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Narragansett people

Total population
2400 (1990s)[1]
Regions with significant populations
United States (Rhode Island)
Formerly Narragansett, now English
Traditional tribal religion,
Related ethnic groups
Nipmuc, Niantic, Pawtuxet, Pequot, Shawomet[1]

The Narragansett tribe are an Algonquian Native American tribe from Rhode Island. In 1983 descendants of tribal members identified in an 1880 treaty gained federal recognition as the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island and re-established sovereignty.

In 2009, the Indian Reorganization Act did not have standing to have newly acquired lands taken into federal trust and removed from state control.


  • Reservation 1
  • Government 2
  • Name and language 3
  • History 4
    • Early History 4.1
    • 17th Century 4.2
    • 18th Century 4.3
    • 19th Century 4.4
    • 20th Century 4.5
    • 21st Century 4.6
    • Land claim suit 4.7
    • Federal recognition 4.8
  • Current events 5
  • Cultural institutions 6
  • Notable Narragansett and List of Narragansett Sachems 7
  • See also 8
  • Notes 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11


Recognized by the federal government in 1983, the Narragansett tribe controls the Narragansett Indian Reservation, 1,800 acres (7.3 km2) of trust lands in Charlestown, Rhode Island.[2] A small portion of the tribe resides on or near the reservation,according to the 2000 U.S. Census.[3] Additionally, they own several hundred acres in Westerly.[2]

In 1991 the Narragansett purchased 31 acres (130,000 m2) in Charlestown for development of elderly housing. In 1998 they requested that the Department of the Interior take the property into trust on behalf of the tribe, to remove it from state and local control. The case went to the

  • Narragansett Indian Tribe Official Site
  • Reference book on Narragansett
  • Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum
  • Nuweetooun School

External links

  • Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1.


  1. ^ a b c d Pritzker, 442
  2. ^ a b c Pritzker, 443
  3. ^ Narragansett Reservation, Rhode Island United States Census Bureau
  4. ^ Ray Henry, "High court to hear case over Indian land: Usage of tribal property at issue", Associated Press, 3 Nov 2008, accessed 11 Oct 2010
  5. ^ a b "Supreme Court will rule on Narragansett dispute with Rhode Island", Boston Globe, 25 Feb 2008, accessed 3 Aug 2008
  6. ^ Chris Keegan, "High court thwarts RI casino plan", The Westerly Sun, 25 February 2009, accessed 21 March 2013
  7. ^ "Historical Perspective of the Narragensett Indian Tribe", Narragansett Indian Tribe website, accessed 8 Mar 2009
  8. ^ William Bradford, Of Plimoth Plantation, 1620-1647, ed. Samuel Eliot Morison (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), p. 29; and John Underhill, Nevves from America; or, A New and Experimentall Discoverie of New England: Containing, a True Relation of their War-like Proceedings these two yeares last past, with a figure of the Indian fort, or Palizado (London: I. D[awson] for Peter Cole, 1638), p. 84.
  9. ^ William Bradford, chapter 33, History of Plymouth Plantation
  10. ^ "The Celebrated Josua Tefft"
  11. ^ Center Profile: Narragansett Indian Church
  12. ^ a b c Ariela Gross, "Of Portuguese Origin": Litigating Identity and Citizenship among the "Little Races" in Nineteenth-Century America, Law and History Review, Vol. 25, No.3, Fall 2007, accessed 22 Jun 2008.
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ Kirby, Shaun. "Salt Pond, center of the ancient Narragansett world". Rhode Island Central News and Information. Southern Rhode Island Newspapers. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  15. ^ "Paul Campbell Research Notes", Rhode Island Historical Society, April 1997, accessed 3 Aug 2008
  16. ^ - 3(1):25-37, 1 Feb 1999Gaming Law ReviewJana M. (Lemanski) Berger, "Narragansett Tribal Gaming vs. "The Indian Giver": An Alternative Argument to Invalidating the Chafee Amendment", , accessed 3 Aug 2008
  17. ^ Gavin Clarkson (2003-07-25). "Clarkson: Bull Connor would have been proud". Indian Country Today. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
  18. ^ "Police experts testify in smoke shop trial", The Westerly Sun, 25 Jul 2008, accessed 3 Aug 2008
  19. ^ Emily Bazar, "Native American? The tribe says no",, 28 Nov 2007, accessed 3 Aug 2008
  20. ^ a b "Carcieri, Governor of Rhode Island, et al. v. Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, et al.", Supreme Court of the United States, Providence Journal, February 2009, accessed 8 Mar 2009
  21. ^ Arna Alexander Bontemps and Jacqueline Fonvielle-Bontemps (eds.), eds. (2001). "African-American Women Artists: An Historical Perspective". Black feminist cultural criticism. Keyworks in cultural studies. Malden, Mass: Blackwell. pp. 133–137.  


