Celebrating American Indian Heritage

Connecting to the people that lived here not-so-long ago.

November is American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month and I must admit I’ve always felt a little detached from Native American history. My family is Scandinavian with a splash of Scotch, and is still relatively fresh off the boat. As a kid, I had a hard time connecting to the stories in my textbooks.

In grade school, I learned a bit about the lives of American Indians before the European settlers. The lesson usually preceded Thanksgiving, included discussions on growing corn and pelt trading and ended with the crafting of a headdress out of construction paper. While the information was interesting, it didn’t help me relate.

Then finally, I started to get it. During a school field trip to Rock Eagle—a massive bird-shaped mound built by Native Americans approximately 2,000 years ago—I found a palm-sized chunk of earthenware pottery with a pattern still visible on one side.

With that little chunk of pottery, my imagination took over. What was the pot’s owner doing in that spot in the woods? Who was the person that decorated the pot? What were they like, and did they ever wonder about me, the kid that would treasure their work some 2,000 years later?

Here in Alexandria, colonial and Civil War history abounds. However, it is easy to overlook the people that lived on the land for thousands of years prior to European settlement.

So, what was the original neighborhood like

Native American artifacts have been found in Alexandria dating back as much as 13,200 years. Researchers believe that the riverbank was used as a fishing camp, and the surrounding woodlands were excellent for hunting. The Tauxenet and Nacotchtank tribes inhabited our area until the 1600s. The Nacotchtank people were known for their trading, and had a network of settlements along the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. In 1668, they relocated to Anacostine Island (present-day Theodore Roosevelt Island) and presumably merged with the Piscataway Indians.

On Jan. 9, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley issued executive orders recognizing two modern Piscataway groups as Native American tribes.

Fascinating, right?

If you want to learn more, plan a trip to the National Museum of the American Indian this month for free music and dance performances, film screenings, children’s story time and lots of hands-on activities.

Here are just a few:

  • Muscogee Nation Festival: Nov. 15–17, 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Children’s Storytime: Most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays throughout November, 11:15 a.m.
  • Native Pride Dancers: Nov. 9, 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Or, spend an afternoon exploring Theodore Roosevelt Island and imagine yourself roaming among the Nacotchtanks. 


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