Indigenous Empowerment Network

Tomaquag “Belonging(s)” Blog
November 2016
“A close relationship among a group and personal or public effects”
Hello and “Kunoopeam” (Welcome)!

In this months Belonging(s) Blog, we will be talking about a special project that the Tomaquag Museum (TM) has been working on for several months. I have also included several links to statistics and recent articles.  TM continues to successfully position itself as an agent of social change for Indigenous people of Rhode Island. The project titled Indigenous Empowerment Network (IEN) is sponsored by Third Sector New England’s (TSNE) Inclusion Initiative Grant Program. TSNE’s program encourages nonprofits to accelerate their commitments to solving the persistent and systemic problems that perpetuate poverty and inequality in the New England region through collaboration. TSNE’s vision is to promote the development of “inclusive communities” through support and technical assistance for cross-sector networks in communities of color working to address the root causes of poverty in six main areas—arts & culture, education, healthcare, environmental justice, community and economic development, and youth development.

For more information on Third Sector New England and their programs, go to Not only does Tomaquag’s IEN project focus on raising awareness of issues related to poverty, it opens the door for more meaningful dialogue. More importantly, the community-led project goes one step further by implementing programs that help eradicate poverty in Indigenous communities located in Rhode Island. For me, it evokes the spirit of…“Less talking and more doing”. I believe that museums can and must play a much deeper role in the communities they serve, especially underserved communities.



According to Executive Director Lorén Spears, “Education is a means to end poverty." However, for communities that have been subjugated, education has been used as a tool to oppress. Indigenous peoples, often lack trust for the mainstream educational process. During the colonization of the Americas, Indigenous Peoples were bullied, manipulated, victimized, and demonized to justify the taking of land and resources.

In the Declaration of Independence, it states, “Raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands”. That is the greed. It is backed by a power which is shown through advanced means of warfare and financial power. Then there is the notion of entitlement that people who colonize for the greed of resources, land and more power feel entitled. Through this process, the victim is dehumanized. Indigenous people are depicted in this way in the Declaration of Independence: 

“To bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions. When you dehumanize any human being (savage) it is much easier to blame the victim. This and similar concepts play out repeatedly throughout history and lead to social inequities. There is an underlying greed in capitalistic societies. People with power and/or upward mobility will use that power to control those without power and use them for the advancement of their own wealth and they often do not acknowledge the oppressive actions they are inflicting on others as it is all about their own gain and they feel truly entitled to it via their personal propaganda, beliefs, and often backing by others with the same ideologies. In today’s societies, it manifests itself in the poverty of our nations…”

According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, “The percentage of Native Americans living in poverty is three times that of whites and the state as a whole. The following are socioeconomic characteristics of Rhode Island’s Native American population. These characteristics are a few of the social determinants that can have a profound effect on an individual’s health.”
The percentage of Native Americans living in poverty is three times that of whites and the state as a whole. (NA-42.2%, White-11.3% and statewide-14.4%)
Native Americans have a higher percentage of unemployment than whites and state as a whole.(NA-26.0%, White-8.6% and statewide-9.7%)
The median household income for Native Americans is $21,476, roughly $34,000 less than the state median household income and $39,000 less than the white median household income. (NA-$21,476, White-$60,140 and statewide-$55,675)
Only 18.6% of Native Americans own their housing unit, compared to 64.7% of the white population. (NA-18.6%, White-64.7% and statewide-60.2%)

For additional information on statistics please visit:

According to RI Kids Count , “Children who live in poverty, especially those who experience poverty in early childhood and for extended periods of time, are more likely to have health, behavioral, educational and social problems.” 

Hispanic, Native American and Black children are less likely to be proficient in reading and mathematics in fourth grade than White or Asian children. 
Native American, Hispanic, and Black adults living in Rhode Island are less likely to have a bachelor’s degree than White or Asian adults. 
Nationally, Black, Hispanic, and Native American students are more likely than White and Asian students to be disciplined in school. Schools’ disproportionate use of disciplinary techniques that remove children from the classroom, such as out-of-school suspension or expulsion, may contribute to racial and ethnic gaps in school achievement and drop-out rates.
Rhode Island has one of the highest rates in the U.S. for disciplinary out-of-school suspensions among Black students with disabilities. 
In Rhode Island during the 2012-2013 school year, minority students received 52% of all disciplinary actions, although they made up only 38% of the student population.
During the 2012-2013 school year, Rhode Island’s Hispanic and Black children were more than 14 times as likely as White children to attend schools identified for intervention.

