of Indigenous People, the TPP agreement due to be signed next week will “basically extinguish many native indigenous rights”. It was important to file these claims before the signing of the TPP.  The indigenous view of the TPP is that it appears to be a gift to corporations at the expense of the indigenous tribes globally who are often their environmental victims. The type of claims made in the torts were important as well. He added that many “tribes don’t know they can file torts under environmental racism because all the other avenues have been closed.”

Many are also unaware that there was a UN deadline under the Sustainable Development Agenda that after December 31, 2014, unless groups filed paperwork before that deadline, any future claims by indigenous tribes would be dismissed. Fortunately, the National Association for the Advancement of Indigenous People (NAAIP) filed on behalf of their members by December 28, 2014. The members of FANA are members of the NAAIP and as such, have standing to file their claims.


The formation of FANA itself in December, 2015 was historic in that it was the first time these first contact tribes had formed a confederation to support each other. The members present considered the formation of FANA to be a joyful event because the history of the colonial occupation of America is rife with historically documented instances where European colonists actively encouraged division between tribes in a “divide and conquer” strategy, to the detriment of the tribes and the colonists themselves, spurring centuries of strife, warfare, and misery. The indigenous leaders filing the torts yesterday expressed optimism that this would be a new, positive, way forward.

Sagamore William Winds of Thunder Guy, whose family figures prominently in the history of New England, and the Revolutionary War due to Massasoit Ousamequin, the father of King Philip/Metacom, as well as Simeon Simons, is hopeful that these new, historic alliances and the delivery of long-awaited justice will allow his Nation and the other tribes of FANA to achieve respect and self-sufficiency.  As the first male Chief in hundreds of years due to the routine genocide of male descendants in his bloodline, it was particularly poignant to witness his reaction to finally filing his claim on behalf of his Nation and so many generations of his family.

Pomham Sachem Neesu Wushuwunoag of the Mashapaug stated “The overall goal is to restore peace, harmony, and balance between the colonial and federal powers of the US Government and the Nations that originally gave them permission to populate these lands.”

Mascus Sachem Quenikom Pau Muckquashim of the Usquepaug was also moved by the occasion and explained that the formation of FANA was a “spiritual movement” to foster understanding “based on love and respect” to achieve a peaceful future for the next seven generations of all people.

The day also included celebrating a historic treaty between their Mashapaug and Usquepaug tribes which resulted in the formation of the Nehantick-Nahaganset Nation and the Usquepaug tribe induction into FANA which was witnessed by the other FANA members.

Chief Yonaguska Holloway of the Sand Hill Band of Lenape and Cherokee Indians described the formation of FANA as an “awakening” and that the world needed the guidance now of indigenous people who have traditionally lived in a sustainable way.  He was inspired that the tribes could now help each other move forward together. He was also grateful that the NAAIP, led by Hemoc Xelup of the Nehantick-Nahaganset Nation, helped fill in the gap to pull everyone together.

The participants believe that the claims may result in final settlements that will perhaps bring closure to the painful history of the United States and these First Contact Indigenous tribes.

For the tribes of FANA and the NAAIP, the goal is not to be wards of the United States under control of the BIA, but instead, to be self-sufficient sovereign nations capable of negotiating with the US Government and other World Nations as equals, charting their own future, and creating a more peaceful, sustainable, environmentally respectful world for future generations.

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