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September 24, 2013

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Outrigger and booms

Part 1: Introduction and author bio
Part 2: Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood 
Part 3: Roughing out the hull 
Part 4: Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock 
Part 5: Stitch and glue 
Part 6: Sanding and gluing 

Bishop Museum Canoe
Alovely Hawaiian canoe on display at the Bishop Museum. Two curved booms attach to the outrigger with simple pegs and lashing.

In their great work Canoes of Oceania, a landmark in research of Pacific Islander canoes, published in 1936, authors A. C. Haddon and James Hornell state that their study began with a particular focus on how different island cultures attached the outriggers to their canoes. Clearly this is a distinguishing feature across Oceania—as characteristic, if not more so, than the shapes of the canoes themselves—and I have seen quite a variety in my own limited travels.

For Hawaiians, it was simple: The booms (‘iako) curve down from the gunwales of the canoe and are pegged, then lashed, directly to a banana-shaped outrigger (ama). But elsewhere, it can get very complicated, and for the Melanesia design that I am building, it’s one of these tricky rigs. But first, we have to get all the parts together and hewn into shape. 

Manu a
Manu extending upward on the back end of the ‘Auhou, NMAI’s Hawaiian canoe. Protruding below it is the notched extension where ropes would have been attached to bring the rough-hewn hull out of the forest.

While koa was the tree of choice for canoe hulls, lighter woods were preferred for the rest of the parts. Koa is a very stiff and dense wood and therefore very, very heavy. Jay Dowsett and Tay Perry, who build and refurbish canoes in Honolulu today, note that in the old days, a lot of those canoe hulls were an inch-and-a-half or two inches thick just to keep them rugged. That also made them very heavy. 

Hawaiian canoes have separate gunwale pieces attached (by stitch and glue) atop the hull, culminating in lovely upright prows and sterns called manu, a hallmark of Hawaiian canoe design. These areas, which are repeatedly struck by the paddles, would be made of ‘ahakea—a fairly light wood, but very stiff. It’s comparable to ash, which is not particularly heavy for its volume, but is also very stiff. ‘Ahakea wood is a dull orange-brown and when rubbed with kukui oil becomes a beautiful dark golden yellow. 

HaoTrees1 a
Hautrees, O‘ahu, Hawai‘i.

For the booms (‘iako) that connect the outrigger to the hull, hau was an excellent choice. A member of the hibiscus family, hau grows in low, tumbling forests of curved limbs. Pick two that have the right curve and you’re set. And the wood is light and peels easily. In fact, the bark makes a decent rope. 

Wiliwili seed a

The outrigger, or ama, would be made of wiliwili. This lovely tall tree produces red seeds, and red being the color of chiefliness, these seeds are equated with the blood of the chiefs. Wiliwili is also very light, which is what you want your float to be. Its purpose, you see, is to float.

Here in the mid-Atlantic area, there’s a dearth of ‘ahakea, hau, and wiliwili.  But, as with ash and ‘ahakea, we can look for trees with comparable qualities. Now I knew more about trees in New England, where I spent a lot of my youth, than I did about the mid-Atlantic. Some of these trees around here are completely unfamiliar to me. And I’m not a woodworker to begin with. And in New England, firewood was the big issue, so I became familiar with wood that split well and burned hot. Period. Now I need to know much more about the qualities of different woods.

Fortunately, in the 21st century, there is the online Wood Database. This excellent free resource is quite extensive (though Hawaiian woods are strangely absent) and gives a great deal of information about the qualities of different woods. Among these, the important ones for me are dry weight, strength, shrinkage, workability, and perishability. I spent a lot of time going back and forth between this website and the State of Maryland’s Maryland Trees database, looking at what types of wood are available in this area.

Lightness, for the ‘iako and the ‘ama, was a problem. The trees that are light are often also highly perishable, or just plain hard to find. Cedar, ash, and white pine aren’t common around my area—at least, not that I could find.

