Rather than hitting the mall and the web for Black Friday sales, head out the day after Thanksgiving to celebrate Native American Heritage Day. The Mid-Atlantic is home to numerous sites with deep historical and contemporary significance to the Indigenous people of the region. Now they are easier than ever to explore thanks to a trio of apps — the recently released Guide to Indigenous Maryland, the Guide to Indigenous D.C. and the Guide to Indigenous Baltimore — developed by Elizabeth Rule, an assistant professor of critical race, gender and culture studies at American University; author of the forthcoming book “Indigenous DC: Native Peoples and the Nation’s Capital”; and a member of the Chickasaw Nation.
The apps provide users with a guide to physical sites or offer virtual tours through write-ups and photography. Part of Rule’s goal in developing them is to get people to stop thinking of Native American life as something that only existed in the past. “I want people to know that our Indigenous contributions move beyond things you’ll see through anthropology and archaeology,” she says. “We have strong, vibrant, diverse, urban Indigenous populations that contribute to all areas of society — the armed forces, politics, arts and the humanities — so I encourage people to seek out the contributions and celebrate them.”
Wherever you live in the Mid-Atlantic, this history is probably closer than you think — if you want to see some of it for yourself, these seven spots in D.C., Maryland, Virginia and Delaware include both historical sites and contemporary Indigenous contributions, ranging from outdoor artworks and parks to museums and a re-created Native American town.
“The Duality of Indigeneity”
This striking mural in Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood depicts two boys facing each other. One is bare-chested, long black hair falling past his shoulders, a feather stuck behind his ear; the other is wearing a blue hoodie and sports spiky hair. Multidisciplinary artist Gregg Deal, a member of Nevada’s Pyramid Lake Paiute tribe whose work is deeply informed by his Native identity, wants viewers to question which boy is Native American. It’s a trick question: They both are. Rule loves the piece because “it gives us insight into a commentary on the urban Indigenous experience.”
419 S. East Ave., Baltimore. Free.
“The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Black Canoe”
When Rule created the Indigenous Guide to D.C., she was living less than a mile from this bronze sculpture by the late artist Bill Reid, a member of the Haida Nation in British Columbia. However, she didn’t even know it existed. It took a trip to Vancouver, where she saw its sister piece, “The Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Jade Canoe,” for her to realize there was another work by Reid displayed outside the Canadian Embassy back home. The 20-foot-long, 11,000-pound piece depicts a traditional Haida dugout canoe carrying a diverse array of 13 characters, including Raven, Eagle, Grizzly Bear and Beaver, a nod to the mythologies of the Indigenous people from the Haida Gwaii archipelago off Canada’s northern Pacific coast.
501 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Free.
This 5,000-acre park runs along six miles of Potomac River shoreline — sitting across the water from Mount Vernon — and Piscataway Creek. Rule suggests visiting since it was home to the largest population of Piscataway (meaning “the people where the rivers blend”) when the first European colonizers arrived, and the area includes the tribe’s historic capital of Moyaone. In fact, it has been estimated that Indigenous people lived at the site for more than 5,000 years; the park’s cultural and natural history collection includes a dozen prehistoric stone projectiles and tools.
Open daily sunrise to sunset, except New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 3400 Bryan Point Rd., Accokeek, Md.; 301-763-4600; nps.gov/pisc. Free.
The traditional life of the Paspahegh Indians, part of the Powhatan tribal group, comes alive in this re-created town at the Jamestown Settlement, which features reed-covered homes, cooking and gardening areas, and a ceremonial circle. Costumed cultural interpreters demonstrate how the tribe made tools, prepared food and wove natural fibers into rope. In the exhibition galleries, visitors can learn more about the most well-known Powhatan, Pocahontas; see a scale model of the what the full town would have looked like; and peruse a collection of artifacts from the region, including arrowheads, copper ornaments and pottery shards.
Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Christmas and New Year’s Day. 2110 Jamestown Rd., Williamsburg, Va.; 757-253-4838; jyfmuseums.org. Adults $18, children 6-12 $9, children 5 and younger free.
In 1984, a onetime Nanticoke schoolhouse was transformed into the only Native American museum in Delaware. Two rooms hold 14 exhibit cases brimming with artifacts from tribes across the country, such as baskets made by the Apache in Alabama and kachina dolls from the Hopi and Zuni in the Southwest. A pair of cases are devoted to items from the Nanticoke people, including a wampum belt and necklace featuring whelk and clam shells and a toy canoe crafted from pine needles and sinew. One highlight of the collection is a jingle dress covered in rows of rolled-up snuff can lids, which jangle cheerily as the wearer dances. “Those dances are prayers for people,” explains museum coordinator Sterling Street, who is Nanticoke. “It’s actually a healing dress.”
Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 26673 John J. Williams Hwy., Millsboro, Del.; 302-945-7022; nanticokeindians.org/page/museum. Adults $3, children 11 and younger $1.
This iconic statue of Marines triumphantly raising the American flag over Iwo Jima, which commemorates Marines who died in service since 1775, has been visited by millions over the years. “But what most people don’t realize is that one of the service members on the memorial was also a tribal member,” says Rule, pointing out Ira Hayes of the Akimel O’odham people from what is now Arizona. “It’s an example of an Indigenous story that’s often left out of history, even though it’s very visible.”
Open daily 6 a.m. to midnight. Iwo Jima Access Road, Arlington, Va.; 703-289-2500; nps.gov.gwmp/planyourvisit/usmc_memorial. Free.
Learn about the rich history of the Monacan Indians of Virginia’s Piedmont region at this thoughtfully arranged museum. The tribe’s history is carefully plotted out, including major milestones. Artifacts on display include pipes, arrowheads, pottery shards, fishing lures, beads and more, as well as a model of a traditional domed home. Next door is the historic Bear Mountain Indian Mission School, where Monacan children were taught starting in 1868.
Open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sunday by appointment; closed Nov. 24-25 and every third Saturday. 2009 Kenmore Rd., Amherst, Va.; 434-946-5391; monacannation.com/museum.html. $5.