The First Peoples of the area now referred to as Rhode Island have cared for these lands and, in turn, been cared for by them for thousands of years. When Europeans arrived, colonists were met by strong tribal nations with complex societies and vibrant cultures. Beginning in the early 17th century, colonization began to disrupt Native groups in Rhode Island and across New England on social, political, and cultural levels. In seeking a better life for themselves and their families, colonists changed the futures of the First Peoples as well. The changes that ensued often contradicted and frequently dismissed Indigenous worldviews and led to the persecution of Native communities.
Through difficult times, the First Peoples of Rhode Island have managed to both survive and thrive. Thanks to the strength and dignity of various Native leaders and tribal members from the 17th to the 21st centuries, the Narragansett Indian Tribe has maintained a vibrant cultural legacy in Rhode Island. Institutions like The Narragansett Indian Church, the Tomaquag Museum, and the Rhode Island Indian Council have been bastions of First Peoples' identity and community making. To date, The Narragansett Indian Tribe is the only federally recognized tribe in Rhode Island. However, the Wampanoag, Nipmuc, and Niantic lived within Rhode Island's Eurocentric boundaries prior to, and during colonization.
In the development of this tour, many primary and secondary sources were consulted. This was done with a critical eye on these sources, considering the context within which they were created. Accordingly, many of the sources should not be viewed as innately factual documents, but as documents created by colonial powers to justify colonization. Some of the primary sources cited here are controversial, and even painful reminders to Native communities of what their ancestors endured and overcame.
While there are countless places that are important to the First Peoples of Rhode Island, and many individuals that have worked for the betterment of their community, those involved in crafting this tour had the very difficult task of selecting just a handful of places and people to highlight. The individuals and locations selected are chosen to illustrate larger themes and topics relevant to the history of the First Peoples of Rhode Island.
In experiencing this tour, it is important to note that any group of people who have a shared cultural identity are diverse in their views and opinions on their heritage. The Narragansett Indian Tribe is no exception. Accordingly, the secondary sources informing this tour do not reflect the views of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, or necessarily, its tribal members. Our hope is that by sharing these sources, we inspire respectful dialogue between Native and non-Native groups about the history of the First Peoples of Rhode Island.
Locations for Tour
Tour developers would also like thank Anthony Belz, Archivist, Lorén Spears, Executive Director, and Dawn Dove, Tribal Elder, who helped support content from the Tomaquag Museum.