HISTORY OF THE TOMAQUAG MUSEUM
In 1958, Mary E. Glasko better known as Princess Red Wing, Narragansett/Pokanoket-Wampanoag, applied her cultural knowledge to her devotion for education and founded Rhode Island’s first and only Indigenous Museum. With the help of friend and colleague, anthropologist Eva Butler, they opened the Tomaquag Museum in Eva’s private home in Tomaquag Valley, a hamlet in Ashaway. Eva Butler provided a broad collection of Indigenous belongings from across America and Princess Red Wing supplied her cultural knowledge to deliver public tours from a first person perspective.
After the passing of Eva Butler in 1969, Tomaquag Museum relocated to Exeter RI, adjacent to the then renowned Dovecrest Restaurant, serving Indigenous cuisine and owned by Ferris and Eleanor Dove of the Narragansett Tribe. Partnering with the restaurant on events and thanksgiving celebrations in the 70s and 80s, Princess Red Wing continued to assist in the operations of the museum in addition to advocating for Indigenous people of New England. During this time, the Museum undertook its first big projects for the development and management of collections and archives in an effort to better organize the museum and expand exhibits.Upon receiving a 501(c)(3) tax exemption as a non-profit in 1977, the museum relocated to the farmhouse next door. However, continued its partnership with Dovecrest for programming.
In 1984, the Dovecrest property was sold, leaving the museum in the old farmhouse next door. Though Tomaquag struggled for a few years searching for a new home, programming continued intermittently. In 1997, Dawn Dove purchased the old Dovecrest property again, and Tomaquag returned to its previous site. The Board reorganized and began programming for schools and organizations.
Despite intermittent, project-based funding, the Board was inspired to implement more museum programming through increased group and school tours and cultural events. Lorén Spears became the Executive Director in 2003 and continued growing the organization, even establishing a school onsite for Native American children, known as the Nuweetooun School which unfortunately had to close in 2010 due to severe flooding damage.
Generous grant support from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA), Rhode Island Council on the Humanities, Champlin Foundation and the Rhode Island Foundation supported new exhibits, archival and collections projects, youth education and public programming. Between 2003 and 2010, Paulla Dove Jennings, curator, and Kate April, archivist, worked gratis writing grants, consolidating collections, and curating exhibits. Their efforts, along with the Executive Director and board volunteers served as the backbone of Tomaquag’s future growth and development.
After recovering from the historic Floods in 2012, we embarked on strategic planning, a rebranding initiative to help grow our staff and visibility. These initiatives paid off in 2016, when Tomaquag was awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation's highest honor given to museums and libraries to service in the community. The first and only museum in Rhode Island to have been presented this prestigious award. For 22 years, the award has celebrated institutions that respond to societal needs in innovative ways, making a difference for individuals, families, and their communities. Tomaquag is honored to have received this exceptional distinction and looks forward to continuing the important work of elevating indigenous voices and stories.
We have grown from a 1 person staff in 2010 to 7 to start 2018! Each member of our team brings experiences, cultural knowledge and vibrancy to our organization. With support of our grant funders, sponsors, donors and patrons we are moving toward our vision. We welcome you to Tomaquag, tour the museum, be a volunteer, join a committee, become a board member, and help us celebrate 60 years!
Tomaquag Museum’s Mission Statement:
The Mission of Tomaquag Museum is to educate the public and promote thoughtful dialogue regarding Indigenous history, culture, arts, and Mother Earth and connect to Native issues of today.
Tomaquag Museum envisions its future as an Indigenous Cultural Education destination that engages visitors in thoughtful dialogue that promotes understanding and strives to create experiences that transform people's lives by broadening their perspectives, attitudes, and knowledge of Indigenous Cultures and the interrelationship with the wider world.
Tomaquag Museum’s Core Values:
Tomaquag Museum's Core Values are rooted in our traditional values and philosophy. They inspire our actions and guide our decisions as we continue to grow and develop our organization.
Respect: Fostering trust, collaboration, appreciation, diversity, honor, spirit path
Leadership: Promoting integrity, initiative, high standards, self-motivation, inner journey
Inclusiveness: Furthering service, sharing resources, flexibility, accessibility, responsiveness, community
Knowledge: Promoting curiosity, discovery, teaching, life-long learning, empowerment. Encouraging creativity, rigorous inquiry, analysis, documentation, communication, and upholding ethical standards and Indigenous principles
Responsibility: Encouraging legal, ethical and fiscal responsibility; stewardship, accountability, organizational and cultural continuity