Which brings us to another problem: If you live in the city, where do you find trees to cut? Well, there are four solutions. First, make friends with a logger or arborist who cuts trees for a living. Some of them stock up on the wood they cut, because they or their friends or relatives are woodworkers, too. Second, go directly to large private landowners who have some good-looking trees for your purposes, and see if they will let you cut them. Third is tree falls from storms. I have harvested a few pieces from these. Finally, you can be sneaky. After all, there are a lot of trees in my area—along the sides of highways or in highway medians, or the fringes of parks and streams, and so forth: no-man’s lands, in other words. That doesn’t make cutting trees there legal, and the fines can be up to $1000.

I won’t reveal which option I used, but I will say that the trees that I cut were all, with one exception, standing dead—they were not green anymore, but they weren’t starting to rot, either. Okay, one of them could have been a little fresher. And the type I went for was Virginia pine, not a species with which I was previously familiar.

First I cut a big log for the ama. It was a 40-foot tree, clearly dead in the last season, and with my folding handsaw, felling it was quite a chore. I cut the log longer than it needed to be, just in case. It may have been dead, but it was still mighty heavy. I propped one end on the back of my car roof, atop an old blanket, and slid it up on top of the car.  Two straps, two ropes, and away I went, the happy owner of a beautiful pine log. 

The only problem was that I had not read canoe-building the directions carefully. They say the dry weight of the wood for the ama should be about 26 pounds per cubic foot, and no more than 30. Virginia pine is 32 (oak, by comparison, is 42 or more). Back to the databases for another search. The only readily available local wood with a dry weight under 30 pounds is tulip poplar, which is plentiful, but perishable. So for this, I borrowed a friend and his chainsaw and we cut a live tree (after the appropriate propitiation of its spirit and thanks for its life). This totally green log would become my ama. 

For the booms, however, I went back to Virginia pine: light, reasonably straight, tough, and a bit more water-resistant. The only problem with it, as I quickly found out, is that it’s knotty. That makes shaping it down to size more difficult.

The last wood needed is a series of sticks—four per boom, each about two feet long—that connect the ‘iako to the ama. This is not a Hawaiian design at all, as you will see. Here I lucked out. An area in a nearby streamside park had been cleared around some power lines, and a lot of young trees of the right diameter were already lying there cut. 

The process of turning these raw logs and cut saplings into shaped parts was far more laborious than the making of the hull. At the same time, here is where I really got into canoe carving—using bladed instruments to shape the wood. My primary tools were the drawknife (a blade with two handles, mine an antique), a hammer with large chisel, a plane, and a rasp. 

Tools a
Tools (clockwise from upper left): Drawknife, chisel and hammer, plane, carpenter's rasp. 

Thedrawknife was good for removing bark and roughly taking each log down to the shape and diameter I needed. The hammer and chisel I used to cut out the knots in the Virginia pine and to shape the ends of the ama. The plane helped straighten out uneven areas more finely, and the rasp took care of the minor bumps, knotty areas, and general smoothing. Of course, I finished things off with the miraculous random orbital sander. 

Carving 2 e

Carving 1d
Above: Knots divoted out with hammer and chisel. Right: A boom log after a rough pass with the drawknife.
















Now although the logs for the booms were as straight as I could get them, they still had curves to them. Carving them down to two inches in diameter from around three-and-a-half to four inches—well, yes, it’s a lot of extra work, but it gave me the opportunity to take some of those curves down and make the pieces straighter overall. So after divoting out the knots, I used the drawknife to make the first hard pass, removing the bark and taking off thick strips of wood. Have I mentioned that this took a lot of effort? I wondered if our ancestors had to work this hard, or whether there was some Zen of using this tool that I wasn’t getting. With that in mind, I did get better at it. 

I then used the plane to fine-tune the major work as much as possible, and used the rasp on the ridges and on the lumpy areas around the knots. The two tools worked very well at taking the wood down to a reasonably smooth contour. 

