The Potomac Riverkeeper Network is a non-profit organization determined to ensure the health and integrity of the Potomac River, Shenandoah River and their watersheds. But we were not the original protectors of these waterways.
As a source of natural resources and cultural importance, many Indigenous nations thrived along the Potomac and Shenandoah River. But the colonization of English settlers forced eviction and disease onto the First Nation communities, stripping them of their land and cultural heritage.
The word Potomac is an Anglicized version of a local tribe’s name Patawomeke, although the river had several different names based on region and language. Flowing through central Maryland into the Chesapeake Bay, the river winds through various Indigenous territories. Our nation’s capital was built on land between two waterways originally belonging to the Native people of the Chesapeake area; the Piscataway, Piscataway Conoy, and the Nacotchtank (Anacostan). In addition to the tribes that were in the land that became DC, the following tribes were also found along the Potomac: the Manahoac, Doeg, Patawomeck, Cuttatawomen, and Onawmanient. The Sekakawon and Wicocomico were based at the mouth of the river, near where the Potomac flows into the Chesapeake Bay.
The Shenandoah River, which joins the Potomac River in Harpers Ferry, was also a source for natural resources and cultural significance for various Indigenous people. Indigeneous nations found along the Shenandoah are the Massawomeck, Shawnee, Manahoac, and the Monacan. This information is gathered from Native Land Digital and Native American Communities of the Shenandoah Valley.
As an organization that protects the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, we acknowledge we operate on a river that was taken from others. Although some tribes have been lost to genocide, Indigenous people have a unique heritage and culture with respect to these waters. Their knowledge, history, and aboriginal rights to access the Potomac River and its wildlife must be acknowledged. The Potomac Riverkeeper Network advocates for all communities along the river, but we must remain mindful of the special place of the original protectors of the river as we work to protect the public’s right to clean water.
This statement is a beginning step on a continuing process of atonement for the atrocities of the past. The following resources are ways to show your solidarity and support for the Indigenous communities of the Potomac and Shenandoah River.
For more information on the Indigenous Cultures within our watershed please visit the following websites:
LOCAL NATION WEBSITES:
- Patawomeck Tribe of Virginia: http://www.patawomeckindiantribeofvirginia.org/
- Piscataway Conoy Tribe: http://www.piscatawayconoytribe.com/history.html
- Monacan Indian Nation: https://www.monacannation.com/our-history.html
- Shawnee Tribe: https://www.shawnee-nsn.gov/
ADDITIONAL EDUCATIONAL LINKS:
- D.C. Native History Project: http://onceasitwasdc.org/
- Indigenous Tribes of Washington DC: http://www.ala.org/aboutala/indigenous-tribes-washington-dc
- Native Land Map: https://native-land.ca/
- Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgements: https://nativegov.org/a-guide-to-indigenous-land-acknowledgment/
- Native Americans, Maryland: https://msa.maryland.gov/msa/mdmanual/01glance/native/html/01native.html
- Native American Communities of the Shenandoah Valley by Dr Carole Nash: https://cpb-us-e1.wpmucdn.com/sites.lib.jmu.edu/dist/9/133/files/2019/04/Native-American-Communities-of-the-Shenandoah-Valley.pdf