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“Above all else, call me an educator,” Lorén Spears – by Ann Clanton

By Ann Clanton, Contributing Writer, “Speak Up”

Notable author and curator of the National Museum of the American Indian, Paul Chaat Smith, (a Comanche) once said “the most American thing about America is American Indians”. Rhode Island also has a pure and impressive legacy of Indigenous people celebrated at the Tomaquag Museum.

Prior to taking the helm as Executive Director Lorén Spears ran the Tomaquaq School for two years. Recognizing that her focus needed to be on the Museum and its mission to educate the community about the multiple Tribal Nations in Southern New England, the school was closed.

Established in 1958 by Mary E. Glasko, better known as Princess Red Wing founded Rhode Island’s first and only Indigenous Museum, and The Museum was relocated to Exeter, adjacent to the then Dovecrest Restaurant. The renowned restaurant was owned by Lorén Spears’ grandparents, Ferris and Eleanor Dove, of the Narragansett Tribe.

In the spirit of her grandparents and Princess Redwing, Spears has carried on the tradition of advocating for Indigenous people and sharing Rhode Island Indigenous people’s culture, contributions to the arts, and history, from a first-person perspective.

In 2010 the Museum changed its trajectory with the school closing due to a museum that needed full attention. Today, Spears and a part time staff run the Tomaquaq Museum. “We have been able to expand and to learn the administrative side of running a museum” says Lorén.

Nestled in Exeter, in what one could describe as God’s country, Tomaquaq is the only Rhode Island Museum to receive the National Medal for Museum and Library Service (the other is Providence Public Library).

Tours are offered daily, by appointment only, and limited to the number of people due to COVID-19. While she often conducts these tours herself, she is most proud of the expansion resulting from a Rhode Island Foundation invitation to participate in an arts cohort. An artist herself, Spears work includes hand-made beaded earrings that can be purchased online through the website. She donates 50% of the proceeds from her work and credits much of the Museum’s success to Silver Moon, Lindsey, and her team. While she is humble, many in the culture and arts community can attest, Lorén Spears is among the leaders in the region in the Indigenous community.

About Tomaquag:

Rhode Island’s Only Indigenous Museum Dedicated to Sharing Our Culture, Arts and History from A First-Person Perspective.  Tomaquag Museum Features an Extensive Collection and Archive That Focuses on Tribal Communities of Southern New England.  Through our unique collection, lectures, tours, offsite programs and arts & educator workshops, we educate the public regarding Native history, culture, arts, current events and environmental issues. The Museum is visited each year by artists, researchers, students, and travelers from across the United States and throughout the world.   For more information www.tomaquagmuseum.org and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.   

Ann-Allison Clanton was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. As principle of Ann Clanton Communications, Ann has more than two decades of experience as a communications and public affairs consultant. She has written features and profiles articles for the Providence American Newspaper and Ethnic Online Magazine.

Among the notable persons interviewed include former U. S. Ambassador Andrew Young, Dr. Cornell West, former Florida Congressman Allen West (R-FL) and Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus first African American Ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson.

Ann is the founder of the Rhode Island Black Film Festival and a founding member of the Southern New England Association of Black Journalists.