The DC Public Library proudly celebrates Native American Heritage Month this November by sharing resources to read, watch, listen to and learn from that honor and pay tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans.
Origins of Native American Heritage Month
Native American Heritage Month has been declared each year since 1994 but the origins of the month date back to 1915 when Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, who was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans.” This movement grew as the Congress of the American Indian Association declared an “American Indian Day” and several states joined in, declaring their own day. In 1990 the first Native American Heritage Month was declared and it became an annual celebration in 1994. Learn more about Native American Heritage Month.
History of Native Peoples in Washington, D.C.
The DMV region was home to several Native Tribes, including the Nacotchtank, also known as the Anacostians who lived right in Washington, D.C. The Anacostans is a Latin version of their original name. It is derived from the native word “anaquashatanik” which is translated as “a town of traders.” With the convergence of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, the area served as a trading hub with other tribes in the Chesapeake area and up and down the Eastern seaboard.
The D.C. area had a wealth of natural resources. The river provided food, water and irrigation for farming crops like corn, beans and squash. The land also provided rich hunting ground populated with turkey, deer, bison and more. We know from early maps and archaeological digs that members of the Nacotchtank tribe lived and worked in villages along the river, on Capitol Hill, by the site of the White House, near Georgetown and in the Piney Branch area. Like many other tribes on the East Coast, they lived in wigwams or longhouses. The DC Native History Project created an interactive map where you can see where artifacts have been found throughout the city.
As European explorers and settlers came into the area, disease, violence and the seizing of land led to the death and displacement of many native people in the area. After just 40 years of contact with Europeans, only one-quarter of the tribe remained. Those members largely joined and assimilated into other tribes in the region and today there are no living members of the Nacotchtank tribe.
There are more than a dozen tribes in the D.C. and Chesapeake region. To learn more about local tribes near D.C. you can visit these resources:
Saturday, Nov. 4, 11:30 a.m. | Lamond-Riggs/Lillian J. Huff Library
Hear award-winning author Carole Lindstrom talk about and read from her latest book, Autumn Peltier, Water Warrior, an inspiring picture book biography about two Indigenous Rights Activists, Josephine Mandamin and Autumn Peltier. A limited number of Autumn Peltier, Water Warrior will be available on a first-come first-served basis courtesy of the DC Public Library Foundation. Carole Lindstrom is the author of this season's Beyond the Book title, We Are The Water Protectors. She will be available for book signing immediately after the event.
Thursday, Nov. 9, 7 p.m. | Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
Created by Matika Wilbur, Project 562 is a multi-year national photography project dedicated to photographing over 562 federally recognized Tribes, urban Native communities, Tribes fighting for federal recognition and Indigenous role models in what is currently known as the United States, resulting in an unprecedented repository of imagery and oral histories that accurately portrays contemporary Native Americans.
Matika will be live at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library to discuss Project 562. A limited amount of copies will be given to the first attendees to arrive (must be registered) thanks to the DC Public Library Foundation.
Monday, Nov. 13, 7 p.m. | Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
Join DC Public Library, in partnership with Loyalty Bookstores, for an exciting conversation with Dr. Armand Lione on his book Native American History of Washington D.C.
Register for your seat to attend and the chance to get a copy of Native American History of Washington D.C. courtesy of The DC Public Library Foundation.
Saturday, Nov. 18, 11 a.m. | Mt. Pleasant Library
Join us in celebrating Native American Heritage Month by learning about the First Nations Peoples who have always lived here! We'll have events and activities all afternoon: puppet shows, bean planting, a short lesson on the Piscataway People whose land we reside upon, and a storytime featuring books by Indigenous authors.
Tuesday, Nov. 28, 5 p.m. | Mt. Pleasant Library
Join us for our tween book club, all ages 8-18 are welcome. This month we'll be reading "Rabbit Chase," written by Elizabeth LaPensée, illustrated by KC Oster, and Anishinaabemowin translation by Aarin Dokum.
Get a FREE Copy of "We Are The Water Protectors"
D.C. families with children in Kindergarten through Third Grade can get a FREE copy of We Are The Water Protectors to add to your home library when you sign up for the Beyond the Book Club! Beyond the Book, sponsored by the DC Public Library Foundation, highlights vibrant stories that represent the wonders of children's literature, inspiring children and families to discover the many resources the library offers. This season's title is award-winning author Carole Lindstrom's We Are the Water Protectors. In We Are Water Protectors, an Indigenous girl gathers the courage to bring together her community to protest the building of an oil pipeline through their land. Her Nokomis (grandmother) tells her that water is sacred to her family and all the living things around her. The messages from her grandmother encourage her to be passionate about preserving water.
Local Tribes Visit DC Public Library
In 2020, in recognition of Native American Heritage Month, DC Public Library Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan hosted members of the local Piscataway and Conoy Tribes and the Piscataway Indian Nation and Tayac Territory with a special tour of the modernized Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library. Hear from Chief Jesse James Swann, Jr. from the Piscataway and Conoy Tribes, Julie Tayac Yates, Patriarch of the Piscataway Indian Nation and others who spoke during their visit in the video below.
November is Native American Heritage Month and as we honor the multitude of stories, traditions and histories of Indigenous Americans, we share a special appreciation for the Nacotchtank, Piscataway, and Pamunkey tribes with a story about historical preservation efforts at DC Public Library.
Contemplating the Native American experience through poetry.