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Maryland celebrates American Indians after Thanksgiving, with a day off

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Photo - Howard County pow wow (Examiner file photo)
Howard County pow wow (Examiner file photo)
Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

While most people around the country are recovering from turkey-induced comas or rushing to Black Friday sales, Maryland state employees will be celebrating American Indian Heritage Day with a day off.

Of the 23 states that give their employees the day after Thanksgiving off, Maryland is the only one where the day honors the United States' indigenous population.

There are 20,420 American Indians in Maryland, making up about 0.4 percent of the population, according to data from the 2010 census. Eight tribes are indigenous to Maryland, including the Accohannock, Pocomoke, Nause-Waiwash, Assateague, Shawnee, Piscataway Indian Nation, Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Subtribes and Cedarville Band of Piscataway, according to Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown's office.

States in which the day after Thanksgiving is a holiday
California
Delaware
Florida
Georgia (Robert E. Lee Day is celebrated)
Indiana (Lincoln's Birthday is celebrated)
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Maine
Maryland (American Indian Heritage Day is celebrated)
Michigan
Minnesota
Nebraska
Nevada (Family Day is celebrated)
New Hampshire
New Mexico (Presidents Day is celebrated)
North Carolina
Oklahoma
Pennsylvania
South Carolina
Texas
Washington
West Virginia

The day after Thanksgiving has been a holiday for state employees in Maryland since the start of fiscal 1999. That is when the state legislature eliminated Defenders Day -- which celebrates the defense of Baltimore during the War of 1812 -- Good Friday, Lincoln's Birthday and Maryland Day -- which commemorates the arrival of settlers in St. Mary's County on March 25, 1634 -- as holidays for employees and added the day after Thanksgiving, or the fourth Friday in November.

The day was designated American Indian Heritage Day by a state law passed in 2008.

Nationally, Native American Heritage Day was first recognized as the day following Thanksgiving in 2007 by a congressional resolution, and the president has since recognized the day by an official proclamation at the beginning of November every year. November was first named National American Indian Heritage Month in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush and has been recognized every year since 1994. However, federal employees don't get the day off.

Many states across the country recognize a variation of American Indian Heritage Day, on the second Monday in October as an alternative to Columbus Day. California and New York are among a list of states where Native American Day occurs annually on the fourth Friday in September, and in Tennessee, it is the fourth Monday in September. However, none of the three states gives state employees the day off.

But having the holiday the day after Thanksgiving as Maryland does might make some sense, said Dennis Zotigh, a cultural specialist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.

"A lot of Indians don't celebrate the Thanksgiving that commemorates the original Thanksgiving in 1617 because they see it as a Holocaust," said Zotigh, who is descended from the Kiowa, Santee Dakota and Ohkay Owingeh tribes. "Many of the Indians were either exterminated or enslaved."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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