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Indigenous dancers perform at the Baltimore American Indian Center's annual pow-wow at Towson University.
Indigenous dancers perform at the Baltimore American Indian Center's annual pow-wow at Towson University. (Daniel Kucin Jr. / Baltimore Sun)

Nanticoke. Pocomoke City. The Piscataway and Choptank Rivers.

These names of local towns and landforms evoke a history way before 1632—the year that Cecil Calvert established the Province of Maryland to protect persecuted English Catholics—when various Indigenous tribes, including the aforementioned three, thrived within the current state borders.

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Today, the U.S. Census Bureau identifies 0.6 percent of Marylanders and 0.5 percent of Baltimore city as “American Indian and Alaska Natives alone.” Still, Maryland’s Indigenous residents, from the state-recognized Piscataway and Accohannock to the Lumbee that migrated to Fells Point around World War II, fight to tell their communities’ stories.

“We hear this comment a lot: ‘Oh, we didn’t even know Natives lived in Baltimore,'” said Jessica Dickerson, a board member for the Baltimore American Indian Center (BAIC) and chair of the organization’s annual signature pow-wow. “It’s really important for us to let people know that we are still here.”

The state’s nearly 86,000 Indigenous denizens celebrate their heritage during November, the federally designated National American Indian Heritage Month (also known as Native American Heritage Month, although E. Keith Colston of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs noted via email that his agency uses “American Indian,” in tandem with most state legislation concerning Indigenous peoples).

Native American dancers at a Baltimore American Indian Center Pow Wow.
Native American dancers at a Baltimore American Indian Center Pow Wow. (Photo by Steve Ruark, Patuxent Publishing)

Whether you identify as a member of an Indigenous tribe, a supporter or simply want to learn more about them, make sure to add these public events to your November calendar.

‘Tribal Leaders Making a Path in Today’s World’

The state’s Commission on Indian Affairs, its parent entity, the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives, and Montgomery College’s Rockville campus will launch American Indian Heritage Month in Maryland. The evening commences with a panel featuring local Indigenous leaders like Kerry Hawk Lessard (Shawnee), executive director of community health organization Native American LifeLines. It segues into a presentation of tribal flags, performances and other honorific ceremonies.

Nov. 1, 4-9 p.m. at Montgomery College, Rockville Campus’ Theatre Arts Building. 51 Mannakee St., Rockville. Free with RSVP. conta.cc/2q0QXWa. 443-742-7777.

Indian Health Service Employees Association Pow-Wow

Algonquin language speakers first used “pau-wau” to indicate a major speaker during a gathering. “Pow-wow” now generally references meet-ups, but many Indigenous tribes still use it for events with ceremonial components. Various pow-wows take place throughout Maryland during American Indian Heritage Month, including this seventh iteration of one from employees of the federal Indian Health Service in Bethesda. Come to Gaithersburg and witness the grand entries (a procession of Indigenous tribes and flags) at 3 and 6 p.m, as well as traditional dance competitions and music. Notable performers include the intertribal pow-wow drum group Uptown Boyz from Washington D.C. and two-spirit (a third non-binary gender identity in some Indigenous cultures) dancer Tony Fuller.

Nov. 2, 2-9 p.m. at the Activity Center at Bohrer Park, 506 South Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg. Free. facebook.com/eapowwow.

COME ONE, COME ALL!!!! Men's & Women's Traditional Dance Specials: Winner-Take-All CA$H PRIZE! Everyone welcome, free admission and open to the public. Come check out our food and craft vendors!

Posted by Employees Association Powwow on Friday, October 25, 2019

‘Revisiting the Reservation: Baltimore’s Lumbee Indian Community’

Artist and scholar Ashley Minner sought to preserve the stories of “the reservation” well before she became a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

“The reservation" refers to Fells Point, where thousands of Lumbee (including Minner, Dickerson and Colston’s families) moved after leaving their ancestral North Carolina to find jobs in Baltimore’s post-World War II industrial sector. Though she grew up in Dundalk, where many Lumbee families eventually resettled, her family maintained deep ties to the city’s Lumbee: her aunt preceded her as the director of Baltimore City Public Schools’ Indian education program, her mother led efforts to bring a museum to the Baltimore American Indian Center (BAIC), and all three served on the center’s board at various times. Later, her interviews with both community elders and peers led to projects that she exhibited around the U.S. She even created a walking tour of “the reservation." On one tour, an elder’s innocuous comment about a long-gone store pushed Minner to conduct deeper ethnographic research about what the community was like before most of its symbols, except the BAIC and South Broadway Baptist Church (another major Indigenous community institution), disappeared.