Carving 3 a

Carving 4 a

Carving 5 a
Top: All the carving is done, but the boom still looks pretty rough. Above: Nice and smooth—if not perfectly straight—after sanding. Right:To steady the log while I worked, I set up two bench clamps at the end of my long table and clamped a large C-clamp into them to hold the extended end of the log (cut off afterwards). You can see how much I took off of this log. The carved portion is not centered on the raw end; that was to take out some of the curve. 

Poplar a
Thetulip poplar log for the outrigger, with giant strips of bark peeled off.

The ama (float) was a different story. To begin with, the log was green.  First thing I did was to take the bark off so it would begin to dry better.  Lo and behold, tulip poplar is one of those tree species where the bark just peels right off! What a bonus! 

This log, again, was not perfectly straight. It had a curve on one end that I intended to use for the bow end, but side-to-side it had some issues as well. These too I tried to minimize as I took the log down to its final size.

Mostly this log was to stay pretty round, though flattened a bit on the top. The ends, however, were to be tapered down to points. I decided to do the first end with just the hammer and chisel. By this point I was feeling pretty handy with these tools, and they are not too dissimilar from the adze of old—except that they are two separate pieces and the adze is one combined tool. Using the hammer and chisel, I felt, gave me much more precision and control, and reminded me of stone carvers I had seen in my youth. I felt like an artist at last. 

Artistic as the work might have been, it took a long time and a lot of careful eyeing to get the end of the log into the right shape. So to do the other end, I used a technique suggested in the instructions: Make sawcuts of increasing depth, and then chisel these off. Wow, this took much less time. The wood came off in huge chunks, and in half an hour I had done what took me perhaps two days on the firstend. 

Ama1 a Ama2

Left: Beginning to shape the end of the ama with hammer and chisel.  Note the lovely dark heartwood of the log. Right: Illustration from Wharram’s instructions on how to shape the end of the ama.  I like how they say that using an electric planer is cheating!  I don’t own one anyway. 

Mind you, I was doing this work in Baltimore in July, when it’s 95 degrees outside and often humid. I moved my work to an old picnic table in the shade and spend days shaping this thing, then leaving it in the sun to dry some more. 

In the end, I not only had a log that I can lift—at first, it was so green and full of water I had to drag it—but an outrigger that, after sanding, looks pretty good. It is already showing some cracks, but I’m not worried about that, because now I know about filleting. Next year when the log is totally cured, I'll fill those cracks and waterproof the float. For now, I’m just going to use it as soon as everything else is done. And I am getting into the final stretch. 


Ama3 a

Ama4 a

My picnic table set-up. You can see that the log has some shape issues. I did my best to deal with these. 


Next: Cordage.

—Douglas Herman, NMAI


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I was thrilled to see the photos on this website,,,, and I want to be a native of America to lead his own country

learn so that we all do not become marginalized

why people of his native country should not be the leader????????? I was so sad

I think the National Museum of the American Indian is the best museum in history.

September 20, 2013

Don Patterson, President of the Tonkawa Tribe

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title. 

My name is Don Patterson, and I am president of the Tonkawa Tribe. Sometimes I am referred to as “chairman” unofficially, but not “chief.” The idea of electing contemporary chiefs by majority rule mystifies me. Chieftainships were established in traditional times under an entirely different order, based upon an entirely different set of selection criteria, but not by general election.  

Can you share with us your Native name, its English translation and/or nickname? 

My Indian name is Pe-atch-e-thot, meaning Comes Flying Over. You will notice I prefer the word “Indian” rather than any other. My grandmother, born in the 1890s, called herself Indian, political correctness not being part of her mindset. 

Don L. Patterson
Don Patterson, president of the Tonkawa Tribe. Photo courtesy of the Tonkawa Tribe.

What responsibilities do you have in your community? 

I try always to think as tribal president. All that implies is sufficient.

How did your life experience prepare you to lead? 

My youthful involvement in Indian activism during the 1960s and '70s at places like Alcatraz, Wounded Knee, the March on Washington, D.C., etc., gave me insights about the strained relationship between tribes and the dominant society surrounding them. That certainly helped groom me for the task.

