Threads of Native American culture are all around us in the Ocean State, from the names of towns and streets to neighbors carrying on art, culinary, and other long-standing traditions. Rhode Island occupies the ancestral homelands of several first nations and tribes, whose cultures still permeate the area today. To celebrate Native American Heritage Month, here are businesses, organizations, and art to explore throughout November and all year long.
NewportFILM and the Tomaquag Museum recently screened the documentary Being Thunder, the story of Sherenté Harris’ journey as a two-spirit member of the Narragansett tribe breaking gender norms through traditional dance. In case you missed the event, view the film via streaming services Apple TV and Vudu.
NATIVE AMERICAN ARTS FESTIVAL
Visit The Towers to shop the annual Native American Arts Festival where local Indigenous artists show off their wares and sell handmade goods. Last year’s vendors included Dawn M. Spears showcasing hand-painted bags and shoes, Eleanor Dove Harris’ wampum jewelry, fine artist and author Deborah Spears Moorehead, and the Narragansett Food Sovereignty Initiative offered foods made by Indigenous chefs. November 26, 11am-4pm, Narragansett
Within the eclectic collection of stores in The Fantastic Umbrella Factory resides The Purple Shell, an authentic Eastern Native trading post featuring Wampum jewelry – white and purple hand-made beads from quahog shells – and other locally made, hand-crafted items based around the ocean and Native American life. The Fantastic Umbrella Factory is open daily 10am-5pm.
The Adams Library at Rhode Island College hosts the free film series, From Aliens to Zombies: Horror Films from Indigenous Creators, featuring zombie flick Blood Quantum and Slash/Back about a shape-shifting alien. Says associate professor and reference librarian Amy Barlow, the series provides film-goers with “the opportunity to immerse ourselves in storytelling that centers Mi’kmaq and Inuit (Iqaluit, Nunavut) characters, experience familiar cinematic genres through fresh lenses, spark conversations about the historical and sociopolitical subtext of the stories, and have fun after-hours in the library.” November 3, 17
Located in Charlestown, the ancestral land of the Narragansett people, Sly Fox Den Too serves authentic Northeast Indigenous cuisine by Mashpee Wampanoag chef Sherry Pocknett, who uses sustainable practices and local ingredients to create a menu spanning breakfast to dinner. Specialties range from the Cape Coddah’ featuring cranberry walnut hot cakes to Bison Burgers and Three-Sisters Succotash. Pocknett recently won the prestigious James Beard Award for Best Chef Northeast, the first Indigenous woman to achieve the honor. Open Thursday 8am-2pm, Friday and Saturday 8am-2pm, 5-9pm, and Sunday 8am-2pm.
The Tomaquag Museum in Exeter is the only organization in Rhode Island dedicated to celebrating the Indigenous peoples of the Dawnland (with a focus on Southern New England) and the state’s only Indigenous-operated museum. As an educational cultural center, the museum also hosts events throughout the year, including children’s story times, a dance performance by Sherenté Harris, a field trip to Mystic to celebrate Native American heritage, and Nikommo (read more in our latest). You can also find Lorén Spears’ Guide for Land Acknowledgments about crafting statements that include and uplift Indigenous voices. Open for public visits Wednesday and Saturday 10am-5pm, or by appointment.
Thriller novelist Vanessa Lillie, an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation who’s now based in Providence, will be at the Local Authors Book Fair at Rochambeau Library in Providence on November 16, Charter Books in Newport on November 18, and Wakefield Books on November 25 with her newest book, Blood Sisters. The novel is the first in a suspense series that follows a Cherokee archeologist who is drawn into an investigation of the disappearance of two women, one of whom is her sister.
MONUMENTS AND MUSEUMS
Hiking trails, parks, museums, and memorials scattered around the Ocean State offer glimpses into the past, such as The Great Swamp Monument in South Kingstown commemorating the massacre of Narragansett Indians by colonists in 1675. Ninigret Park in Westerly was the site of a Niantic trading post, and the Peace Dale Museum of Primitive Art and Culture showcases Indigenous artifacts from the greater New England area. In Narragansett, visit sites like Canonchet Memorial, a 6,000-pound limestone statue of the Narragansett tribal chief, and the Narragansett Indian Monument, carved from a single fir tree. Discover history and scenery on one of 10 self-guided walking tours from the East Bay to Providence by Sowams Heritage Area.
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