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Land Acknowledgment

Indigenous Tribes of Washington, DC

The United States capital is surrounded by just over a dozen tribal nations that thrive along the Anacostia and Potomac River watersheds and in the Chesapeake Bay area and the states of Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. Washington, DC, sits on the ancestral lands of the Anacostans (also documented as Nacotchtank), and neighbors the ancestral lands of the Piscataway and Pamunkey peoples.

The District of Columbia shares borders with Maryland and Virginia, and connects with lands along the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. These river systems and current national parks are where the Piscataway, Pamunkey, the Nentego (Nanichoke), Mattaponi, Chickahominy, Monacan, and the Powhatan cultures thrived. According to the National Park Service, the region “was rich in natural resources and supported the local native people.” Forty years after the arrival of the Europeans, only a quarter of the original occupants remained. 

Recognition in the 21st Century

The original people experienced the ravages brought on by the settler-colonial introduction of diseases, encroachment and forced removal, and erasure of traditional and cultural survival of the tribes. Today, the indigenous people who reside in the Washington, DC, area continue to present their case for recognition for descendant communities. These citizens fight for their nations, hoping to restore or receive a government-to-government relationship with the US. In Virginia, 11 have achieved state recognition. The Pamunkey tribe recently acquired its land and is one of the only two Virginian tribes that own land after the colonization of present-day Washington, DC. As of January 2018, the Pamunkey, Rappahannock, and Upper Mattaponi tribes have received federal recognition. 

Today, roughly 4,000 indigenous people live and thrive in present-day Washington, DC. In efforts to teach locals about their history and culture, communities like the Rappahannock tribe host annual celebrations in the national parks. Members of the state-recognized tribe perform traditional songs and dances while sharing their community’s culture and significance of the natural resources. Nonetheless, we are on the ancestral lands of many tribes and we can still get a glimpse into the traditional ways of the first peoples. Visitors can find exhibitions in the museums and historical reminders of the tribes in the parks that make the capital an annual destination.

Further Resources

You can visit the websites below to learn more about the tribes that thrive in Washington, DC, and the neighboring states that have recognized tribal nations.

National Park Service and historical articles:

When in Washington, DC, visit the following centers or websites to plan your visit. Learn more about the area’s historical and current indigenous populations:

Thank you to the American Library Association for providing much of this text and the resource links.

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