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Narragansett Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Narragansetts for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to look through our main Narragansett page for in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Narragansett pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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  Narragansett Tribe

How do you pronounce "Narragansett?" What does it mean?
Narragansett is pronounced "nair-uh-GANN-set." It comes from the Narragansett placename naiaganset, which means "small point of land."

Were the Narragansett Indians part of the Mohegan tribe?
Not originally. They spoke similar languages and shared similar cultures, but the Narragansetts, Mohegans, Pequots, Nipmucs, and other tribes of New England all used to be distinct tribes, each with its own leadership. But after Europeans arrived, many Native American people of the east coast died from disease and warfare. The survivors merged together, and many of their original tribal distinctions were lost. Today, there are people of Narragansett heritage living among other tribes such as the Pequot and Mohegan tribes-- and vice versa.

Where do the Narragansett Indians live today?
The Narragansetts are original people of Rhode Island and Connecticut.

How is the Narragansett Indian nation organized?
The Niantic and Narragansett Indians share a reservation in Rhode Island. A reservation is land that belongs to an Indian tribe and is under their control. The Narragansett tribe has its own government, laws, police, and other services, just like a small country. But the Narragansetts are also US citizens and must obey American law. There are about 2500 members of the combined tribe today.

What language do the Narragansetts speak?
Narragansett Indians all speak English today. In the past, the Narragansetts spoke their native Narragansett language. This language died out more than 100 years ago, but some young people are working to revive it. You can read a Narragansett picture glossary here.

What was Narragansett culture like in the past? What is it like now?
Here is the homepage of the Narragansett Indian Tribe. On their site you can learn about the heritage and traditions of the Narragansett people.

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How do Narragansett Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things any children do--play with each other, go to school and help around the house. In the past, Indian kids had more chores and less time to play, just like early colonial children. But they did have corn shuck dolls, ball games, and toys such as kid-size bows and arrows. Narragansett mothers, like many Native Americans, traditionally carried their babies in cradleboards on their backs. Here is a website with pictures of cradleboards and other Native baby carrier technology.

What were men and women's roles in the Narragansett tribe?
Narragansett men were hunters and sometimes went to war to protect their families. Narragansett women were farmers and also did most of the child care and cooking. Both genders took part in storytelling, artwork and music, and traditional medicine. In the past, Narragansett chiefs were always men, but today a Narragansett Indian woman could be chief too.

What were Narragansett homes like in the past?
The Narragansetts didn't live in tepees. They lived in small round houses called wigwams. Some Narragansett Indians preferred Iroquoian-style longhouses to wigwams, because more family members could live in a longhouse. Here are some pictures of wigwams, longhouses, and other Native American homes. Today, Native Americans only build a wigwam for fun or to connect with their heritage, not for shelter. Most Narragansett people live in modern houses and apartment buildings, just like you.

What was Narragansett clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
Narragansett women wore knee-length skirts and the men wore a breechcloth and leggings. Shirts were not necessary in the Narragansett culture, but Narragansett people did wear deerskin mantles in cool weather. Narragansett men and women both wore earrings and mocassins on their feet. Here is a picture of Narragansett clothing and some photographs and links about Indian clothing in general.

The Narragansetts didn't wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Usually they wore beaded head bands with a feather or two in the back. Sometimes a Narragansett chief wore a headdress of feathers pointing straight up from a headband, like this. Narragansett men, especially warriors, often wore a Mohawk hairstyle or shaved their heads completely except for a scalplock (one long lock of hair on top of their heads.) Narragansett women usually had long hair. Here is a website with pictures of Native American hair.

Today, some Narragansett people still have a traditional headband or moccasins, but they wear modern clothes like jeans instead of breechcloths... and they only wear feathers in their hair on special occasions like a dance.

What was Narragansett transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
Yes, the Narraganset Indians made dugout canoes by hollowing out large trees. They used them for transportation and for ocean fishing trips. Here is a website with pictures of Indian boat types. Over land, the Narragansetts used dogs as pack animals. (There were no horses in North America until colonists brought them over from Europe.) Narragansett Indians used sleds and snowshoes to help them travel in the winter. (They learned to make those tools from northern neighbors like the Cree Indians.) Today, of course, Narragansett people also use cars... and non-native people also use canoes.

What was Narragansett food like in the days before supermarkets?
The Narragansetts were farming people. Narragansett women harvested corn, squash and beans and also gathered nuts and fruit to eat. Narragansett men did most of the hunting. They shot deer, turkeys, and small game, and went fishing on the coast. Narragansett Indian recipes included soup, cornbread, and stews. Here is a website with more information about Native food recipes.

What kinds of weapons did the Narragansetts use?
Narragansett hunters and warriors used bows and arrows, spears, and clubs. Fishermen used pronged spears, nets, and bone hooks. Here is a website with pictures and information about Indian hunting weapons.

What are Narragansett art and crafts like?
The Narragansett tribes were known for their beadwork and Native American baskets. Like other eastern American Indians, Narragansetts also crafted wampum out of white and purple shell beads. Wampum beads were traded as a kind of currency, but they were more culturally important as an art material. The designs and pictures on wampum belts often told a story or represented a person's family.

What other Native Americans did the Narragansett tribe interact with?
The Nipmucs liked to trade with other Algonquian tribes of southern New England, such as the Niantic, Nipmuc, and Mohegan tribes. Although they were closely related to each other, these tribes were not always friends. The Pequot was one tribe that often fought with the Narragansett tribe.

What kinds of stories do the Narragansetts tell?
There are many traditional Narragansett legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Narragansett Indian culture. Here's one Narragansett legend about Rabbit and the snow.

What about Narragansett religion?
Religions are too complicated and culturally sensitive to describe appropriately in only a few simple sentences, and we strongly want to avoid misleading anybody. You can visit this site to learn more about New England Algonquian traditions and symbols or this site about Native American religions in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
If you like scary stories, you may enjoy Whisper in the Dark, which is a suspense novel by an American Indian author about a Narragansett girl confronting a traditional monster. Younger kids may like reading Nickommoh, a book about traditional Narragansett Thanksgiving festivities. If you want to know more about Narragansett culture and history, The Narragansett is a good choice for kids. You can also browse through our recommendations of Native American books in general.

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2015.

Thanks for your interest in the Narragansett Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Narragansetts

Narragansett Indian Tribe
Historical overview of the Narragansett tribe.

Narragansett Language Resources
Narraganset Indian language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Narragansett Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Narragansett Indians past and present.

Narragansett Indian Words
Narragansett Indian vocabulary lists.

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