Jul 30, 2014
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Delegate Pushes for Statewide Native American Heritage Month

The proposal would educate Maryland residents on the contributions made by indigenous people.

Delegate Pushes for Statewide Native American Heritage Month

By LYLE KENDRICK
Capital News Service

American Indian Heritage Day in Maryland falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving every year.

But Delegate Peter Murphy, D-Charles, wants to see the celebration spread throughout all of November.

Murphy has proposed legislation that would require the governor to proclaim November as Native American Heritage Month.

It would also urge schools and cultural organizations to observe the month.

He said the current day of recognition is sometimes overlooked because it falls so closely to Thanksgiving, and many educational institutions that would recognize the day are closed.

“That’s oftentimes used for the beginning of a holiday season,” he said Thursday.

The bill would follow 2008 state legislation that recognizes the fourth Friday of every month as a legal holiday to acknowledge Native American history and culture in Maryland.

It would also be in line with the federal Native American Heritage Month. President George H.W. Bush first approved a joint resolution in 1990 that declared November Native American Heritage Month.

“The state bill puts an exclamation point on the federal designation,” said Izzy Patoka, executive director for the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives.

If the bill is passed, Murphy said he wants to see a growing awareness of the accomplishments of Native American tribes in Maryland, such as the  Piscataway tribe.

“I think that’s a major problem that people don’t know that we still exist and there should be some effort to find out where your local indigenous people are,” said Natalie Proctor, a member of the Piscataway tribe and the executive director of the  Piscataway Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Waldorf.

Proctor said since the museum opened in 1995, she’s learned that many Americans and Marylanders don’t know about the cultural and political contributions Native Americans have brought to today’s society.

She said many people are unaware that much of the food Americans eat today was first cultivated by Native Americans and some games, like basketball, were formed by Native Americans.

“While we cannot fix the history, we can do things to celebrate what their contributions are,” Murphy said.

Not only would a month allow tribes to showcase their contributions to outsiders but it would also enable tribes to come together and recognize their shared history.

“There’s kind of an internal level of re-awareness,” Patoka said.

But Proctor said people sometimes don’t recognize why they celebrate a holiday, and a statewide month of recognition might not significantly raise awareness about Native American culture.

“I think many times we have good intentions on passing laws that would bring awareness to historical events and the like, but the question is, does it really work?” Proctor said.

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