Narragansett Indian Church

This profile was last updated in 2006

Activities and Schedule

Sunday Services at 11 A.M. (Phone in Advance); Annual Powwow the Second Weekend in August

History

The Narragansett Tribe are the descendents of the aboriginal people of the area that is now the State of Rhode Island. Archaeological evidence establishes their presence in the region for some 10,000 years. The tribe and its members were considered warriors in the region and customarily offered protection to smaller tribes. They were a migratory people whose economy was based on agriculture, hunting, fishing, and gathering. They had two types of homes: in winter, longhouses for several families; in summer, wigwams or wetus for individual families. They spoke a language derivative of the Algonquian language known as Narragansett.

In 1636, the Narragansetts deeded land at the head of Narragansett Bay for use by Roger Williams, the first European settler of Rhode Island, in founding his settlement at Providence. In 1675, the Narragansetts allied themselves with the Wampanoag Sachem Metacom (“King Philip”) to support his tribe’s efforts to reclaim land in Massachusetts. In the Great Swamp Fight of 1675, a military force from Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Connecticut colonies massacred a large number of Narragansetts in the Great Swamp located in present-day South Kingstown, Rhode Island. After the massacre, many of the remaining Narragansetts retreated deep into the forest and swamp lands in the southern part of the State–some of which now consititute the Narragansett Reservation. Many others were hunted down and killed, and still others were sold into slavery in the Caribbean. The aftermath of the Great Swamp Fight caused the Narragansetts to hold their first annual powwow, a tradition that continues to the present.
During the 1700s, the State attempted to abolish the position of sachem (chief) and to take over tribal affairs. Due to the increasing number of colonists and the hogs, rats, and diseases they imported, Narragansett hunting, farming, and fishing areas were greatly depleted. As a result of dealing with the Europeans, tribe members incurred many debts which they were forced to pay off with land grants. The tribe also came under great pressure to abandon their traditional ways and adopt European notions of civilization. In the 1740s, the Narragansett Indian Church was established for the purpose of converting the Narragansetts to Christianity. Over time the church and its three-acre grounds became extremely important to the tribe, because it was the only piece of land that never left tribal hands and thus allowed them to affirm their existence.
From 1880-1884, the State of Rhode Island attempted to “detribalize” the Narragansetts, an action illegal under federal law. Nevertheless, the tribe continued to persevere, maintaining its traditional political and spiritual leadership, holding monthly meetings and its annual powwow, and transmiting its language, lifeways, spirituality, and culture. In the early 1900s the tribe was incorporated, and in the 1940s it built a longhouse to be a permanent meeting place for tribal members.
In 1979, the tribe submitted a fifteen-volume petition to the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs seeking federal recognition, based on geneologies from rolls composed during the period of illegal detribalization. The Narragansett Tribe received federal recognition in April of 1983. Since then, the tribe has greatly expanded its administrative capabilities and has enacted policies and procedures to preserve its land, water, and cultural resources and to promote the welfare of tribe members. It continues to promote its traditional values of education, family life, language, and culture. Its current population stands at approximately 2400 members.

Description

The church’s current building is a one-room stone meetinghouse. It was constructed in 1994 with help from a group of Rhode Island churches when the previous building was set on fire. The entrances are at the building’s front, where there is also a pulpit. Native Peoples’ and Christian religious objects hang on the walls. There is a wood-burning stove in the center, and the remainder of the building is filled with pews. Behind the church is a small historic burying ground.

Location and Directions

From Interstate 95 take Exit 3A onto Route 138 East. Turn right onto Route 112 South. Take a right into Old Mill Road and another right onto Indian Church Road. The church is on the right.