Narragansett tribal dancer. Photo from Facebook
Published April 11, 2017
Recognition Regained, But Still Seeking Respect
Brian Lightfoot Brown
In 1880, the State of Rhode Island began the process of illegally detribalizing the Narragansett Indian Tribe. The state desired tribal lands and pushed for the Narragansett to dissolve their official status as a Native American tribe. The state argued that most of the Narragansett were assimilated into the Eurocentric society. The state felt that most of the Narragansett people in 1880 were too mixed with black bloodlines, and others with white heritage. The Narragansett stated that they still identified as Narragansett.
The state’s politicians were unaware of many families of Narragansett who were not of mixed heritage. The Rhode Island lawmakers most likely were looking to obtain tribal lands and were trying to circumvent the Non-Intercourse Act in order to do so.
The tribe got lost in the shuffle of negotiations and were stripped of their tribal status and all but about two acres of their land. The state failed to ensure the federal government was present and represented. The state paid 324 people who were on Narragansett Tribal Rolls for the sale of the land. The tribe immediately regretted this and spent approximately the next century trying to regain tribal acknowledgment and land.
The Narragansett finally succeeded in regaining federal recognition status on April 11, 1983. In the 34 years since the Narragansett reclaimed federal status, they have had many ups and downs, both internally and in dealings with the Rhode Island government.
Regardless of the obstacles they face, external or self-imposed, they continue to proclaim their existence as they strive to survive in a world that once tried to exterminate them and attempted to forcibly assimilate them. The tribe endured the Smoke Shop raid on tribal land in 2003 and are still battling to right the injustice of the Carcieri decision, deserving a clean “fix” that has stalled them and others in Indian Country.
From Canonchet to Ellison “Tarzan” Brown to Dr Ella Sekatau and all others before and since, the Narragansett continue to forge ahead. A’ho
Brian Lightfoot Brown is a member of the Narragansett Tribe