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  • Writer's pictureShemika Berry

Hear Us, See Us: The Importance of Native Heritage

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

Heritage. For many people, the word "heritage" brings thoughts and memories of family members long gone, pride in their culture, and a way of life and traditions passed down from generations. For far too many people, these precious memories are lost or held by a small circle that with the passage of time continues to dwindle. This month and next, we will focus on the importance of preserving cultural heritage through sharing family stories.

Sharing family stories is an important method of passing along oral traditions. It’s a time to learn, reflect, and remember.

I wanted to reach out to members of the Piscataway community to hear their voices on the importance of sharing Native stories. Rico Newman, Accokeek Foundation board member and elder of the Choptico Band of the Piscataway, agreed to meet with me to discuss this subject. In the videos below, he spoke about his heritage and identity, the importance of storytelling, and the ways those stories were passed down through his family. He also touched on his interaction with Dr. Julie King, professor of anthropology at St. Mary's College of Maryland, and her ongoing work to shed light on the history of the Piscataway people in Maryland. He also highlighted the importance of affirming Native students in schools.

The questions I posed to him that led to the sharing in the videos below were:

What is your name, heritage, and affiliation? What is the importance of storytelling for you and your family? How were stories from your family passed down? Are there any stories in your family that have been shared with people not in your community?

Conversation with Rico Newman Part 1

Conversation with Rico Newman Part 2

I recently asked "how can educational institutions like the Accokeek Foundation and others help to share Native stories respectfully?". This is what Anjela Barnes, Vice President of the Accokeek Foundation, had to say.

"First and foremost, ask for permission and share the results of your research for feedback when working with Tribal communities. It’s important for institutions like the Accokeek Foundation to listen for the purpose of deepening its understanding of Native culture and heritage, build upon existing research and resources, and give back by way of sharing the responsibility to educate public audiences about local Native history, culture, and contemporary issues." --Anjela Barnes (Piscataway Conoy)

Native heritage has endured despite centuries of attempted erasure, passed down from generation to generation. Recognizing this—and the many other contributions Native communities continue to make—takes deliberate and intentional work by educational and museum institutions to educate and raise awareness within the broader community. We still have a lot to learn about the historical and contemporary issues that Native communities face today. This learning begins by being willing to challenge existing assumptions and biases, connecting with and listening to the elders in the community, to gain wisdom and share with others so that there is a greater sense of understanding and appreciation so the heritage is not lost.

To learn more, check out these websites.

Cedarville Band of the Piscataway Indians:

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