The History of Native Americans in Maryland

by Amanda Hughes, she/her, Librarian

The Friday after Thanksgiving is largely thought of as a day to rest, digest and shop; but did you know it is also Native American Heritage Day? This year as we celebrate and give thanks in slightly different circumstances, let’s also take the time to remember the original inhabitants of the lands we now call home.

Long before European Settlers reached these shores Maryland was home to dozens of thriving, vibrant societies. Today their ancestors and cultures live on. They have overcome centuries of hardship, dispossession, genocide and discrimination yet still they persist and flourish.

Prior to European contact, Maryland was an important crossroads along the Atlantic coast and home to many tribes. Each region of the state was home to distinct nations which were in turn linked by greater trade networks. The names of these nations are still with us, in the familiar names we use everyday; Assateague, Choptank, Piscataway, Nanticoke, Susquehanna, Powhatan, all of these come to us from the native inhabitants of what would become Maryland.

Prior to European contact, Maryland was divided among a few major nations by region. Among them were the Shawnee and Ohio Valley Tribes in the west, the Susquehanna in northern central Maryland, the Lenape in north eastern Maryland, The Powhattans around what is now Washington D.C. and the Choptank and Nanticoke on the Eastern Shore.

During the Colonial and early American period, the native inhabitants of Maryland were systematically removed from their lands and relocated westward, often to Oklohoma. The first group to gain recognition from the Maryland Government was the Nanticoke tribe in 1881. Other tribes, nations and confederacies followed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, three tribes are formally recognized by the State of Maryland: the Accohannock Tribe, the Piscataway-Conoy Tribe and the Piscataway nation. The Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs serves eight distinct native groups: the Accohannock Indian Tribe, the Assateague Peoples Tribe, the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians (Sub-group of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe), the Nause-Waiwash Band of Indians, the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Subtribes (Sub-group of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe), the Piscataway Indian Nation, the Pocomoke Indian Nation and the Youghiogheny River Band of Shawnee Indians. In the second half of the 20th century the population of Native Americans in Maryland began to go as many southern tribes migrated to the north along with other minorities. Part of this migration included many members of the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. The Lumbee settled in East Baltimore and in 1968, established the Baltimore American Indian Center and were the driving force behind the campaign to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Maryland. Today, Baltimore is home to the largest number of Lumbee outside of their traditional tribal lands. As of the last census, more than 40,000 people in Maryland identified as Native American.

To learn more about the native peoples of Maryland check out these titles from the Pratt Library catalog.

Indians of Southern Maryland
by Rebecca Seib

Meet Naiche
by Gabrielle Tayac

by Gerald Sider


The Native American community in Baltimore City : a special report by Morgan State University. Community Development Resource Center.

The origin and meaning of the Indian place names of Maryland by Hamil Kenny

Indian lands in Dorchester County, Maryland: selected sources, 1669 to 1870 by James McAllister

Indian paths of the Delmarvia [!] Peninsula. by William Marye

Lancaster County Indians by H. Frank Eshleman

Indians in Maryland and Delaware : a critical bibliography by Frank Porter

Maryland Indians, yesterday and today by Frank Porter

The only land I know : a history of the Lumbee Indians by Adolf Dial

Misgivings About Thanksgiving

Food for Thought about a Holiday’s True Meaning

by Tom Warner, Best & Next Department

This Thanksgiving Day, feast your eyes on the true meaning of a holiday that too often highlights football games, turkeys and trimmings while glossing over the plight of Native Americans. As we loosen our belts and count our blessings on this day that celebrates the romanticized story of the Wampanoag people feasting with the Massachusetts colonists in 1621, be aware that for many Native Americans it is a day of mourning signaling the end of a way in life in what became America. The following documentaries are invaluable tools for understanding why as they raise awareness of indigenous people’s culture and the many issues they face today. For, as New Day Film’s John Osaki observes, “Only by examining America’s faults can we learn from them and understand how to build a more perfect union.” 

Let us give thanks that Kanopy has dozens of Native American-themed films in its library that you can watch for free using your library card, including ones addressing such forgotten parts of American history as the cultural fusion of Native- and African-Americans (see Black Indians and By Blood) and TMW Media’s Native American History series for K-12 audiences. Following are some highlights from Kanopy’s collection.

Water Warriors

Water Warriors (Michael Premo, 2017)Water Warriors is the story of a community’s successful resistance against the oil and gas industry. When an energy company begins searching for natural gas in New Brunswick, Canada, indigenous and white families unite to drive out the company in a campaign to protect their water and way of life. Winner of Best Documentary at the Blackstar and Austin Under-the-Stars Film Festivals.

Spirit of the Dawn

Spirit of the Dawn (Heidi Schmidt Emberling, 2008)Spirit of the Dawn explores the dramatic changes in Indian education from the boarding schools of the past, where children were beaten for speaking their language in school, to the more culturally-sensitive classrooms of today.

In Whose Honor

In Whose Honor? (Jay Rosenstein, 1997)In Whose Honor? was the first film of its kind to take a critical look at the long-running practice of “honoring” American Indians – the Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Braves, the Kansas City Chiefs – as mascots and nicknames in sports. Originally broadcast on PBS’s POV, the film tackles issues of racism, stereotypes, minority representation and the powerful effects of mass-media imagery.