Who inspired you as a mentor?  

My dad, my grandmother! 

Are you a descendant of a historical leader? If so, who?  

I think so, but then aren’t we all? I would rather be judged on my own merit rather than who I am descended from. 

Where is your community located? Where are the Tonkawa people originally from?

The Tonkawa Tribe is located in north central Oklahoma. Our tribal town is called Fort Oakland and is situated on tribal reservation land approximately one-and-a-half miles southeast of Tonkawa, Oklahoma.

The Tonkawa people are originally from south central Texas. We are considered one the southernmost of the Plains tribes.

What is a significant point in the history of the Tonkawa people that you would like to share?

I think the period of forced removal from our original homeland in Texas to a reservation in Oklahoma was probably the most significant. The Tonkawa Tribe was the only tribe in Oklahoma to have been removed twice to two different reservations.

Approximately how many members are in the Tonkawa Tribe?

Approximately 700 individuals.

What are the criteria to become a member of the tribe?

One must be born to a parent who is an enrolled member.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands?

Yes, but like most tribes, we see our ability to speak our language diminishing as time moves on. We have developed a dictionary, texts, and readers, which have helped to preserve as much knowledge as possible.

What economic enterprises does the Tonkawa Tribe own?

We have two casinos and a third is under construction, a travel plaza and motel, and an agricultural operation.

What annual events does the tribe sponsor?

Our annual powwow the last weekend in June is the most significant.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

Again, our powwow and casinos.

How is the tribal government set up?

On the federalist model somewhat—a constitutional government based upon the principles of a democracy.

Is there a functional, traditional entity of leadership in addition to your modern government system?

Yes. Cultural functions require altogether different kinds of knowledge and skills, acquired through a lifetime of involvement in traditional activities.

How often are elected leaders chosen?

Every two years in a general election.

How often does the Tribal Council meet?

The council is constitutionally mandated to meet every calendar quarter with the December meeting designated as the annual meeting.

How does your community deal with the United States as a sovereign nation?

We work with the federal government and governments at other levels on a government-to-government basis and usually somewhat contentiously, especially in Oklahoma.

What message would you like to share with Tonkawa youth? 

Retain your traditional way of life—your culture—for that is what defines you as an Indian. A great chief once said: “If you lose the ways of your forefathers, and the drum is no more, and the melody of the flute is replaced by noisy jazz, then you are dead as an Indian, even though you live, and breathe, and walk the streets of big cities!”

Thank you. 

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below.  


From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips.

All images used with permission. 

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This remarkable interview throws light on the American Indian tribes and the Tonkawa clan. Bringing tribe leaders and cultural figures is a good idea in terms of spreading awareness and enlightens the general populace about their socio-economic problems. Great price of work!

September 17, 2013

Ask a Curator Day 2013: Wednesday, September 18

On Wednesday, September 18, 2013—Ask a Curator Day—the National Museum of the American Indian and museums around the world invite you to engage directly with curators and other staff.   Using Twitter and the tags #askacurator and (for our curators specifically) #SmithsonianNMAI, share something you’ve wondered about. Curators from 561 cultural institutions (and counting) in 34 countries (ditto) will be standing by to reply to your questions.

Not on Twitter? Ask your questions in the comments section of this blog, mail them to NMAISocialMedia@si.edu, or post them on the museum's Facebook page, and we’ll take it from there.

BeautyHonorThis year, Joe Horse Capture will be coordinating Ask a Curator Day at NMAI. His particular area of interest is Native North American Indian Art, especially the art of the peoples of the Great Plains and Great Lakes/Woodlands regions. Joining Joe on the Ask a Curator team are Kathleen Ash-Milby and Cécile Ganteaume. Kathleen hopes to field questions about contemporary Native artists—particularly those working in non-traditional art forms such as new media, painting, sculpture, installation and photography—and the museum’s contemporary art program. A member of the curatorial staff of the Museum of the American Indian when it became part of the Smithsonian, Cécile is well-informed about the history, breadth, and depth of the museum's collections.

