Washington-area tribes gain Maryland state recognition
Tribal and state officials prepare to sign executive orders recognizing the Maryland Indian status of the Piscataway Nation and Piscataway Conoy Tribe. From left to right: Natalie Proctor, tribal chair of the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians; Mervin Savoy, tribal chair of the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Sub-tribes; Martin O'Malley, governor of Maryland; Chief Billy Tayac, Piscataway Indian Nation; and John McDonough, Maryland secretary of state.
On Monday, January 9, 2012, approximately 300 people witnessed Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley sign executive orders confirming official state recognition of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe and the Piscataway Indian Nation. Prior to the signing, there were no state- or federally recognized American Indian tribes within a hundred miles of the United States capital. For the first time in history, this has all changed.
In his opening remarks Gov. O’Malley said, “Today is a day of recognition, it is a day of reconciliation, and it is a day of arrival. . . — a day made possible only by the kindness, the forgiveness, the goodness of the Piscataway people of this beautiful place that we now call Maryland.” Leading up to the signing, the Maryland General Assembly enacted a law that establishes a process by which an American Indian tribe, band, or clan can formally be recognized by the state.
Maryland law requires that a tribe petitioning for state recognition must provide proof of being a continuous American Indian community from 1790 to the present and indigenous to the state. “The Maryland Commission of Indian Affairs began this recognition process thirty years ago. Petitions for state recognition began in the early 1990s. We were able to provide substantial support material dating back to Contact,” said Rico Newman, Piscataway Conoy tribal spokesman.
In his remarks, Gov. O'Malley acknowledged, "To all of the Piscataway people, we know that you did not need an executive order to tell you who you are." According to Linda Proctor, a Piscataway Conoy tribal member, “In the 1960s the Piscataway were not acknowledged as being American Indian in Washington, D.C. Instead we were considered colored, due to the identification practices of that era.” Proctor was among the several hundred Piscataway tribal members who attended the signing ceremony in the rotunda of the Maryland State House.
Native people have inhabited what is now Maryland since thousands of years before the chartering of the Maryland Colony, founding of the United States of America, or establishment of the state of Maryland. Prior to colonization and the creation of the federal District of Columbia, the land that the Capitol Building sits on was Piscataway land.
Historically the Piscataway people were a chiefdom, analogous to a kingdom, in that they encompassed numerous tribes in what is now the Washington, D.C., and Maryland area. Today the Piscataway are composed of the Piscataway Indian Nation and the Piscataway Conoy Tribe; both entities currently have their headquarters approximately thirty minutes south of Washington in southern Maryland.
—Dennis Zotigh, NMAI