Around Town

Cranberry Thanksgiving at the Tomaquag Museum

The state's only museum dedicated to indigenous history is preserving Narragansett traditions

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When asked why Rhode Islanders should learn their state’s indigenous history, Lorén Spears’ response is straightforward: “There is no history without indigenous history.”

Lorén serves as the executive director of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island’s only indigenous history museum and one of only ten recipients of last year’s national medal for museum and library service. The museum houses a variety of fascinating artifacts, ranging from an 1850s birchbark canoe donated by Lorén’s grandmother to running gear worn by Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, a US team member in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and two-time winner of the Boston Marathon. As Lorén says, “We want [people] to know our history but also about our community today.”

The museum’s doors open twice a week for regular visiting, and it offers a kids-oriented Children’s Hour on Friday mornings. To get everyone
acquainted with each other, a museum educator starts the hour by teaching the kids how to introduce themselves in the Narragansett language and leads a welcoming dance. Then, everyone goes on a scavenger hunt and takes part in an activity based around a theme, such as “environment” or “basketry.” This month, these activities will include a nature walk and making nature stamps, cranberry ornaments and blankets. Each day ends with a farewell dance.

On September 23, the museum will be throwing its Cranberry Thanksgiving Festival. In addition to music, dance and a ceremony conducted by a tribal elder, the celebration will feature authentic indigenous art by members of the Narragansett community and an appearance by Paulla Jennings, a nationally renowned Narragansett storyteller and educator. And, of course, there’ll be plenty of delicious cranberries and cranberry-related dishes. –Trent Babington