Joe is new to our curatorial staff, but an old hand at Ask a Curator, having taken part in the day at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts (MIA), where he was Associate Curator of Native American Art in the Department of Arts of Africa and the Americas. Joe cites as his mentors Evan Maurer, director emeritus of MIA, and his father, the late George P. Horse Capture, a special assistant at NMAI who played a key role in community consultations leading to the design of this museum. Joe and his father collaborated on the major NMAI exhibition and book Beauty, Honor, Tradition: The Legacy of Plains Shirts (2000–01, 2004). Joe’s other major projects include Art of the Native Americans: The Thaw Collection (2010–11), organized with the Fenimore Art Museum, and an exhibition about his tribe, A’aninin (Gros Ventre), titled From Our Ancestors: Art of the White Clay People (2009–10). Joe also serves on the board of the Otsego Institute for Native American Art History.

Hide 422Kathleen’s contributions to the museum date to her student days, when she worked as a research assistant in the museum’s former Research Branch in the Bronx. Her credits from that time include work on the exhibition and book Woven by the Grandmothers: Nineteenth-Century Navajo Textiles from the National Museum of the American Indian (1996–97). After serving as gallery curator of the American Indian Community House in New York City, Kathleen returned to this museum as curator for contemporary art at NMAI–NY, where she curated and edited Off the Map: Landscape in the Native Imagination (2007) and, with Truman Lowe (Ho-Chunk), Edgar Heap of Birds: Most Serene Republics (2007), a public art installation for the 52nd International Art Exhibition/Venice Biennale. Kathleen is the recipient of a 2011 Excellence in Research Award from the secretary of the Smithsonian for her exhibition and publication HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor (2010–11). She is president of the Native American Art Studies Association and a founding board member (2006–12) of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective. Kathleen is a member of the Navajo Nation.

Sb_sys_medias_web_media_id_2634Cécile is curator, most recently, of two exhibitions on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York: Circle of Dance presents Native dance as a vibrant, meaningful, and diverse form of cultural expression. Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian—a major, permanent exhibition of some 700 works of Native art from throughout North, Central, and South America—calls attention to the complexity and interconnectedness of the Native cultures of the Americas. Cécile's work on Infinity of Nations and the companion book of the same title was recognized with a 2011 Excellence in Research Award from the secretary of the Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian offers a few tips for participating in Ask a Curator Day:

  • If you’d like to follow the full conversation and see questions and answers between other individuals and museums, use a website such as TweetChat to view all talk using the hashtag.
  • Not sure what a curator is or does? Ask! Questions about what it’s like to work in a museum, how curators got where they are today, and what a typical workday is like are most welcome. Our curators appreciate the opportunity to reflect on their work and increase awareness about the jobs they do.
  • Curators are passionate about their specific topic areas and love to discuss them. Just like any professional with a specialized expertise, they sometimes hesitate to speculate on questions outside their scope. If you have a question they can’t answer, we’ll do our best to point you in the direction of a resource that may be able to.
  • First, best, most valuable, biggest, tallest, oldest—superlatives are fun, but they can be hard to establish. If you ask more open-ended questions, you may get more interesting answers!
  • Some questions can’t be answered in 140 characters, the limit Twitter puts on tweets. If that’s the case, we’ll save your question for the museum’s blog and let you know when we post a reply.
  • Another option for those longer-than-a-tweet sized questions is to Ask the Smithsonian through Smithsonian Magazine. Unlike the short questions common on Ask a Curator Day, Ask the Smithsonian encourages you to "think big" as they’re seeking “complex questions that will generate new ideas, new visions, and new conversations."

Book cover credits: Beauty Honor, Tradition: Hunkpapa Lakota (Sioux) shirt (detail), about 1885. Collected by Gen. W. P. Carlin at Ft. Yates, Standing Rock Agency, North Dakota, about 1890. 12/1. Photo by Katherine Fogden (Mohawk), NMAI. 

