Baltimore - Home to Piscataway
Updated: Oct 14, 2021
The quaran-time has been a tremendous opportunity for growth and reflection. Though we have been inundated with distressing news and gut wrenching stories around hate and violence, the painful realities of our world reveal important lessons. Our world's truths hold powerful fuel and when our thoughts and emotions stemming from this exposure are channeled with delicate intention and care, energy and motivation for growth are abundant.
My mind has been racing through many tough truths over the past several months: the reality of our decaying & declining environment, the unsettling political climate, the uncertainty of our future society, as well as the impact of white supremacy and nationalism on our brothers and sisters just to name a few. These truths are heavy, but it's imperative to take a close look at them and consider how we contribute to both the fight for and against these issues.
My reflective quarantine experience has enabled me to take a hard look at myself as a white person, white clinician, and proclaimed anti-racist practitioner. I began diving deep into my social justice development, and realized a major gap in my understanding and education - honoring and respecting the indigenous folks that first cultivated Baltimore, my birthplace.
I was born and raised in Baltimore, and for years, I claimed this place as my home. But does being born somewhere really make it yours? Can I claim something as "home" when my house is only here because the land was stolen?
Both yes and no.
Before we unpack and digest that thought, I'd like to share a bit more about my love and deep appreciation for this wonderful place.
Maryland is a beautifully unique state. We can flee to the mountains, take refuge in the forests, or have a weekend at the beach. You can escape to the exciting city, slow things down in suburbia, or take a relaxing, peaceful stroll or drive into the farmland. The Smalltimore vibe is comforting and warm, and if you're from around here, it's nearly impossible to go out in public and not see someone you know...or someone who knows someone you went to high school with. Baltimore is home to an incredible food, music, and art scene. It's a truly dynamic and diverse area, and welcomes all walks of life. It's home to some of the most influential medical and technological institutions. Maryland is awesome, and I am proud to be a Baltimorian.
All these warm feels about Maryland leave me wondering: does state pride and connecting to a sense of belonging make it mine? So, let's get back to that funky question. I was born and raised here, so, logically, yes, it is my home and birthplace, but my white-washed education & upbringing along with shear ignorance left me claiming Baltimore as home to my French and Italian ancestors. Isn't that the furthest thing from the truth! They lived here, but on stolen property. These groups settled in the Maryland area around the 18th century after robbing the Piscataway tribe of their once sacred land. Though we cannot undo the past and re-write history, we can show appreciation and respect through acknowledgement of the truth. It is with great privilege and honor to share with you the wonder, beauty, and simplicity of the Piscataway people, and how colonialism led to the development of the Baltimore we know today.
The first known inhabitants of Maryland were the Paleo Indians, who migrated to the state to follow herds of buffalo, caribou, and mammoth. Native Americans were nomadic people, meaning they would follow their food source as the seasons progressed. By the first millennium B.C.E., Maryland was home to roughly 40 tribes, most stemming from the Algonquin language family. These tribes predominantly traded with other clans from Ohio and New York. By the 17th century, the Piscataway tribe was the largest and powerful group between the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River. Their territory covered present day Charles, Prince George's, and St. Mary's counties into North Baltimore county and west to the foothills of the Appalachians.
The land of the Piscataway people was bountiful with life. The bay areas were plentiful with oysters, crab, fish, and waterfowl. The forests were home to bear, deer, fox, rabbit, turkey, and a variety of game birds, all of which were used for food and other resources. Piscataways were incredibly resourceful people, and always used every part of the animal that was killed for some kind of purpose. Men were responsible for hunting, clearing the land for agriculture, crafting bows and arrows, and building canoes and longhouses. Longhouses are wooded homes constructed from saplings. These houses are covered with bark and matting, and are home to the clans' inhabitants. Women were responsible for gardening, cooking, basket weaving, clothing, pottery, and tending after the children. Children's job was to protect the gardens from small critters, and collectively, everyone had to fish and shuck oysters. The Piscataway people typically dressed in traditional clothing made from deer hide. They adorned ornate dresses, moccasins, breech clout, and wraps. They were peaceful, earth loving, spiritual people until Europeans fled into America, and began pillaging villages and taking over.
