Sunday, November 13, 2016

Native American Heritage Month

My employer asked me to write an internal newsletter blog about a Native American site in Maryland in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

In a state and region with river names such as Monocacy, Potomac, Patapsco and Patuxent, I thought it would be easy to find a native American heritage site. I grew up near the Catoctin Mountains, camped and hiked in Shenandoah National Park, graduated from Penn State with its mascot Nittany Lion, named for a legendary Native American princess who, according to legend, died tragically after a doomed love-affair with a white settler.

So although I'd immediately agreed to the proposition, it then seemed almost every weekend after I'd agreed there was a family emergency, or we were away (to visit my son in college) or I was sick (three weekends in a row). A family dog died and another one got terribly sick a month later (we hope he won't die).

So long story short, I wasn't able to go to one of the two or three day trip destinations that I found that specifically featured Native American Heritage: The National Museum of the American Indian, a Smithsonian museum on the National Mall in D.C. or the Accohannock Native American Living Village in Calvert County.

For all the day trips I blog about in the Mid-Atlantic Day Trips Blog, I try to delve into the area's history, whether I'm going on a bike ride or hike or exploring an historic colonial mansion. But the Native American history always seemed to be an after thought, an aside or "this is interesting but not the real reason why you came here" sort of way.

Time; the overlay of colonial towns -- such as St Mary's City -- on Native American villages and sites; farming; and modern development all have obscured Native American history and heritage in the mid-Atlantic region. But clues surround us and have become part of our contemporary environment, their presence almost invisible by their very familiarity -- Chesapeake, Potomac, Shenandoah....

Thus, as I was researching Soldier's Delight Natural Environmental Area in Baltimore County in anticipation of an upcoming hike, I discovered that this area was a Native American hunting ground.

Research into history surrounding the C&O Canal -- a favorite destination of mine -- revealed an 1994 archeological dig into a 600-year old Native American village, which supported up to 250 people, from the Late Woodland period (just before the Europeans arrived). Thousands of artifacts were discovered in a corn field that's now part of the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Area, alongside of the canal, about 650 yards north of the Potomac River in Montgomery County.

There was another such village discovered in the 1930s in Accoceek in Prince George's County. And in the Smithsonian Research Center in Edgewater in Anne Arundel County, remains of a Native American fishing and hunting camp along the Rhode River dating to the Middle Woodlands era (1200-1500 years ago) were also revealed in the 1990s. 

In fact, this all serves to remind us that Maryland's heritage began far earlier than its earliest colonial settlement in 1634, as native peoples called this area home from at least 10,000 years ago. Migrations of various peoples following the seasons and wildlife travelled the area for thousands of years, and there were numerous permanent settlements throughout the Chesapeake Bay and mid-Atlantic region. After the European invasion began, more pressure was put on the Native American peoples, who tended to migrate north and west away from the earliest European colonial settlements.

The colony of Maryland began with the landing of the Calvert expedition in 1634. Throughout the latter 1600s, Europeans and Native peoples lived within reach of each other; however the colonists preferred to live along the Chesapeake and major waterways, while the native tribes would eventually seek the interior regions for refuge. A few historic era tribes are known to have had permanent settlement sites within the wilderness of the Monocacy and Potomac River Valleys. One such tribe were the Tuscarora, who migrated here from the Carolinas after 1713 and lived adjacent to the Potomac River.

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, and in fact, for every month of the year, let's commit to remembering the history of the cultures that lived on this land before Europeans arrived. Dig a little into the history, ask questions, be curious about the Native American Heritage.

If you're interested in learning more about the history of the region BEFORE the European invasion, then check out the two sites below -- I will be in the coming year!

Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum
A 544-acre park on the Patuxent River and St. Leonard Creek in Calvert County, Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum is now home to a state history and archaeology museum that explores the changing cultures and environment of the Chesapeake Bay region over the past 12,000 years. Consult http://www.jefpat.org/ for hours of operation, driving directions, and a calendar of special events.

The Accohannock Native American Living Village
The Accohannock, one of the oldest historical tribes in the state, are in the process of building a Woodland Indian village that will be very much like those that existed at the time the first colonists arrived in Maryland. Located in Marion, in Somerset County, MD, the village is the site of an annual pau wau (pow wow). Take a look at http://www.indianwatertrails.com/village.html to learn more about the project and the site, which includes a local bird sanctuary and wildlife refuge.

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