“There were more stores, bars, even a dance hall that Lumbee kids used to go to, [and] more churches," Minner said. “And just so many people in the neighborhood, it’s unimaginable, almost, to think of what it must have been like in the 1950s, to be a Lumbee in that part of the city.”

Minner will share highlights from this research, complete with archival photos, during a talk at the newly renovated Central Library. Stay tuned for an upcoming book on the topic, and check out her walking tour at ashleyminnerart.com.

Nov. 5, 6:30 p.m. at the Enoch Pratt Central Library, 400 Cathedral St., Baltimore. Free. prattlibrary.org. 410-396-5430.

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45th BAIC pow-wow

Founded in 1968 to offer holistic services to “the reservation” residents, the Baltimore American Indian Center survived decades of organizational chaos, funding issues and demographic shifts as most community members left East Baltimore for the county. It still stands proud at 113 S. Broadway, where the BAIC hosts its own heritage month launch event on Saturday afternoon. But you’ll need to travel to the Maryland State Fairgrounds for one of the organization’s signature events: the 45th annual pow-wow.

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Board member and pow-wow chair Jessica Dickerson emphasized that the BAIC’s pow-wow is more traditional than those, like another one in Howard County during the summer, that have competitions for most dance styles. The BAIC’s convening does have some “specials,” or smaller style-specific competitions, but otherwise focuses on the community—not just Lumbee like Dickerson, but all the tribes that the BAIC serves.

“We have this center that’s been here for over 50 years,” Dickerson said. “Our people still live here and they’re out doing all these great things. So that’s really one of the most important parts of having an annual pow-wow: something that people can look forward to every year.”

Attendees can expect a grand entry at noon and 4 p.m., as well a traditional hoop dancing, Aztec dancers, foods like fry bread and other symbols of the myriad tribes who partake in pow-wow ceremonies. Dickerson added that Indigenous vendors—many of whom make their living selling at pow-wows—will sell clothing, food and crafts. Don’t worry if you don’t know what’s going on: Colston, a veteran MC of pow-wows throughout the U.S. and Canada, will emcee this pow-wow and explain each component’s significance.

Nov. 16, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. at the Maryland State Fairgrounds (4H Building), 2200 York Rd., Lutherville-Timonium. $10 for adults, $5 for children age 4-12, free for children under 3. baltimoreamericanindiancenter.org. 410-675-3535.

People shop at a vendor stall at the Baltimore American Indian Center Pow Wow.
People shop at a vendor stall at the Baltimore American Indian Center Pow Wow. (Photo by Steve Ruark, Patuxent Publishing)

‘Food Sovereignty Now’

At John Hopkins University, the new Indigenous Students at Hopkins group recently worked with the public health school’s Center for American Indian Health on starting the school’s first official Indigenous Peoples Day celebration. They join forces again for upcoming events that ask a simple question: what would Indigenous control of health outcomes look like?

This event focuses on the issue of food sovereignty, which a promotional website said “is aimed at decolonizing food systems while combating multiple public health challenges, from food insecurity to heart disease and type 2 diabetes” that Indigenous people disproportionately face. Attendees can listen to keynote speaker Denisa Livingston, a Diné community organizer and authority on food access and justice issues. They’ll also get the opportunity to eat Indigenous foods, courtesy of Conoy Creations’ Crystal Proctor (Piscataway), at a closing reception.

Nov. 18, 3:30-5:30 p.m. at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore. Free with RSVP. foodsovereigntynow.eventbrite.com. 410-955-6931.

American Indian Heritage Weekend at Port Discovery

On the day after Thanksgiving, recognized as American Indian Heritage Day, many of the aforementioned community organizations gather at Port Discovery Children’s Museum for a weekend of performances, presentations and children’s crafts sessions. American Indian Heritage Weekend began three years ago, after Colston reached out to Port Discovery.

“Part of our intent with this particular event is for children and their families, and the adults in their lives, to have a chance to learn from and talk to our Indigenous communities that call Baltimore, Maryland home,” said Abbi Ludwig, Port Discovery’s marketing director. To that end, representatives from the BAIC, Piscataway Conoy Tribe and Accohannock Indian Tribe of the Eastern Shore come to the Inner Harbor museum to learn about these and other Indigenous peoples’ oral tradition, dances, foods, regalia and art.

American Indian Heritage Day 2017 at Port Discovery Children's Museum - Original Credit: Port Discobvery Children's Museu
American Indian Heritage Day 2017 at Port Discovery Children's Museum - Original Credit: Port Discobvery Children's Museu (Handout photo / HANDOUT)

Nov. 29-Dec.1, 11 a.m. (noon on Sunday) at Port Discovery Children’s Museum, 35 Market Pl., Baltimore. $17.95 for general admission. portdiscovery.org. 410-727-8120.

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