Hide: Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Red Reindeer Brand, 2009. Reindeer fur, acrylic polymer, cotton fabric, metal grommets, 61 x 45.7 cm. Collection of the artist. Photo by Kevin G. Smith.

Infinity of Nations: Muisca ceramic head, Colombia, AD 1200–1600. Clay, paint; 26 x 15 x 29 cm. 23/920. Photo by Walter Larrimore, NMAI.

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Thanks. I have just followed you on twitter. I saw this post too late - It's already the 18th Sep. But now that I joined you in Twitter, hopefully I wont miss such a good opportunity again..

Thanks. I have just followed you on twitter.

Thank you very much. I've never seen that before.

September 12, 2013

Natalie Standingontherock Proctor, Tribal Chairwoman, Wild Turkey Clan, Cedarville Band of Piscataway Conoy

In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today. —Dennis Zotigh, NMAI 

Please introduce yourself with your name and title.

Natalie Standingontherock Proctor, tribal chairwoman, Wild Turkey Clan, Cedarville Band of Piscataway Conoy.

What responsibilities do you have in your community?

I'm the liaison responsible for local and state programs. I oversee and implement cultural, agricultural, health, and education initiatives and projects. I collaborate with tribal members to determine goals and missions. I meet with political and legislative members to foster and build relationships that help promote tribal needs and concerns and help maintain longstanding community partnerships. 

How did your life experience prepare you to lead?

NStandingontherock 1
Natalie StandingontherockProctor, tribal chairwoman, Wild Turkey Clan, Cedarville Band of Piscataway Conoy. Annapolis, Maryland, January 2012. 

My parents often talked about tribal activities and discussed the problems of their times, especially the problems brought upon us. I did not grow up on a recognized reservation, but lived in a community of solely Native people. I began school in an all-white school, and it was socially and culturally difficult. I could not wait to get home to the safety of my community.

We did so much together in sharing our gardens, dividing the meat, fishing, and the like. My father included us in all the work. When it came to tribal affairs, I never thought much about being on the council or in a leadership role, but took much pride in being behind the scenes, working to see the elders' missions and goals accomplished. I enjoyed working with the elders and was willing to help wherever help was needed. While I did not plan to lead, it has become my life's passion and work.

Who inspired you as a mentor?

I was inspired by the Piscataway elders. I found true inspiration in my father, Pete, and my grandmother, Gladys Keeperofthepipe, who is also our current Clan Mother. I would listen to the stories of their time and could feel the pain of their struggles as I experienced my own. I could see how hard they were working to make a difference for the future generations.

Where is your community located?
Where are your people originally from?

The Piscataway's original territory covered what became colonial Maryland, which included present-day Washington, D.C., parts of Virginia—Fairfax County, Loudon County, etc.—and West Virginia, and some of Pennsylvania. The majority of Piscataway people now live in Washington and the southern part of Maryland, in the counties of Prince George and Charles. 

What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?

Tribalofficials and the governor of Maryland at the signing of executive orders recognizing the Maryland Indian status of the Piscataway Nation and Piscataway Conoy Tribe. From left to right: Natalie Standingontherock 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. 
Annapolis, Maryland, January 2012. 

When trying to choose a specific point in history, my mind keeps returning instead to a defining span of time that is painful and unique to our Eastern Indian populations, who were the first encroached upon. For those Indigenous people who managed to survive the first few hundred years of invasion and the stripping of land, resources, and culture, a law was passed that essentially enabled the stripping of our identity. The law allowed officials to "sight identify" children—meaning an official looking at you could identify you as what he perceived you to be, and that identity was issued on birth certificates and other records.

Otherwise stated, every effort was made to ensure that on paper Piscataway Indians did not exist. Some historical sources state that the Piscataway just left. This is why we, and other Eastern tribes, do not have reservation lands. Why would a nonexistent people need land?

