|Regions with significant populations|
|United States (Rhode Island)|
|Formerly Narragansett, now English|
|Traditional tribal religion,
|Related ethnic groups|
|Nipmuc, Niantic, Pawtuxet, Pequot, Shawomet|
The Narragansett tribe are an Algonquian Native American tribe from Rhode Island. For a long time, the tribe was nearly landless, but it worked to regain federal recognition, which it achieved in 1983. It is officially the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island and re-established sovereignty. It is made up of descendants of tribal members who were identified in an 1880 treaty with the state.
In 2009, the United States Supreme Court ruled against the Narragansett request that the Department of the Interior take land into trust which they had acquired in 1991. In Carcieri v. Salazar, the Court ruled that tribes that had achieved federal recognition since the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act did not have standing to have newly acquired lands taken into federal trust and removed from state control.
- 1 Reservation
- 2 Government
- 3 Name and language
- 4 History
- 5 Current events
- 6 Cultural institutions
- 7 Notable Narragansett
- 8 List of Narragansett Sachems
- 9 See also
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
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. A small portion of the tribe resides on or near the reservation, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Additionally, they own several hundred acres in Westerly.
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 United States Supreme Court, as the state challenged the removal of new lands from state oversight by a tribe recognized by the US after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. Rhode Island was joined in its appeal by twenty-one other states.
In 2009, the US Supreme Court ruled that tribes that achieved federal recognition after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act could not have the Department of the Interior take their lands acquired after federal recognition into trust and remove them from state control. Their determination was based on four words in the act, referring to its definition of "Indian" as "all persons of Indian descent who are members of any recognized tribe now under federal jurisdiction." (emphasis added)
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. The current administration is as follows:
- Chief Sachem: Matthew Thomas
- Medicine Man: John Brown
- First Councilman: Cassius Spears, Jr.
- Second Councilman: John Pompey
- Secretary, John Mahoney
- Yvonne Simonds Lamphere
- Betty Johnson
- Walter K. Babcock
- Lonny Brown
- Mary Brown
- New temporary Council Members as of October 2016
Name and language
The word Narragansett means, literally, "(People) of the Small Point." Traditionally the tribe spoke the Narragansett language, a member of the Algonquian languages family. The point referred to may be on the Salt Pond, in Washington County, identified as RI Site 110. The language became almost entirely extinct during the Narragansetts' centuries of living within the larger English-majority society and their forced assimilation.
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.
In the 17th century, Roger Williams, an English 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.
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.
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. They had extensive trade relations across the region. The first European contact was in 1524, when the explorer Giovanni de Verrazano visited Narragansett Bay.
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.
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.
They had escaped the epidemics that in 1617 ravaged tribes further south on the coast. European settlement in their territory did not begin until 1635; in 1636 founder Roger Williams acquired land use rights from the Narragansett sachems. Later, the Europeans and Native Americans realized they had different conceptions of land use and property.
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. After the Pequot were defeated, the English gave captives to both of their allies. The Narrangansett had conflict with the Mohegan over control of the conquered Pequot land.
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. 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.
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.
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. In 1675, John Sassamon, a converted "Praying Indian," was found bludgeoned to death in a pond. The 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.
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.
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 by colonial forces at Smith's Castle in Wickford, Rhode Island. He had fought on the side of the Narragansett during the Great Swamp Fight and was considered a traitor.
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.
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. They delivered him to Connecticut authorities. When told he was to die, Canonchet responded, "I like it well that I should die before my heart has grown soft and I have said anything unworthy of myself."
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. Treating Canonchet as a traitor, the English 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.
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.
In the 1740s during the First Great Awakening, colonists founded the Narragansett Indian Church, to try to convert natives to Christianity. The tribe continued to retain control and ownership of the church and its surrounding 3 acres (12,000 m2), the only land it could keep. 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.
In the 19th century, the tribe resisted repeated state efforts to declare that it was no longer an Indian tribe because its members were multi-racial in ancestry. They contended that they absorbed other ethnicities into their tribe and continued to identify culturally as Narragansett.
