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“The ability to tell stories is one of our best gifts. We are not just repeating historical facts; we are telling stories and talking about history and culture through a first-person lens, and that makes it real and relatable to just about any audience.”
– Loren Spears, Executive Director
A Bridge to Understanding Indigenous Culture
The Tomaquag Museum is Rhode Island’s only museum dedicated to telling the story of the state’s Indigenous people. Founded in 1958, the museum’s mission includes educating the public and promoting thoughtful dialogue about Indigenous history, culture, and arts, engaging the population of Southern Rhode Island and the state’s 8,000 Indigenous residents.
Every year, artists, researchers, students, and travelers from around the world visit the museum’s exhibits which are also a popular resource for Rhode Island and Southern New England communities. The museum engages, educates, and provides authentic experiences for visitors and partners by incorporating Indigenous elders, storytellers, art educators, and Native artists into exhibits as well as partner programs and festivals. The museum’s efforts have impacted the Indigenous community, raising self-esteem, increasing cultural knowledge, providing a venue to explore Indigenous history, and serving as a voice for Rhode Island’s Indigenous people.
Encouraging Storytelling Through Arts and Wellness
The museum hosts an arts and wellness series with the goal of empowering and engaging Indigenous communities. Series segments focus on topics relevant to the community, such as mental health and wellness, exploration of food resources, environmental impact, and historical trauma. The discussions are followed by group art projects that connect the discussion themes with artistic expression. Once a year, projects are put on display at the museum for the public consumption.
Podcasts: New Spin on Oral History
The museum understands that the Indigenous people they represent do not always realize that they have a story to tell. Through the “Indigenous Lifeways” podcast, the museum explores these stories and amplifies the Indigenous voice. Podcasts reached over 9,000 downloads as of January 2016, demonstrating the museum’s achievements in encouraging Indigenous people to document their stories.
Many of the Tomaquag Museum offsite community outreach programs include museum staff providing lectures to educational or like-minded institutions. One of the most popular lecture series, I’m Not Your Mascot, details the struggles of Indigenous populations with sports teams using figures from their history for sports mascots. I’m Not Your Mascot program encourages Indigenous people to retell their history through involvement with museum activities, exhibits, and lectures.