Where to explore Native American history at the DMV


Instead of hitting the mall and the internet for Black Friday sales, head out the day after Thanksgiving to celebrate Native American Heritage Day. The Mid-Atlantic is home to numerous sites of deep historical and contemporary significance to the region’s indigenous people. They’re now easier than ever to explore thanks to a trio of apps — the recently released Guide to Indigenous Maryland, the Guide to Indigenous DC, and the Guide to Indigenous Baltimore — developed by Elizabeth Rule, an assistant professor of critical race, gender and culture studies at American University; Author of forthcoming book Indigenous DC: Native Peoples and the Nation’s Capital; and a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

The apps provide users with a guide to physical locations or offer virtual tours through essays and photographs. Part of Rule’s goal in development is to dissuade people from seeing Native American life as something that only existed in the past. “I want people to know that our Indigenous contributions go beyond what you see through anthropology and archaeology,” she says. “We have strong, vibrant, diverse, urban Indigenous peoples who contribute to all sectors of society — the armed forces, politics, the arts and humanities — so I encourage people to seek and celebrate their contributions.”

Wherever you live in the Mid-Atlantic, that history is probably closer than you think — if you want to see some of it for yourself, these seven locations in DC, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware include both historic sites and contemporary Native American contributions to outdoor artwork and parks to museums and a replica Native American town.

“The Duality of Indigenousness”

Located in the Baltimore neighborhood of Highlandtown, this striking mural depicts two boys facing each other. One is shirtless, long black hair cascades over his shoulders, a feather tucked behind his ear; the other wears a blue hoodie and has spiky hair. Multidisciplinary artist Gregg Deal, a member of Nevada’s Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe whose work is deeply shaped by his Native American identity, wants viewers to ask which boy is Native American. It’s a trick question: Both are. Rule loves the piece because “it gives us a glimpse into a commentary on the urban indigenous experience.”

419 S. East Avenue, Baltimore. Free.

“The Ghost of Haida Gwaii, the Black Canoe”

When Rule created the Indigenous Guide to DC, she lived less than a mile from this bronze sculpture by the late artist Bill Reid, a member of British Columbia’s Haida Nation. However, she didn’t even know it existed. It took her a trip to Vancouver, where she saw its sister piece The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Jade Canoe, before she realized another of Reid’s works was on display outside the Canadian Embassy back home. The 20-foot-long, 11,000-pound piece features a traditional Haida dugout canoe carrying a variety of 13 characters, including a raven, eagle, grizzly bear, and beaver, a nod to the mythologies of the indigenous people of the Haida-Gwaii archipelago of Canada’s northern Pacific coast.

501 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Free.

This 5,000-acre park stretches along the six-mile coastline of the Potomac River — opposite Mount Vernon — and Piscataway Creek. Rule recommends a visit because it was home to the largest population of Piscataway (meaning “the people where the rivers meet”) when the first European colonizers arrived, and includes the tribe’s historic capital of Moyaone. In fact, it has been estimated that aboriginal people lived at the site for more than 5,000 years; The park’s cultural and natural history collection includes a dozen prehistoric stone projectiles and tools.

Open sunrise to sunset daily except New Years, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 3400 Bryan Point Rd., Accokeek, Maryland; 301-763-4600; nps.gov/pisc. Free.

The traditional life of the Paspahegh Indians, part of the Powhatan tribal group, comes to life in this replica town on the Jamestown settlement, which features thatched houses, cooking and garden areas, and a ceremonial circle. Costumed cultural interpreters show how the tribe made tools, prepared food and wove natural fibers into rope. In the exhibition galleries, visitors can learn about the most famous Powhatan, Pocahontas; View a scale model of what the whole city would have looked like. and view a collection of artifacts from the region, including arrowheads, copper ornaments, and pottery shards.

Open daily from 9am to 5pm except Christmas and New Year. 2110 Jamestown Rd., Williamsburg, Virginia; 757-253-4838; jyfmuseums.org. Adult $18, children 6-12 $9, children 5 and under free.

In 1984, a former Nanticoke schoolhouse was converted into Delaware’s only Native American museum. Two rooms house 14 display cases filled with artifacts from tribes across the country, including baskets made by the Apaches of Alabama and kachina dolls from the Hopi and Zuni of the Southwest. A pair of boxes are dedicated to Nanticoke items, including a wampum belt and necklace with whelks and conch shells and a toy canoe made from pine needles and sinew. A highlight of the collection is a jingle dress covered with rows of rolled-up snuffbox lids that jingle happily as the wearer dances. “These dances are prayers for the people,” explains museum coordinator Sterling Street, who is Nanticoke. “It’s actually a healing dress.”

Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. 26673 John J. Williams Hwy., Millsboro, Delaware; 302-945-7022; nanticokeindians.org/page/museum. Adults $3, children 11 and under $1.

US Marine Corps War Memorial

Commemorating the Marines who died in the line of duty since 1775, this iconic statue of Marines triumphantly raising the American flag over Iwo Jima has been visited by millions over the years. “But what most people don’t know is that one of the memorial’s service workers was also a tribal member,” says Rule, pointing to Ira Hayes of the Akimel O’odham tribe of what is now Arizona. “It’s an example of an Indigenous story that is often left out of history, even though it’s very visible.”

Open daily from 6 a.m. to midnight. Iwo Jima Access Road, Arlington, Virginia; 703-289-2500; nps.gov.gwmp/planyourvisit/usmc_memorial. Free.

Museum of the Monegasque Indians

Learn about the rich history of the Monakan Indians of Virginia’s Piedmont region at this thoughtfully decorated museum. The history of the tribe is carefully crafted, including important milestones. Artifacts on display include whistles, arrowheads, pottery shards, fishing lures, beads and more, as well as a model of a traditional domed house. Next door is the historic Bear Mountain Indian Mission School, which has educated Monegasque children since 1868.

Open Tuesday-Saturday from 10am to 3pm and Sunday by appointment; closed 24.-25. Nov. and every third Saturday. 2009 Kenmore Road, Amherst, Va.; 434-946-5391; monacannation.com/museum.html. $5.


Categories DC