The tribal leaders resisted increasing legislative pressure after the American Civil War to "take up citizenship" in the United States, which would have required them to give up their treaty privileges and Indian nation status. While testifying about the issue to the state legislature, a Narragansett spokesman said that his people saw injustices under existing US citizenship. He noted Jim Crow laws that limited the rights of blacks despite their citizenship under constitutional amendments.
The Narragansett also resisted suggestions that multiracial members could not qualify as full members of the tribe. The Narragansett had a tradition of bringing other people into their tribe by marriage, and having them assimilate as culturally Narragansett, especially as their children grew up in the tribe.
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 slave of him, we extended him the hand of friendship, and permitted his blood to be mingled with ours, are we to be called negroes? And to be told that we may be made negro citizens? We claim that while one drop of Indian blood remains in our veins, we are entitled to the rights and privileges guaranteed by your ancestors to ours by solemn treaty, which without a breach of faith you cannot violate.
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.
From 1880-1884, the state persisted in its efforts at "detribalization." While the tribe had 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.
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 traditional place for gatherings and ceremonies.
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.
A 2006 survey conducted in preparation for development of a new residential subdivision revealed what archaeologists consider the remains of a Narragansett Indian village dating from 1100 to 1300 CE. It is located at the top of Point Judith Pond in Narragansett, Rhode Island. This area had been identified in a 1980s survey as historically sensitive, and the state had a conflict with the developer when more remains were found. The state intervened in order to prevent development and buy the 25-acre site for preservation; it was part of 67 acres planned for development by the new owner.
Further archaeological excavation on the site quickly revealed that it was one of two villages on the Atlantic Coast to be found in such complete condition. The other pre-Columbian village ('Otan' in Narragansett Algonquin) is in Virginia. It has a high concentration of permanent structures.
"Preliminary surveys of the Narragansett tract, known as RI 110, have revealed a village with perhaps as many 22 structures, as well as three known human burial sites. There is also evidence of granaries, ceremonial areas and storage pits that may shed new light on the importance of maize agriculture to woodland tribes..."
Although historians and archeologists knew that maize was cultivated by Algonquin tribes, there has never been physical evidence before the discovery of this site. The tribe's method of grinding the kernels into a powder was not conducive to preservation. In the first week of excavation, 78 kernels of corn were found at this site, the first time that cultivation of maize could be confirmed this far north on the Atlantic Coast.
The current members of the Narragansett tribe have contributed through oral history to accounts about the ancient people who inhabited this site. They 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 toward this large settlement and told him it was called Nanihigonset. This site is now believed to be the center of the Narragansett world, where they coalesced as a tribe and began to extend their dominion over the neighboring tribes at different points in history.
Land claim suit
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.
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. The state transferred a total of 1,800 acres (7.3 km2) to a corporation formed to hold the land in trust for descendants of the 1880 Narragansett Roll. In exchange the tribe agreed 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.
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).
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. 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.
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.
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.
The tribe has plans to upgrade the Longhouse it constructed along RI Route 2 (South County Trail), to serve as a place of indigenous American cuisine and cultural meeting house. These plans have been in the works for more than 15 years. Built in 1940, the Longhouse has fallen into disrepair. Upgrades for the Narragansett tribal medical, technological, and artistic systems are also being planned.
Like numerous other tribes, in the 21st century the Narragansett have 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 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.
The US Supreme Court agreed to hear Carcieri v. Salazar (2009), a case determining Native American land rights, in the fall of 2008. The Court ruled in favor of Rhode Island in February 2009. The suit was brought by the state of Rhode Island against the Department of the Interior (DOI) over its authority to take land into trust on behalf of certain American Indians.
While the authority was part of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act, the state argued that the process could not hold for tribes that achieved federal recognition after 1934. Based on language in the act, The US Supreme Court upheld the state. At issue is 31 acres (130,000 m2) 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.
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).
(alphabetical order by surname)
- Earl W. Bascom (1906-1995), a descendant of Narragansett Chief Miantonomo, rodeo pioneer, rodeo champion, inventor, artist/sculptor, Hollywood actor, Hall of Fame inductee, international honoree of the National Day of the Cowboy, "Father of Modern Rodeo" and "Father of Brahma Bull Riding".