See also

Name Regency Liaison Remarks
Tashtassuck Historically uncertain
Wessoum Son Historically uncertain, should marry his sister
Canonicus Son
Miantonomo to 1643 Nephew
Canonicus 1643 to 1647 Oncle 2. Sachemdom
Mriksah 1647 to 1667 Son
Canonchet 1667 to 1676 Greatcousin
Interregnum 1676 to 1682 1682 the remaining Narragansett went to the eastern Niantic
  • Ella W.T. Sekatau Ph.D. (1928–2014), Medicine Woman, ethno-historian, linguist, spokeswoman, cultural teacher, adviser, and artisan. Responsible for the reintroduction of cultural Traditions and Values. First to re-introduce the original dialect of "Narragansett".
  • Ellison "Tarzan" Brown (1914–1975), 2-time Boston Marathon winner (1936, 1939) and 1936 U.S. Olympian
  • Sonny Dove (1945–1983), basketball player
  • Kingston, Rhode Island of Narragansett-African descent who was host to anti-slavery activists; his wife Sarah Harris Fayerweather, also a free black, was particularly active in the movement
  • John Christian Hopkins (born 1960), journalist
  • Nancy Elizabeth Prophet (1890–1960), sculptor of Narragansett-African descent [21]
  • Russell Spears (1917–2009), stonemason
  • Princess Red Wing (1896-1987), historian, museum curator and Squaw Sachem of the New England Council of Chiefs
  • Loren Spears, educator, writer
  • Stone Wall John (c. 1625-c. 1700), stonemason
  • Eric Tate Yeti truther

(alphabetical order by surname)

Notable Narragansett and List of Narragansett Sachems

The Narragansett Tribe hosts their annual August Meeting Powwow, which takes place the second weekend of August on their reservation in Charlestown, Rhode Island. It is a gathering of thanksgiving and honor to the Narragansett people and is the oldest recorded powwow in North America, dating back to 1675 (earliest colonial documentation of the gathering, since the powwow, most certainly, had already been centuries old before European contact).

The Narragansett operate the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island. They run the Nuweetooun School at the museum, exclusively for the Narragansett children.

Cultural institutions

[5]) of land in Charlestown which the Narrangansett purchased in 1991. After trying to develop it for elderly housing under state regulations, in 1998 they requested the DOI to take it into trust on their behalf to remove it from state and local control.2 At issue is 31 acres (130,000 m[20] The

The current population numbers about 2400, and the tribe has closed the rolls. They have dropped some people from the rolls and denied new applications for membership. Scholars and activists see this as a national trend among tribes, prompted by a variety of factors, including internal family rivalries and the issue of significant new revenues from Indian casinos.[19]

The late 20th and 21st century have brought new questions of Native American identity. Like numerous other tribes, the Narragansett have recently undertaken efforts to review tribal rolls and reassess applications for membership. They currently require tribal members to show direct descent from one or more of the 324 members listed on the 1880-1884 Roll, which was established when Rhode Island negotiated land sales.

The tribe has plans to upgrade the Longhouse along RI Route 2 (South County Trail) as a place of indigenous American cuisine and cultural meeting house. These plans have been in the works for well over 15 years. Originally built in 1940, the Longhouse has fallen into disrepair. Upgrades for Narragansett Indian tribal medical, technological, and artistic systems are also being planned.

The Narragansett Tribe is negotiating with the General Assembly for approval to build a casino in Rhode Island with their partner, currently Harrah's Entertainment. The Rhode Island Constitution declares all non-state-run lotteries or gambling illegal. A proposed constitutional amendment to allow the tribe to build the casino was voted down by state residents in November 2006.

