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Preserving Indigenous legacy: Native American monuments

Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro


Rhode Island boasts a rich and diverse history that, as we know, extends beyond the early colonists who settled here. Our state's history is deeply intertwined with our Indigenous people, such as the Narragansett, Wampanoag and Niantic tribes, among others. Rhode Island does not boast as many Native American monuments as other parts of the United States, but the ones we do have show significant cultural and historical importance. These monuments serve as reminders of the state's Indigenous heritage and the need for cultural preservation and recognition. Listed below are some of the monuments and significant areas that are open to the public for educational purposes.

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Tomaquag Museum

The Tomaquag Museum, located in Exeter, is a prominent institution dedicated to the preservation of the Narragansett culture and heritage. Though it is not a traditional monument, this museum is a living tribute to the indigenous peoples. Founded in 1958 by Princess Red Wing, the Tomaquag Museum is an educational hub that houses a vast collection of artifacts, art, and educational materials, making it a critical resource for understanding Native American history in the region. The museum organizes exhibitions, workshops, and cultural programs that help foster an understanding of the Narragansett people and their history, serving as an important resource for both Native Americans and non-Native Americans.

Native American Heritage Hall

Located in the University of Rhode Island's Multicultural Center, the Native American Heritage Hall serves as a unique monument in the form of a dedicated space for Indigenous cultures and traditions. It features a collection of Native American art, artifacts, and resources. The hall also hosts events and exhibits that raise awareness about Indigenous culture and history. It stands as a testament to the university's commitment to recognizing and respecting the state's Indigenous heritage.

Roger Williams National Memorial

The Roger Williams National Memorial is an important historical site in Rhode Island, dedicated to the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, who is renowned for his advocacy of religious freedom. The memorial predominantly focuses on Williams' contributions to the state, but also acknowledges the Native American tribes that were already present in the region.

This monument serves as a reminder of the early interactions between European settlers and the Native American inhabitants, as well as the important role that Native Americans played in shaping the history of Rhode Island. It's an opportunity for visitors to learn about the complex history of colonial America and the interactions between different cultural groups.

Indigenous Art Installations

Though not traditional monuments in the sense of statues or plaques, there are several contemporary Indigenous art installations throughout Rhode Island that celebrate Native American culture. These art pieces can be found in public spaces, universities, and cultural centers. They often convey themes of heritage, identity, and resilience, helping to raise awareness about Indigenous issues and culture in the state.

One such piece can be found on Cypress Street in Providence, though it is currently hidden behind some foliage. Painted by local artist Deborah Spears Moorehead, who is of Pokanoket Wampanoag descent, the mural depicts other local Natives in full regalia. Moorehead paints in such a way that Native pride becomes the central theme.

Rhode Island may not have as many Native American monuments and spaces as some other states, but the ones that do exist are essential for preserving the state's Indigenous heritage. From the Tomaquag Museum's dedication to Narragansett culture to the Native American Heritage Hall, the recognition of Native American contributions at the Roger Williams National Memorial and local artists preserving their culture, these monuments play a crucial role in acknowledging the history and culture of Rhode Island's Indigenous peoples.

In a time when the importance of recognizing and respecting Indigenous culture is becoming increasingly evident, these monuments stand as symbols of Rhode Island's commitment to preserving its native heritage. They also provide valuable educational resources for people to learn about the state's complex history and the enduring legacy of the Native American tribes that have called Rhode Island home for generations.


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