- Tiffany Cobb(1976- ), R&B singer who is of Narragansett, Cape Verdean, French, German, English, and Scots ancestry.
- 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
- George Fayerweather (1802–1869), blacksmith in Kingston, Rhode Island of Narragansett-African descent who was host to anti-slavery activists; his wife Sarah Harris Fayerweather, also a free person of color, was particularly active in the movement
- John Christian Hopkins (born 1960), journalist
- Nancy Elizabeth Prophet (1890–1960), sculptor of African-Narragansett descent 
- 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
- Raymond Two Hawks Watson, activist is of African American and Narragansett ancestry. In 2016 he won a 300k Innovation grant from the Rhode Island Foundation
- Eric Tate, Yeti truther
List of Narragansett Sachems
|Wessoum||Son of Tashtassuck||Historically uncertain, should marry his sister|
|Canonicus||1600s to 1636||Son||1. Sachemdom|
|Miantonomo||1636 to 1643||Nephew of Canonicus|
|Canonicus||1643 to 1647||Oncle of Miantonomo||2. Sachemdom|
|Mriksah||1647 to 1667||Son of Canonicus|
|Canonchet||1667 to 1676||Son of Miantonomo, Greatcousin of Mriksah|
|Interregnum||1676 to 1682||1682 the remaining Narragansett went to the Eastern Niantic|
- Indian Burial Ground
- Historic Village of the Narragansetts in Charlestown
- List of early settlers of Rhode Island
- The Narragansett Dawn, a Narragansett newspaper from the 1930s
- Pritzker, 442
- Pritzker, 443
- Narragansett Reservation, Rhode Island United States Census Bureau Archived March 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- Ray Henry, "High court to hear case over Indian land: Usage of tribal property at issue", Associated Press, Boston Globe, 3 Nov 2008, accessed 11 Oct 2010
- "Supreme Court will rule on Narragansett dispute with Rhode Island", Boston Globe, 25 Feb 2008, accessed 3 Aug 2008
- Chris Keegan, "High court thwarts RI casino plan", The Westerly Sun, 25 February 2009, accessed 21 March 2013
- "Historical Perspective of the Narragensett Indian Tribe", Narragansett Indian Tribe website, accessed 8 Mar 2009 Archived January 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- 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.
- William Bradford, chapter 33, History of Plymouth Plantation
- "The Celebrated Josua Tefft"
- Center Profile: Narragansett Indian Church
- 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. Archived July 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
-  Archived May 11, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
- ELIZABETH ABBOTT, "Ancient Indian Village in Rhode Island Pits Preservation Against Property Rights", New York Times, 6 April 2010; accessed 5 December 2016
- Kirby, Shaun. "Salt Pond, center of the ancient Narragansett world". Rhode Island Central News and Information. Southern Rhode Island Newspapers. Retrieved 18 April 2014.[dead link]
- "Paul Campbell Research Notes", Rhode Island Historical Society, April 1997, accessed 3 Aug 2008
- Jana M. (Lemanski) Berger, "Narragansett Tribal Gaming vs. "The Indian Giver": An Alternative Argument to Invalidating the Chafee Amendment", Gaming Law Review - 3(1):25-37, 1 Feb 1999, accessed 3 Aug 2008
- Gavin Clarkson (2003-07-25). "Clarkson: Bull Connor would have been proud". Indian Country Today. Retrieved 2009-12-14.[dead link]
- "Police experts testify in smoke shop trial", The Westerly Sun, 25 Jul 2008, accessed 3 Aug 2008
- Emily Bazar, "Native American? The tribe says no", USATODAY.com, 28 Nov 2007, accessed 3 Aug 2008
- "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 Archived March 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
- 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. ISBN 0631222391.
- Pritzker, Barry M. A Native American Encyclopedia: History, Culture, and Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-19-513877-1.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Narragansett tribe.|
- Narragansett Indian Tribe Official Site
- Reference book on Narragansett
- Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum
- Nuweetooun School