In a separate federal civil rights lawsuit, the tribe charged the police with the use of excessive force during the 2003 raid on the smoke shop. One Narragansett man suffered a broken leg in the confrontation. The case was being retried in the summer of 2008. Competing police experts testified on each side of the case.[18]

The state and tribe have disagreed on certain rights on the reservation. On July 14, 2003, Rhode Island state police raided a tribe-run smoke shop on the Charlestown reservation, the culmination of a dispute over the tribe's failure to pay state taxes on its sale of cigarettes.[17] In 2005 the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals declared the police action a violation of the tribe's sovereignty. In 2006, an en banc decision of the First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the prior decision, stating the raid did not violate the tribe's sovereign immunity because of the 1978 Joint Memorandum of Agreement settling the land issues, in which the tribe agreed that state law would be observed on its land.

Current events

The tribe prepared extensive documentation of its genealogy and proof of continuity as descendants of the 324 tribal members of treaty status. In 1979 the tribe applied for federal recognition, which it finally regained in 1983 as the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island (the official name used by the Bureau of Indian Affairs).

Federal recognition

In 1978 the Narragansett Tribe signed a Joint Memorandum of Understanding (JMOU) with the state of Rhode Island, Town of Charlestown, and private property owners in settlement of their land claim. A total of 1,800 acres (7.3 km2) was transferred to a corporation formed to hold the land in trust for descendants of the 1880 Narragansett Roll, in exchange for the tribe agreeing that, except for hunting and fishing, the laws of Rhode Island would be in effect on those lands. The Narragansett had not yet been federally recognized as a tribe.[16]

In January 1975, the Narragansett Tribe filed suit in federal court to regain 3,200 acres (13 km2) of aboriginal land in southern Rhode Island, which they claimed the state had illegally taken from them in 1880. The 1880 Act's authorizing the state to negotiate with the tribe listed 324 Narragansett approved by the Supreme Court as claimants to the land.[15]

Land claim suit

The Narragansett tribe had a coastal site at the top of Point Judith Pond in Narragansett, Rhode Island that was recently discovered during the construction of a subdivision for single-family residences. The construction company and developer initially attempted to cover up the discovery and continue with construction but word soon got out and interest in the site caused the intervention of the state government who ended up buying it out for preservation. Further archaeological excavation on the site quickly discovered it to be the largest pre-Columbian village ('Otan' in Narragansett Algonquin) with the highest concentration of permanent structures in the Americas. Although maize was known to be cultivated by Algonquin tribes there has never been physical evidence before the discovery of this site because the method of grinding the kernels into a powder isn't conducive to preservation. 78 kernels were found in the first week of excavation alone making it the first time that agriculture of this kind can be confirmed beyond doubt. The current members of the Narragansett tribe have been helpful in determining the makeup of people inhabiting this site. The inhabitants were members of the Turtle Clan and the settlement was a conduit for trade in medicines. They used the surrounding pond and its many islands for hunting camps, resource collection, fishing, shellfish, burial sites, and herbal collections for medicine and ceremony. Roger Williams, the founder of the colony of Rhode Island, when treating with the Narragansett tribe was brought to the top of Sugarloaf Hill in nearby Wakefield. They pointed towards the large settlement and told him it was called Nanihigonset. It is now believed to be the center of the Narragansett world where they first began and extended their dominion over the neighboring tribes at different points in history.[14]

21st Century

In the late 20th century, they took action to have more control over their future. They regained 1,800 acres (7.3 km2) of their land in 1978, and in 1983 gained federal recognition as a tribe. According to tribal rolls, there are approximately 2,400 members of the Narragansett Tribe today. Like most Americans, they have mixed ancestry, with descent from the Narragansett, other tribes of the New England area, as well as Europeans and Africans.

Although they lost control of much of their tribal lands during the state's late 19th century detribalization, the Narragansett kept a group identity. The tribe incorporated in 1900. It built its longhouse in 1940 as a place for gatherings and ceremonies.

The Narragansett Indian Church in Charlestown was founded in the 1740s. Constructed in 1859, this building replaced one that burned down.[13]

20th Century

From 1880-1884, the state persisted in its efforts at "detribalization". While the tribe agreed to negotiations for sale of its land, it quickly regretted the decision, and worked to regain the land. In 1880 the state recognized 324 Narragansett tribal members as claimants to the land during negotiations. Although the state put tribal lands up for public sale in the 19th century, the tribe did not disperse and its members continued to practice its culture.