From the mid 1700s until just last year, we were an unrecognized people. But we were here all the while.

The Piscataway Conoy Tribe and the Piscataway Indian Nation received official recognition through an Executive Order by Governor Martin O'Malley in January of 2012. 

Approximately how many members are in the Picataway Conoy Tribe? What are the criteria to become a member?

We have approximately 1,800 enrolled members, of whom 50 percent are over the age of 18.

We are a maternal tribe. In order to be an enrolled member, your mother or grandmother must be enrolled. The minimum [blood] quantum to qualify for enrollment is one-quarter. 

Is your language still spoken on your homelands?

Our language is not spoken; we speak English. Recent government studies find that approximately 85 percent of Native Americans are not lingual in their tribal languages. The Piscataway people are working toward the restoration of our language.

What economic enterprises do the Piscataway Conoy own?

The tribe currently has no economic enterprises. Some members of the tribe do own and operate their own Native-based businesses. If people want to ask in the comments section, I'd be happy to refer them to businesses owned by our tribal members.

What attractions are available for visitors on your land?

The Piscataway people have a museum. The museum is open for school tours Monday through Friday by appointment, and on the fourth Sunday of the month it is open to the general public. The museum is currently fundraising to support rebuilding efforts and is featured on our website

What annual events does the tribe sponsor?

We will be celebrating the 33rd anniversary of our tribal powwow the first weekend in June, of 2014. We welcome everybody to attend and celebrate with us. We also host many educational, cultural, health, and agricultural events, also found on our website under the Events heading.

What message would you like to share with the youth of your community?

Humans and the world are continuously evolving. Nothing stays the same. Try to live in the present, not the future or the past.

Thank you. 

To read other interviews in this series, click on the banner below. 


From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips.

All images used with permission. 

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I normally like the interviews on NMAI, but this one left me with a few questions. I grew up in the mountains of Western Maryland, know about the Earth, plant uses, making a fire, respect for the world around you, etc. And I've spent a lot of effort tracking down Piscataway tribal history. While I only found out recently, that is my heritage (provable by state archives, church records and my family names). From what I've read, I don't really see a singular effort over time to wipe a specific group off the map. I'd put more weight behind things like stealing land/resources, collective ignorance, remote living, economic disenfranchisement, inaccessible information and social/legal prejudice. Eastern tribes mixed with Europeans and Africans, and the Piscataway were no different. Together, they add up to some groups disappearing from general public view.

I also understand that many of the Eastern tribes can use help with economic development, education, historical documentation, etc. But with such a restrictive blood quantum and recent family ties among the Piscataway Conoy, as stated, why should I bother supporting or doing anything? (It's not about benefits. Don't need'em, can't see how I would.) Reading the interview, I kinda feel sidelined and like I should do something else with my time.


Thank you for your heartfelt comment. Citizenship going forward is an issue for many Native nations and families. The museum's symposium on the question—Quantum Leap: Does "Indian Blood" Still Matter?—can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgJJzTFwdfA.

Cultural specialist Dennis Zotigh has also written on the subject: http://blog.nmai.si.edu/main/2011/09/will-current-blood-quantum-membership-requirements-make-american-indians-extinct.html

Please continue to pursue your family's history and to add your voice to this complicated discussion. Best regards.

Do they actually wear the animal skin as shown in the first image?

September 07, 2013

Revealing Ancestral Central America, a symposium at the museum in Washington, Sunday, September 8, 2013

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Ulúa River female figure, 900–200 BC. Campo Dos (United Fruit Company Farm 2), Cortés Department, Honduras. Pottery. Collected or excavated by Gregory Mason, acquired by MAI, 1932. 7.2 × 5.5 × 11.25 cm (18/3091). Photo by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI

This Sunday, September 8, from 10:30 AM to 3:45 PM EDT, the Smithsonian Latino Center and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., will host Revealing Ancestral Central America, a symposium presenting current scholarship into the interpretation and recovery of Central America’s rich indigenous heritage. For those unable to attend the symposium in person, the program will be webcast live. (A link to the archived broadcast will also be posted on the NMAI YouTube Channel later in the week.)

