Indians Seek Recognition
Monday, August 6, 2007
The 28-foot wooden boat that has been sailing the Chesapeake Bay for the past 86 days trying to re-create Capt. John Smith's 1608 voyage received a warm greeting from Maryland's Indian tribes when it pulled into Calvert County yesterday.
A traditionally dressed Indian warrior greeted the shallop's 12 crew members and led them to the Eastern Woodland Indian Village at Jefferson Patterson Park in St. Leonard, which featured Native American demonstration booths, music and dancing. At a welcoming ceremony later, various tribes presented the crew with gifts of tobacco.
But representatives from the same tribes had a less-than-welcoming message for government officials who attended the ceremony: They said they were sick of not being officially recognized by the state even though they were "exploited" for state-endorsed events.
"As you can see, we're not very invisible when you need us to be an attraction for an event through the state," said Mervin Savoy, tribal chairwoman for the Piscataway Conoy, speaking to a crowd of about 100 people.
Several other Indian leaders echoed Savoy's sentiments as politicians, including state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and retired U.S. senator Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.), looked on from the stage they shared with tribal representatives.
"I ask you, Maryland, why do you ask us to speak when you have already determined that your ears will hear, but they will not listen?" said Piscataway tribal chairwoman Natalie Proctor, also known as Standing on the Rock, fighting back tears onstage. "We are visible here right now, but through the legislative body, we do not exist," she said in a later interview.
Miller said later that he has not taken a definitive stance on whether Maryland's tribes should receive government recognition but that he believes that the state has had a good relationship with them. He noted that Maryland was one of the first states to create and fund a commission on Indian affairs.
"We've come a long way," he said. "We love them. We respect them."
Although the Indians took center stage yesterday, the shallop crew has drawn so much media attention along its journey that it had to stop letting reporters come on board the vessel. The sailors have been treated like "rock stars and celebrities" on many of their 23 planned stops, said crew member John Mann.
Mann said the crew didn't mind being a bit of "a sideshow" yesterday to the Indians. "It's well past time that they get their recognition," he said.
The John Smith Four Hundred Project, sponsored by the Chestertown, Md.-based educational group Sultana Projects Inc., is attempting to drum up interest in the captain's historic voyage by retracing his route. The crew consists of educators and those familiar with boating who will spend 121 days on the water with very few modern conveniences.
Among those on hand to greet the boat's arrival in Calvert was Alexis Shaw, 9, of Huntingtown, who sat on the shoulders of her father, Scott Shaw, so she could get a better view. Her mother, Michelle Shaw, said she had never seen so many people at Jefferson Patterson Park.
"They advertised a lot," she said. "It's very interesting. It's a good little history lesson."
Some Indian leaders said they were leery about appearing at an event where John Smith would be glorified because the captain could be blamed in part for the subsequent treatment of American Indians by colonists. But all said they were happy to use the opportunity to plead their case for state recognition and show people that Maryland Indians are still alive.
"It doesn't take away from Native American contributions, and it's certainly a historical event," said Auriel Fenwick, chairwoman of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs, of the event's connection to Smith.