The Narragansett Indians had a vision of themselves as "a nation rather than a race", and it was a multiracial nation. They insisted on their rights to Indian national status and its privileges by treaty.[12]

We are not negroes, we are the heirs of Ninagrit, and of the great chiefs and warriors of the Narragansetts. Because, when your ancestors stole the negro from Africa and brought him amongst us and made a [12]

The tribal leaders resisted increasing legislative pressure after the [12]

In the 19th century, the tribe resisted repeated state efforts to declare it no longer an Indian tribe because its members were multi-racial. They contended that they absorbed other ethnicities into their tribe and continued to identify as Narragansett.

19th Century

In the 1740s during the First Great Awakening, colonists founded the Narragansett Indian Church, to try to convert natives to Christianity. The church and its surrounding 3 acres (12,000 m2) were the only property never to leave tribal ownership. This continuous ownership was critical evidence of tribal continuity when the tribe did the research and documentation needed to gain federal recognition, which it successfully did in 1983.[11]

18th Century

After the war, the English sold some surviving Narragansett into slavery and shipped them to the Caribbean; others became indentured servants in Rhode Island. The surviving Narragansett merged with local tribes, particularly the Eastern Niantic. During colonial and later times, tribe members intermarried with Europeans, Africans, and African-Americans. Their spouses and children were taken into the tribe, enabling them to keep a tribal and Native American cultural identity.

He asked to be executed by Uncas, chief sachem of the Mohegan. Uncas and two Pequot sachems closest to Canonchet's rank among his captors executed him in Indian style. The English treated Canonchet as a traitor, and had his body drawn and quartered. A mixed force of Plymouth militia and Wampanoag hunted down Metacomet. He was shot and killed by Alderman, who had earlier served with him. The war ended in southern New England, although in Maine it dragged on for another year.

Raiding parties from Connecticut composed of the colonists and Indian allies, such as the Pequot and Mohegan, swept into Rhode Island and killed substantial numbers of the now-weakened Narragansett. A mixed force of Mohegan and Connecticut militia captured Canonchet, the chief sachem of the Narragansett, a few days after the destruction of Providence and delivered him to Connecticut authorities. When told he was to die, he replied, "I like it well that I should die before my heart has grown soft and I have said anything unworthy of myself."

The Indians retaliated in a widespread spring offensive beginning in February 1676, in which they destroyed all English settlements on the western side of Narragansett Bay. They burned Providence on March 27, 1676, destroying Roger Williams' house, among others. Across New England, Indians destroyed many towns, and the attackers raided the suburbs of Boston. In spite of waging a successful campaign against the colonists, by the end of March, disease, starvation, battle losses, and the lack of gunpowder caused the Indian effort to collapse.

The leaders of the United Colonies (Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut) accused the Narragansett of harboring Wampanoag refugees. They made a preemptive attack on the Narragansett palisade fortress in Rhode Island on December 19, 1675, in a battle that became known by the colonists as the Great Swamp Fight. Hundreds of Narragansett old men, women, and children perished in the colonists' attack and burning of the fort, but nearly all their warriors escaped. In January 1676, the English colonist Joshua Tefft was hanged, drawn and quartered at Smith's Castle[10] in Wickford, Rhode Island. He had fought on the side of the Narragansett during the Great Swamp Fight and was considered a traitor.

Metacomet subsequently declared war on the colonists, in what the English called King Philip's War. After Metacomet escaped an attempt to trap him in the Plymouth Colony, the uprising spread across Massachusetts as other bands, such as the Nipmuc, joined the fight. The Native Americans wanted to expel the English from New England. They waged successful attacks on settlements in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but Rhode Island was spared at the beginning as the Narragansett remained officially neutral.

Roger Williams and the Narragansetts - a 19th-century engraving, after a painting by A. H. Wray

As missionaries began to convert tribal members, many natives feared they would lose their traditions by assimilating into colonial culture. The colonial push for religious conversion collided with native resistance to assimilation. In 1675, John Sassamon, a converted "Praying Indian", was found bludgeoned to death in a pond. Facts about Sassamon's death were never settled. Historians accept that Metacomet, the Wampanoag sachem, may have ordered the execution of Sassamon because of his cooperation with colonial authorities despite the growing discontent among Wampanoag. Three Wampanoag men were arrested, convicted, and hanged for Sassamon's death.

The Mohegan were on the verge of defeat when the English came and saved them. The English sent troops to defend the Mohegan fort at Shantok. When the English threatened to invade Narragansett territory, Canonicus and his son Mixanno signed a peace treaty. The peace lasted for the next 30 years, but land encroachment by the growing colonial population gradually began to erode any accords between natives and settlers.

