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Local Native American Tribes Seeking State Recognition - Last Rites
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November 2, 2011
November is American Indian Month in Maryland. And yet, Maryland is one of the last states on the Eastern Seaboard to not have formally recognized a single American Indian tribe. WYPR’s Mary Rose Madden has the story, which is related to our series, “Last Rites: Death & Remembrance in Maryland.”
This summer, what many have called the holy grail of American Indian history in Maryland – and some say, in the U.S. - was discovered in Southern Prince George’s County.
“People have been looking for this Piscataway Fort for about 100 years.”
Archaeologist Dennis Curry was part of the team – made of professors, students, archaeologists, developers, and American Indians.
“It was like, ‘Holy shit, we found the fort!’ It was the most exciting thing in my career.”
If it meant a great deal to archaeologists, he says, it was even more important to Maryland’s American Indian community.
“It’s really meaningful to them there is so much written about Zekiah Fort and these are their descendants.”
Receiving state recognition would aid American Indians in Maryland to have legal rights to their ancestors’ human remains and Rico Newman, spokesman for the Piscataway Canoy Tribe says, help children receive minority tuition benefits, minority contracts, as well as allow them to craft and sell their work with an official seal.
“Most cultures thrive on its art. Art showcases culture, it moves tradition forward. Without status, we can’t produce art and call it Piscataway and call it native.”
In order for an American Indian group in Maryland to receive state recognition, they must prove lineage back to 1790. The Zekiah Fort dates back to 1680. A detail that should assist the Piscataway group on their quest for state recognition.
Izzy Patoka is the Executive Director of the Office of Community Initiatives. He says after a petition passes the Commission on Indian Affairs, it moves to a Recommendation Advisory Committee – a group of anthropologists, genealogists, tribal members not affiliated with that group, and members at large. If the petition gets their okay, it goes back to the Commission on Indian Affairs. Patoka.
“The commission on Indian Affairs makes a decision whether to send it to the governor. The governor would sign an executive order declaring Maryland Indian status and that would be submitted to the General Assembly’s Executive, Legislative, and Review committee.”
For the American Indian groups in Maryland, the process of receiving state recognition has been an arduous one. There are eight Native American groups residing in Maryland and three of those have filed for state recognition: The Accohonnock, The Piscataway Canoy, and the Piscataway Indian Nation. The Piscataway Indian Nation submitted its petition to what is now the Commission on Indian Affairs about fifteen years ago.
Gabrielle Tayac of the Piscataway Indian Nation:
“The Piscataway Indian Nation petition was deemed unanimously to meet all of the criteria. Every single piece, every single member of the recognition advisory committee which was appointed by the executive branch went through our massive petition – thousands of pages and found that Piscataway Indian Nation fit every piece of criteria – that was a unanimous decision. That was in 1997.”
According to Gabrielle Tayac, her group’s approved petition has been sitting on governors’ desks for the past 14 years. Some both inside the American Indian community and outside say past governors feared Native Americans would interfere with the profits to be gained when or if gambling was approved in the state.
WYPR asked Governor O’Malley if he would be the governor to move this petition forward:
“I would very much like to be the governor that’s able to recognizes native people in Maryland – as soon as I’m able to do that as soon as the application reaches my desk.”
The governor says he’s passionate about this issue and that he hopes to have movement on it by the holiday – that’s the Thanksgiving holiday – and by the end of 2011, at the latest.
So, what are the roadblocks to a petition that received unanimous approval?
The state’s Izzy Patoka says anyone can ask to review a petition.
“A request to review information was submitted by the Piscataway Canoy Tribe – related to Piscataway Indian Nation tribe. That review is ongoing on now. That was prior to the O’Malley administration. I think it was around 2000. We are optimistic that it will conclude in the near future.”
“No. We have never.”
But, Rico Newman from the Picataway Canoy group says his tribe does not now and never has had their petition in its possession.
“If somebody is telling you that we are holding it up tell them have a nice day. Somebody is pulling your leg. That is not the case. We have nothing to do with it.”
So, the Piscataway Indian Nation’s petition is at an impasse.
As for the Piscataway Canoy’s petition, they submitted their petition in 2003. Patoka says the commission on Indian Affairs waived a set of regulations and that their application was moving forward.
The Accohonnock group on the Eastern Shore submitted their petition in 2010 and it’s also moving along. Patoka says O’Malley is determined to make his relationship with American Indians “even stronger.”
I’m Mary Rose Madden, reporting in Baltimore, for 88-1, WYPR.
The series is made possible by a grant from the Maryland Humanities Council, through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities nor the Maryland Humanities Council.
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