More Than A Word

More Than a Word: Native-American Sports Mascots (John and Ken Little, 2017). This is another exploration of Native American-based mascots, especially the controversially-named Washington Redskins (now simply the “Washington Football Team”), and their impact on real-life attitudes, issues and policies. The film explores the history of the offensive term “redskin,” delving into cultural stereotypes of Native Americans and arguing for representations that honor and celebrate the humanity of Indigenous people.

Up Heartbreak Hill

Up Heartbreak Hill (Erica Sharf, 2012)Up Heartbreak Hill examines the lives of three Native American teenagers in Navajo, New Mexico, as they navigate their senior year at a reservation high school. As graduation nears, they must decide whether or not to stay in their community or leave in pursuit of opportunities elsewhere. Up Heartbreak Hill is a moving look at a new generation of Americans struggling with what it means to be Native American in the contemporary world.

A Good Day To Die

A Good Day To Die (David Mueller and Lynn Salt, 2011). This film chronicles the life story of Dennis Banks, the Native American who co-founded the American Indian Movement (AIM) in 1968 to advocate and protect the rights of American Indians from discrimination and exploitation.

Urban Rez

Urban Rez (Lisa D. Olkin, 2013). Urban Rez explores the controversial legacy and modern-day repercussions of the Urban Relocation Program (1952-1973), the greatest voluntary upheaval of Native Americans during the 20th century. Interviewees speak about the challenges of maintaining one’s own tribal traditions, from language to hunting, while assimilating into the larger society.

Pine Ridge

Pine Ridge: The Lives and Dreams of Today’s Native American Youth (Anna Eborn, 2013)Filmed on a South Dakota reservation, Pine Ridge explores what shapes the lives and dreams of today’s Native American youth, whose future is uncertain and whose traditional way of life is fast fading away. Winner of the Dragon Award for Best Nordic Documentary at the Goteborg Film Festival.

Indians Like Us

Indians Like Us (Sylvie Vàng Jacquemin, 2013). Every weekend, a small group of French citizens dress up in Native regalia and make appearances at various village fairs alongside their countrymen in France. But after traveling to the United States to meet “real Indians,” they discover that the reality of contemporary Native Americans is quite different from their portrayed envisioning.

We Shall Remain

We Shall Remain (American Experience, 2009). Want to learn more about Native Americans? Be sure to check out this acclaimed five-part PBS television series that shatters stereotypes of American Indians as simply ferocious warriors or peaceable lovers of the land with five inspiring stories of Native ingenuity and resilience over the course of 300 years.

Stream up some Holiday Cheer Now!

Need more than 25 Days of Christmas? The Pratt has you covered with the Holiday movie collection on Hoopla. There’s no need to wait for December (or even Thanksgiving) to celebrate.  Hoopla is ready for the holiday season whenever you are!

Go ahead and grab your blanket, mug of apple cider, and make it a movie day. Don’t forget you can download up to 15 movies, books, and books instantly on Hoopla

Marry Me for Christmas Movie
A Baby for Christmas

A Christmas Wish
A Very Country Christmas Movie
Always and Forever Christmas
The Christmas Contract Movie
Christmas On The Range Movie
Grounded For Christmas Movie
Mistletoe & Menorahs Movie
The Tree That Saved Christmas
Twinkle All the Way
A Storybook Christmas Movie

Find even more holiday cheer in the holiday collection and the A+E Networks collection. 

A Little Help with Holiday Cooking

Cook up something tasty this holiday season! Whether you are a beginner in the kitchen or consider yourself to be a master chef, the Pratt Library has a cookbook for everyone. Check out one of these books at Sidewalk Service or download on Hoopla or Overdrive. You might just find your new favorite dessert recipe!

Big Love Cooking
by Joey Campanaro

by Myron Mixon
Brown Sugar Kitchen
by Tanya Holland
by Tal Ronnen
Magnolia Table
by Joanna Gaines
Instant Pot Soups
by Alexis Mercel
The Great Big Pumpkin Cookbook
by Michalczyk Maggie eBook
Pie Academy
by Ken Haedrich

Beautiful Boards
by Meagan Brown
The Friendly Vegan Cookbook by Michelle Cehn & Toni Okamoto
Vegan Holiday Cookbook
by Katie Culpin
Baking With Less Sugar
by Joanne Change
by Ree Drummond
Carla Hall’s Soul Food
by Carla Hall and Genevieve Ko

Check out What’s New at the Pratt!

Looking to give a new book a try? We have you covered! Here’s a look at the newest items available from the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Don’t forget you can reserve books, DVDs, and more with Sidewalk Service and download e-materials with Overdrive and Hoopla.

by Regina King
Doctor Who
by Russell T. Davies

The Searcher
by Tana French
A Time For Mercy
by John Grisham
A Promised Land
by Barack Obama
Invisible Girl
by Lisa Jewell
The Greatest Secret
by Rhonda Byre
The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig and Carey Mulligan
Ten Lessons For A Post-Pandemic World
by Fareed Zakaria
Magic Lessons
by Alice Hoffman
by Bryan Washington eBook