For additional information on statistics please visit:

IEN is currently in the planning stage. The goal of Tomaquag’s IEN is to bring equity to the Indigenous community of Rhode Island through the eradication of poverty by creating a new education and job training model. As we get to the implementation phase, IEN’s unique strategy for eliminating poverty will be through education and community economic development.

With TM as the hub tribal members will lead the project by empowering their cultural & ecological knowledge & weave that into the framework of contemporary careers that museums house including: Marketing (film, podcasting, web design, audio production, blogging & print media); Museum Studies (history, research, anthropology, & sociology); Agriculture (herb lore, gardening, botany, biology); Business/Finance (small business development; retail management; accounting; strategic & business planning, fundraising); Education (museum educator, performer, storytelling, curriculum development, program coordination,  teacher conferences &  tour development); Archival (library sciences, digitization, document management, & research); Collections Management (conservation, preservation, exhibit design & fabrication) and Administration (leadership training, transition & strategic planning).

IEN is working diligently to develop a protocol to create various levels of learning that will lead to careers, starting with internships utilizing these various areas of the museum to expose Indigenous youth and adults to the various opportunities a museum has to offer. We are formalizing the internship process and will have candidates apply for these paid opportunities to learn and experience various types of career opportunities. The next layer will include fellowships in focused areas of career development. It will include a set training program that will include certifications in the area of study which will be developed in partnership with colleges & universities. The last piece is the bridge to higher education.

While employed, after gaining experience, confidence and a passion for a certain area of study, through our higher education partnerships TM is looking to create a Museum Studies degree program and adding on additional degree programs as future steps in the project.  Candidates may take course work online and/or onsite with cohorts lead by certified higher Ed professors many of which will come directly from TM Board of Directors. The degree will be conferred by one of our various partner institutions. Our goals is to help participants overcome their fears of education, understand historical trauma & its impact, build skills, connect to interests & passions, and layer education in ways that empower tribal members and lead to fulfilling careers that impact the individual, their family, and the whole community in a positive, productive and culturally respectful way. Everything we do today must positively affect the next 7 generations to come.

For more information on historical trauma and its effects please visit: 

Indian Country Diaries: Historic Trauma May Be Causing Today’s Health Crisis

Historical Trauma in Native Americans: Discovering Our Stories

Trauma May Be Woven into DNA of Native Americans

For many years TM has nurtured relationships with diverse individuals and groups from in and outside of the museum field. TM has been successfully building unique cross-sector partnerships with individuals and organizations. This year, we have hosted three convening and many meetings with partner organizations. We have 36 partners that are listed below.


TM is also very excited to announce we received support from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Business Development Grant for $99,000. It includes jobs for a museum archivist, 2 part-time year-long native interns, 1 part-time year-long native apprentice and four 16 week part-time native interns as well as hires a native Elder consultant who specialized in museum intern programs. Eight months into our new initiative and several new jobs have been created. 




TM would like to take this opportunity to thank Third Sector New England, USDA, all of our partners, the Narragansett Tribal community, our board, volunteers, and staff. None of this would be possible without your help!

(L-R) Kim Peters, Tomaquag Collections Manager & Samantha Cullen-Fry IEN Coordinator

(L-R) Kim Peters, Tomaquag Collections Manager & Samantha Cullen-Fry IEN Coordinator

Join the Indigenous Empowerment Network
Share your expertise, become a mentor, hire an intern
Share your network, make connections and make introductions
Share your work that already supports social and financial change
Share resources, job posting, educational, job training and other opportunities
Share your ideas to make IEN stronger which in turn makes Rhode Island stronger

If your organization is interested in becoming a partner please contact
Lorén Spears or Samantha Cullen-Fry at (401) 491-9063











Kutaputush (Thank You),
Kim Peters, Collections Manager
Lorén Spears, Executive Director
Samantha Cullen Fry, IEN Coordinator
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The Tomaquag “Belonging(s)” Blog, is a monthly conversation dedicated to the happenings, musings of staff, and a peek at the collections of the Tomaquag Museum. We welcome guest bloggers, and topics relevant to Native American Museums and Indian Country, especially those located in the New England area.

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