by Lorén Spears, Narragansett/Niantic
Tomaquag Museum Executive Director
Please note that this article is used by HHA with permission of the Author. No other use is granted without permission by Lorén Spears, who may be reached via the link to the Tomaquag Memorial Indian Museum
on this site, or at: www.tomaquagmuseum.com
The Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum was established in 1958 by Eva Butler, an anthropologist, with the guidance of the late Princess Red Wing (Narragansett/Wampanoag), and is Rhode Island’s only museum entirely dedicated to telling the story of the Indigenous Peoples of this land. Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum, located in historic Arcadia Village in Exeter since the early 70’s, is also the only Rhode Island museum operated by Indigenous people. It originated in Tomaquag Valley, a hamlet inside the village of Ashaway in the town of Hopkinton, RI.
Tomaquag Valley, as in all of these lands now known as Rhode Island, holds the spirit of my ancestors, the Narragansett and Niantic People. My ancestors walked Tomaquag Valley. We know these lands. There is a genetic memory of our experience on these lands, despite the dislocation, land grabs, historical trauma of colonization, industrialization, and the technological age which takes people away from their connection with the land. However, our people still know these lands. Our families still live in Tomaquag Valley, on Chase Hill Road, Collin Road, Diamond Hill Road and others. We are connected to the stories this land tells. Some we are willing to share and others we share amongst ourselves.
Princess Red Wing was the first curator and cultural educator at Tomaquag Museum when it was founded in Tomaquag Valley in 1958 on the property of Eva Butler, on Burdickville Road in Hopkinton. At that time, the museum included both colonial and Native gardens, Indian village site, nature trails, Ceremonies, Thanksgivings, Clambakes, museum exhibits and many dioramas of pre-colonial contact life of the Indigenous people. These exhibits, events, and programs allowed visitors a personal experience and a glimpse into Native culture.
Princess Red Wing along with other tribal people shared their traditional knowledge with visitors at the museum. Tall Oak and his wife Cametoh, and children shared traditional ways of life to museum patrons. Princess Pine Needle shared traditional herblore. Many other tribal people shared their cultural knowledge through the arts and music and dance.
Tomaquag Museum has kept this tradition of sharing Native culture from a first person perspective. We continue to engage Indigenous people to share their story, arts, and cultural knowledge with the public. Princess Red Wing was the first of many to tell the Indigenous history, culture, art, and ecological knowledge through her stories. It is her legacy that lives through Tomaquag Museum. Oral tradition is part of the Indigenous experience and we share that with those who visit Tomaquag Museum.
Tomaquag means ‘beavers’ in the Narragansett language. Tummockquanog is a spelling used in the colonial period. Tummockquanogut means the place of the beavers. Tomaquag Valley was named for these industrious animals who utilize their intellect and strength of their specialized, continuously growing teeth, in order to alter the waterways, create dams, dens, and improve their food supply, creating a safe haven for their families.
Indigenous people always study their environment and learn from the living things around them. The beaver demonstrates a powerful example of creativity, skill, collaboration, work ethic and ingenuity. The beaver is strong, beautiful and cares for its family. They are economical and understand the use of resources around them as well as use of technology to serve their needs.
Our ancestors could look to the beaver for many gifts such as: lessons learned from watching the beaver in their work, lessons of land and water management. The gift of food such as beavertail stew, a recipe in the Tomaquag archive, is another. The gifts of fur for clothing and blankets, tools and adornment made from teeth and bones, to name just a
Kutaputush Tummockquanog, ‘Thank you Beavers’.
Who we are as Indigenous people comes from the earth from which we dwell.
Yoo Nuweekun. We Dwell Here.
This land now known as Rhode Island, or more specifically Hopkinton or Tomaquag Valley is our homeland, the lands of my people, the Narragansett and Niantic (also spelled Neyantic). Who we are and what we do stems from the gift of this land to us by the Creator.
The homes of our ancestors were built from the saplings of trees from this weta or ‘forest’. They were covered with mats from bulrush, cattails, and cornhusk during summer months. During the winter, a layer of bark was added for more protection.
We lived inland during the winter and along the coast during the summer. The forest provided us protection from the harsh winters and brought us closer to food resources in which to hunt. Tomaquag Valley was most likely a winter village. On our way inland we could collect the last gifts of the season such as acorns, walnuts, mushrooms, and cranberries. We would be carrying with us the crops harvested from our summer gardens such as potatoes, onions, squash, beans, and other hardy foods. We would travel the river system between summer and winter villages.
This land provided all that we needed. We gathered medicinal plants, hunted, fished, gathered fruit, edible plants, and developed sustainable gardening techniques that lead us to a diversity of foods from fresh water, salt water, fields, and forests.
The teachings from our ancestors…. “We are the land, the land is us. We shape the land and the land shapes our lives.” Everything we needed from canoes for transportation, food, shelter, medicine, clothing, household goods, tools, toys, games, music, songs and ceremony all came to us as gifts from the land, the greatest gift from the Creator.
Tomaquag Walking the Past; Framing the Future
By Lorén Spears (Narragansett/Niantic)
Tomaquag building community
Working together in unity
Harmony for all living things
Land provides all we need
Caring for this land in the modern day we must heed
Fear what your carelessness brings
Warnings came to those early European settlers
Words considered those of meddlers
Scouts and warriors, Niantic, Narragansett
Shared the same message of concern
Today, in the technological world we must learn
We are the land, the land provides us with all we need
Return to the earth one day we will
Circle of life we shall fulfill
Will we learn Creator’s plan?
Tomaquag a place of beauty then and now
Live in harmony, balance, and respect
Teachings of the wisdom keepers do not neglect
Leave no marking on this place
Ensure next generations of the human race