The Piscataway tribe was facing land and territory battles with northern Susquehannocks when colonization began. In 1634, colonists Leonard Calvert and Father Andrew White began taking over the homelands and converting Piscataways to Catholicism. The Piscataway people were violently forced to surrender their beliefs and adopted the ones of mainland culture. Many tribes began leaving Maryland and subsequently fled to the north to side with the enemy in order to avoid the Europeans. Conflict grew in the 1660's when the English began moving deeper into Piscataway territory. This colonial expansion led to the first ever treaty between Piscataway's tribal leadership and Lord Baltimore. The treaty called for the creation of a reservation and paved the way for the establishment of Piscataway Manor in 1669. Several other treaties were established over the years, however, they were all eventually broken by settlers overtaking the land. Even when the tribal leaders succumbed to the Europeans way to settling political discourse, their rights were still overlooked, stomped on, and thrown away. As Piscataway land continued to be overtaken, the people continued to flee into Pennsylvania and Virginia, and later, these tribes became known as the Conoy, a name given by the Iroquois. For those who remained in Maryland, the tribes were run by mediators who's mission was to preserve cultural values and traditions, as well as ensure marriages remained within the community.
As colonization continued to spread, the identities of Native Americans began to slip away. Tribe leaders did not have a formal census system when settlers arrived, so Native Americans were categorized as either "black or negro" or "mulatto." Their identities were not valued, respected, or acknowledged. It's hard to fathom the rage, despair, and confusion this caused for the Piscataway people. By the 1800's, the Piscataway people began asserting their identity as Native Americans, and demanded separate schools for their children. The first schools officially opened in the 1920's, one being located in Lothair Charles County and the other in Prince George's county. It took almost one hundred years for some semblance of recognition and safe, sanctified separation from the very institutions that sought to erase the Piscataway way of life.
The Piscataway tribe continued to further their formal recognition quest during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1970's. It was during this time that the Piscataway government worked with the Maryland Commission of Indian Affairs to get official recognition. In 1974, a non-profit organization, Piscataway Conoy Indians Inc., was established. This organization helps preserve ancestral knowledge and practices as well as holds tribal events and gatherings for it's people. In 1976, Piscataway elders lobbied in Maryland in order to initiate legislation that would assist local native communities in the state State Recognition status. In 1995, the Piscataway people submitted a formal petition for official State Recognition status. Finally on January 9th 2012, Governor Martin O'Malley granted the executive order, "State Recognition to the Piscataway Conoy Tribe."
This was a tremendous moment in history in that this order officially re-established this government-to-government relationship that was laid dormant since the 1700's. If you haven't taken a moment to pause, please take a deep breath and let that reality sink in. At last in 2012, Maryland gave formal recognition to the Piscataway tribe. It took roughly 212 years.
This incredibly brief and gentle history of the Piscataway people does not adequately capture the devastation, destruction, and dismantling impact that colonization, racism, and capitalism had on Native American people. The quest for power, gold, and land ripped apart families and almost completely eliminated a culture. The Piscataway people's shear resilience, strength, and perseverance kept their identity and culture alive, despite the odds.
Baltimore belongs to the Piscataway people, and we are merely the humble inhabitants. As the awareness for the necessity of indigenous understanding and education continues to grow, blossom, and flourish, I hope that you can take a moment to sit with what emotions the realities of Baltimore's history evokes in you. Harness them, channel them into something profound, and progress into being a more conscious, loving being.
For more information on the Piscataway people, please visit
Emily trusts that effective therapy involves continuing to grow our cultural consciousness, both as human beings and clinicians.
To work with a therapist who brings this kind of consciousness into session, connect with Emily here.