State celebrates American Indian heritage today

About the only visible remnants of the Native Americans who once populated Maryland are the names of the rivers along which they once lived — Patapsco, Patuxent, Susquehanna, Choptank, Pocomoke and Potomac.

But a new state holiday being celebrated for the first time today — American Indian Heritage Day — “will certainly bring some awareness to the American Indian heritage,” said Del. Talmadge Branch, D-Baltimore, who sponsored the legislation.

The day will be marked by a dinner in Annapolis tonight that features Native American dancers and musicians, said Keith Colston, executive director of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs and a member of the Tuscarora and Lumbee tribes.

Honored tonight will be the chiefs and tribal chairs of what remains of Maryland’s eight indigenous tribes: The Accohannock Indian Tribe; Assateague Peoples Tribe; Nause-Waiwash Band; Pocomoke Indian Tribe; Youghiogheny River Band of Shawnee and three branches of the Piscataway that populated Southern Maryland.  

The Indians in Maryland, who taught the English settlers about oysters, terrapins and growing corn, disappeared through disease and intermarriage with blacks and whites.

Branch’s grandparents had Indian ancestors from the Tuscarora and Nottoway tribes of North Carolina, where he was born.

“Some of the language they even shared with me,” Branch said, but other than attending some pow-wows, he identified as a black. But after they died, he decided to take up a style of dancing by warriors with a bustle of eagle feathers on their backs as a prominent part of the costume.
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