In 1643 Miantonomi led the Narragansett in an invasion of what is now eastern Connecticut. They planned to subdue the Mohegan and their leader Uncas. Miantonomi had an estimated 900-1000 men under his command.[9] The Narragansett forces fell apart, and Miantonomi was captured and executed by Uncas' brother. The following year, the new Narragansett war leader Pessicus renewed the war with the Mohegan. With each success, the number of Narragansett allies grew.

During the Pequot War of 1637, the Narragansett allied with the New England colonists. However, the brutality of the English in the Mystic massacre shocked the Narragansett, who returned home in disgust.[8] After the defeat of the Pequot, the English gave captives to both their allies. The Narrangansett had conflict with the Mohegan over control of the conquered Pequot land.

In 1636, the Narragansett sachems (leaders), Canonicus and Miantonomi, sold the land that became Providence to Roger Williams, a leader of English colonists.

They had escaped the epidemics that in 1617 ravaged tribes further south on the coast.[1] European settlement in their territory did not begin until 1635, and in 1636 Roger Williams acquired land use rights from the Narragansett sachems. Later, the Europeans and Native Americans realized they had different conceptions of land use.

In the fall of 1621, the Narragansett sent a "gift" of a snakeskin to the newly established English colony at Plymouth. The "gift" was a threatening challenge. The governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, sent the snakeskin back filled with powder and bullets. The Narragansett understood the message and did not attack the colony.

Between 1616 and 1619, pandemics originating from infectious diseases carried by European fishermen killed thousands of New England Algonquians in coastal areas south of present-day Rhode Island. At the time the English started colonizing New England in 1620, the Narragansett were the most powerful native nation in the southern area of the region; they had not been affected by the epidemics. Massasoit of the Wampanoag nation allied with the English at Plymouth as a way to protect the Wampanoag from Narragansett attacks.

17th Century

Indigenous peoples lived in the New England area for thousands of years. Gradually the Narragansett and other historic tribes developed societies as descendants of earlier cultures. Historically the Narragansett were one of the leading tribes of New England, controlling the west of Narragansett Bay in present-day Rhode Island, and also portions of Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts, from the Providence River on the northeast to the Pawcatuck on the southwest. The Narragansett culture has existed in the region for centuries.[7] They had extensive trade relations across the region. The first European contact was in 1524, when the explorer Giovanni de Verrazano visited Narragansett Bay.

Early History

Narragansett tribal territory


American English has absorbed a number of loan words from Narragansett and other closely related languages, such as Wampanoag and Massachusett. Such words include quahog, moose, papoose, powwow, squash, and succotash.

In the 17th century, Roger Williams, a co-founder of Rhode Island, learned the tribe's language. He documented it in his 1643 work, A Key Into the Language of America. Williams gave the tribe's name as Nanhigganeuck.

The tribe has begun language revival efforts, based on early-20th-century books and manuscripts, and new teaching programs. The Narragansett spoke a "Y-dialect", similar enough to the "N-dialects" of the Massachusett and Wampanoag to be mutually intelligible. Other Y-dialects include the Shinnecock and Pequot languages spoken historically by tribes on Long Island and in Connecticut, respectively.

The word Narragansett means, literally, "(People) of the Small Point."[1] Traditionally the tribe spoke the Narragansett language, a member of the Algonquian language family. The point may be on the Salt Pond, in Washington County, where RI Site 110 is. The language became almost entirely extinct during the Narragansetts' centuries of living within the larger English-majority society, through forced assimilation.

Name and language

New Council Members as of June 2014 Election

  • Chief Sachem: Matthew Thomas
  • Medicine Man: Lloyd G. Wilcox
  • First Councilman: Randy R. Noka
  • Second Councilman: Domingo Talldog Monroe
  • Secretary, Dominque M. Monroe,/ Assist. Sec., Tammy R. Monroe
  • Councilpersons
    • Wanda Hopkins
    • John Pompey
    • Enrika Machado
    • Chastity Machado
    • Cassius Spears, Jr
    • Yvonne Simonds Lamphere
    • Hiawatha Brown

The tribe is led by an elected tribal council, a chief sachem, a medicine man, and a Christian leader. The entire tribal population must approve major decisions.[2] The current administration is as follows:


In 2009, the US Supreme Court ruled that tribes that achieved federal recognition after the 1934 now under federal jurisdiction." (emphasis added)[6]


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