Exeter, R.I. (WPRI) – Several Rhode Island lawmakers, including Governor Gina Raimondo, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressman Jim Langevin helped to celebrate Tomaquag Museum’s 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service in a ceremony at the Rhode Island State House.

It’s the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community.

“We are deeply honored to have received the National Medal from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and grateful for the outpouring of support, partnerships, and new participants for our many programs. The support of art and culture by our state leaders is showcased in our growth in the creative economy,” said Lorén Spears, Executive Director of the Tomaquag Museum.

Tomaquag Museum along with 9 other recipients were selected from 30 finalists from across the country that had been nominated for this honor.

“Congratulations to Rhode Island’s own Tomaquag Museum on winning the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries, and on the grant announced today,” said U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who nominated the Tomaquag Museum for the National Medal. “The Tomaquag Museum is a state treasure that is working to strengthen our appreciation of Native culture and preserve this important part of our local history.”

“The Tomaquag Museum epitomizes the ability of museums to engage their communities, to challenge them, and to help them grow,” said Congresssman Jim Langevin. “I congratulate Loren Spears and the entire Tomaquag team on this well-deserved honor, and I encourage all of my fellow Rhode Islanders to come and enjoy this true cultural gem.”

Founded in 1958, Tomaquag Museum is Rhode Island’s only Native American museum serving as a bridge to promote better understanding between the Native community’s needs, history, culture and impact on today’s society. Tomaquag helps in the healing process of Indigenous people by allowing them to tell their stories from their own perspective and experience. The museum’s archive houses many of these oral histories. The museum’s podcast, which has already reached over 10,000 downloads since January 2015, is sharing some of these stories. Its goal is to empower Indigenous people, engage the mainstream community and educate through its many programs, partnerships, films, books, tours, exhibits, lectures, workshops and classes.

The USDA Rural Development also announced a $99,000 grant award for the Tomaquag Museum under the agency’s Rural Business Enterprise Grant Native American Set Aside program. The grant will be used to support the Museum’s Indigenous Empowerment Network, providing paid internships, apprenticeships, and job training at the Tomaquag Museum. Since 2014, USDA Rural Development has funded three grants to help the Tomaquag Museum address flood damage, expand archive development, and support the Museum’s mission.

“Since the first days of my administration, we have focused on igniting economic growth by delivering employer-centered solutions to the immediate hiring challenges faced by businesses,” Governor Gina Raimondo said. “Congratulations to the Tomaquag Museum on their recognition. Their USDA grant providing paid internships, apprenticeships, job training and workforce development will help move Rhode Island forward.”

“USDA Rural Development is committed to the future of rural communities and to the prosperity of the millions of people who live there” said Scott J. Soares, USDA Rural Development State Director for Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, “We applaud Loren and the Tomaquag Museum’s important work to preserve the past while creating greater opportunities for the future and we look forward to our continued partnership toward that end.”

Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg was among the dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony. The museum has received more than a quarter of a million dollars in grants from the Foundation since 2003.

“I am proud to join Governor Gina Raimondo, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressman Jim Langevin in celebrating the work of Tomaquag’s board, staff and supporters. Their remarkable achievement promotes cultural tourism and brings national honor to our state and to our state’s first and enduring culture,” said Steinberg.