Revealing Ancestral Central America and the related exhibition, Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed, on view at the museum in Washington through February 1, 2015, are products of the happy discovery by researchers from the Latino Center that the museum’s holdings include one of the largest and most significant collections of Central American archaeological objects in the world—some 17,000 pieces, including more than 10,000 intact vessels, few of which had been studied or exhibited.

In her essay for the companion book to the exhibition and symposium, Rosemary A. Joyce, professor of archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley, offers a glimpse of the kinds of knowledge to be gained from such a collection:

Take as an example an assemblage [of some 400 objects] recovered from a site in the Ulúa river valley in Honduras, called Farm Two by Gregory Mason, who collected the materials for the Heye Foundation [the New York institution that became Museum of the American Indian (MAI) and, in 1989, the National Museum of the American Indian]. . . .

Obsidian, jade, and marine shell were imported from distances ranging from thirty to more than 250 kilometers. While most of the painted and mold-made pottery was locally crafted, some dishes came from Belize or Guatemala, some jars from the Sulaco valley to the east. And all this from a rural village whose modest houses were made of poles, covered with clay, topped with straw roofs. . . .

At scales ranging from larger-than-life stone sculptures depicting humans and supernatural beings to the intimacy of jewelry . . . , it is evident that the people of pre-16th-century Central American societies lived in a visually rich, materially luxurious world. Nor was this visual and material richness limited to a small, privileged group. Even in the most stratified and unequal societies in the region, such as those of the Classic Maya (ca. AD 250–850), research in rural locations like the well-preserved village of Joya del Cerén, El Salvador, shows that farmers owned dozens of pottery vessels, many of them brightly painted or modeled into the shapes of fantastic animals. . . .

In contrast to earlier generations of scholars, who focused on economic and political stratification to describe pre-Hispanic Central America, Dr. Joyce and her colleagues are re-creating a more complex, detailed picture: 

. . . [A] chain of societies connected through intentional human action leading to travel, exchange, and participation by visitors in social events. . . .

The dazzling objects in collections established by archaeologists and museums are making visible what we should have known all along: between the apparently small, isolated villages of Central American there existed enduring ties composed of social relations, respect for beliefs about the place of humans in the cosmos, and shared appreciation for items of beauty and the materials from which they could be made. 

Prof. Joyce's symposium presentation, "What Archaeology Reveals about Central America's Past," will be followed by "Interethnic Relations and Multicultural Landscapes in Ancestral Central America," by John Hoopes (Kansas State); "Indigenous Heritage in Central America Today," by Victor Monteyo (Jakaltek Maya; University of California, Davis) and Georgina Hernández (Museo de la Palabra y Memoria, El Salvador); and "Perserving Central America's Patrimony," by the Hon. Muni Figueres (Ambassador of Costa Rica), Fabio Amador (National Geographic), Francisco Ulloa–Corrales (National Museum of Costa Rica), and Prof. Joyce.

We hope you can attend the symposium and see the exhibition in person. But if not, a wealth of materials are available on line—not simply the live webcast (and eventually the archived video on the NMAI YouTube Channel), but the exhibition website in Spanish and English, and the complete catalog, edited by Dr. Joyce, as a downloadable pdf.

Revealing Ancestral Central America 
Sunday, September 8, 2013
10:30 AM to 3:45 PM EDT
Rasmuson Theater, National Museum of the American Indian
4th & Independence SW, Washington, DC

This program received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.

Excerpt from: Joyce, Rosemary A., “Surrounded by Beauty: Central America before 1500,” in Revealing Ancestral Central America, ed. Rosemary A. Joyce, 13–21 (Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Latino Center and the National Museum of the American Indian, 2013). 

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I hope carbon dating has been done on these objects, i would love to read more on this.

I never saw that kind of rare images ever. It's really a good one with well explained blog about the unique topic.