Far into the lush green of a meadow and tree-laden country road, I found the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum a welcome break from a hot summers day in Boston. That interruption helped me understand a people who live only an hour away but centuries from consciousness.
At the crest of a rounded drive adjacent to a smaller building and spanning back to bucolic green and wildflowers, the modest museum house stands in the midst of birdsong and bubbling water from a nearby creek. This rural wrapping softens my step from one world to another. I am able to breathe in the soft summer air of rural Rhode Island before I step into an awakening of sorts.
The air conditioned museum is home to a variety of exhibits and programs. It contains historical artifacts, artwork, pictures and descriptions of cultural events, profiles of significant Narragansett individuals, chronicles of history, and the voice of Narragansett thinking displayed through art and literature.
For a modest tour price (ranging from 8 to 25.00), the articulate and impassioned curator Loren Spears brings to life the exhibits using film, stories, facts, and documents/publications. She represents her people well and is knowledgeable about modern trends and media. An educator herself – she brings 25 years of teaching experience – including the founding of Nuweetooun School – to her presentation of Narragansett culture past and present.
I learned of Princess Redwing, an activist, artist, philosopher, poet, and one of the founding forces of the Tomaquag Museum. I discovered that wampum is not a form of exchange for the indigenous, but a commemorative gift of thanks to the creator and to those worthy of honor. I learned of the skill of Narragansett stone masonry – an adaptive way of life in response to the Colonist market. I was reminded of the clever nutritional harnessing of the cranberry. I was informed about the experiential (and by the way very “innovative in today’s terms”) manner of education and efforts to share the language and tradition with the children. Most importantly, I was encouraged by the strong force of community and the warmth, patience, and artistry of these beautiful people.
Though depleted over centuries by various forms of genocide, the Narragansett people still live here in New England. As a door to this tribe’s resilient and colorful culture, the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum is much more than an exhibit. It is a step into an understanding of a seafaring nation who inhabited Rhode Island’s shores long before Rhode Island existed and to know by this step that though we may represent different tribes or nations, we are all connected. We are all creatures on Turtle Island (aka Mother Earth).