A Step into the Past

Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum


The American Indian has held a magical mystique for me. Their simple life styles, their belief system and their constant pursuit of happiness is a source of wonder for many. There are a multitude of museums located throughout the country that depict the history of these beloved people and the land that was once theirs. The museums are rich in culture, costumes, artifacts, tribal ware, hunting weapons, utensils, cultivation and their strong family bond that stands true even until this day. Every one of them tells the Indians’ survival stories in a different way, but all of them say one important thing; that the Indian belief system was something worth pursuing ourselves.


A bit of that history is captured in the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum located in Exeter. The Tomaquag Museum has been in operation for quite awhile, offering exhibits of Indian baskets, costumes, tribal ware and pottery. What makes this museum so unique is that it is in an older house, not like the typical concrete structures that you usually imagine for a museum, so you actually feel that you are stepping into the lives of the present-day Rhode Island Tomaquags. The musty scent of the old home, creaky floors and weathered shingles brings the visitor back in time. Artifacts are displayed throughout the museum and there are plenty of ‘offering hands’ to help explain what each artifact is.

The museum’s focus lies in the heritage of Indians that were located in Southern New England. They are abundantly proud of their ash splint baskets. Southern New England was the main center for basket makers, particularly the Mohegans and Niantic tribes, who introduced the art of stamping different intricate designs on the baskets.

The museum also offers the visitors an elaborate gift store with hand made items, foods, dried goods and jewelry crafted by local tribe members. The gift shop is called ‘Dove’s Trading Post’, and is operated by Eleanor Dove, a very special lady. When you visit the shop, you not only get a chance to walk away with a treasure from the past, but Eleanor will make sure that you know a little history about each item. Eleanor is a wealth of information and is never at a lost for words.

Other activities of the museum include children’s parties for any occasion, Storytelling Moon, Corn Planting Moon, Contemporary Native Art Show, Campfire Program and a Crafts Fair. They also offer classes instructed by highly skilled craftsman, to pass on a bit of their craft to willing participants. Some of the classes offered are Eastern Woodland pottery classes, herb infusion classes and many more. Check out the website; www.tomaquagmuseum.com/classes.htm for detailed information on when the classes are offered.

Group tours are also offered for an additional cost. There is the Basic Tour, which includes a tour of the museum, a local legend and a social dance. The Food Tour includes the basic tour and a sample of authentic Native American food. The Game Tour includes the bowl game, moccasin game or the hand game. The Nature Tour includes hikes throughout the local area, viewing the plants that were used by local tribes. And last but not least is the Craft Tour, which includes the basic tour and making a Native American craft item, such as a dream catcher, beaded earrings, or ring and pin game. Each tour ranges from $4.50 to $10.00 per person and can last between 1 and 2 hours.

There is also a local school located on the grounds of the museum called The Nuweetooun School, which teaches the basic school curriculum of language arts, sciences, math, history and a deep concentration in the environment and native culture and history. Being small, the school is able to focus on the entire child’s ability to learn — mind, body, and soul as opposed to just the mind. The principles of the school are the same as the Indians’ belief; to have a true respect for the land, environment, one’s spirit, and the different cultures of the people that inhabit this earth and to respect each other as a complete individual — a belief system that I wish could be captured in our local school systems.

The museum offers each visitor a chance to walk in the shoes of a Native American and have a chance to sample the lifestyle of these unique individuals. While the museum is strictly non profit, any donations made can be sent to the Friendship Circle and are tax deductible. These donations will help to prosper the school and their belief system and the advancement of the museum, which enhance the surrounding community.

So, when you are out for a drive and feel like delving into the past a bit, visit the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum and relive the past of the most admirable people to walk this earth: The Native Americans.

You can find the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum in the Arcadia Village, 390A Summit Road, in Exeter. They are open Spring and Summer, Monday – Friday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. or by appointment. You can call them at 401-539-7213 or visit them online at www.tomaquamuseum.com. To get there, take Ten Rod Road westward, then turn left onto Arcadia Road. Go approximately 3 miles until you reach a stop sign. Turn right onto Summit Rd and follow over a small bridge. When you see two stone pillars, turn right up the driveway to the museum.

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