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Two Maryland Indian tribes won’t seek federal recognition

WASHINGTON — The heads of two Piscataway Indian groups recently recognized by the state of Maryland said they are unlikely to pursue federal recognition for now, but the leader of a third said she wants to see the process through.

Gov. Martin O’Malley issued executive orders last week recognizing the Piscataway Indian Nation and the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, which includes both the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Subtribes and the smaller Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians.

“It says we’re still here,” said Billy Redwing Tayac, chief of the Piscataway Indian Nation, of the executive order recognizing his tribe. “We’re not invisible people. That’s very important.”

However, federal recognition is a separate process conducted through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior. On the heels of a decades-long fight for recognition, Tayac said he has no desire to repeat the process on the federal level.

“At the present time, we’re not interested,” Tayac said. “It’s a tremendous effort. It’s a tremendous cost.”

BIA Public Affairs Director Nedra Darling acknowledged the arduousness and expense of the federal recognition process. Federally, as in Maryland, there are criteria that groups must meet to gain recognition. Among the seven criteria the U.S. requires are continuity as an American Indian entity since at least 1900; membership consisting entirely of descendants of a contiguous tribe or merger thereof; and demonstrable influence, historical and present, over the people they represent.

“To go through this process is what we have to do until told otherwise,” Darling said. “Nothing is done willy-nilly. It’s very much done by the process of meeting those seven criteria.”

But Mervin Savoy, tribal chairwoman of the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Subtribes, said she is “not concerned at all” by the exacting process.

“We applied for federal recognition the same day we applied for state recognition,” said Savoy. “Our petition is already on file,” Savoy added.

While Natalie Proctor, tribal chairwoman of the Cedarville Band, said the same of her group’s status, she echoed Tayac’s concerns.

“We have not come together to really discuss that yet,” said Proctor, emphasizing she could speak only for her particular group.

Proctor said she places other priorities, such as education outreach and maintaining the American Indian Cultural Center her tribe operates in Waldorf, above federal recognition.

Savoy said that while she is ready to keep working toward federal recognition, the choice is not entirely hers to make. The Piscataway people practice a form of direct democracy in making decisions as a group.

“I don’t even know when federal recognition will come up in a community meeting,” said Savoy. “That is up to the community. And the communities are the voice of the people.”

O’Malley’s communications director, Raquel Guillory, said “of course” the governor will support a drive for federal recognition by the Piscataway groups.

“I think the most important support is the actual state recognition,” Guillory said.

Darling said the BIA stands ready to work with the Piscataway on achieving federal recognition.

“Our office does a lot of work to … help [tribes] through the process,” Darling said. “We meet with the group. We are obligated to provide technical assistance as they go through the process.”

However, Darling said the BIA sent the most recent of those technical assistance letters to the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy in November 1995. It has not heard back, and so considers the group’s application “inactive.” There has been no further contact between the BIA and the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy, she said.

The Piscataway Conoy Confederacy is the only Piscataway group to have submitted its petition to the BIA, according to Darling, having done so in 1978.

The Piscataway groups have a fractious history, particularly since the death of Chief Turkey Tayac in 1978. The Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and the Cedarville Band joined forces to gain recognition as the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, and Savoy said the groups will continue to work together. But the smaller Piscataway Indian Nation, just 103 people strong, remains estranged.

The schism was the reason why separate executive orders recognized the differing groups on Monday.

“They are different people than us,” said Billy Redwing Tayac, the Piscataway Indian Nation chief and son of Turkey Tayac, in reference to the other two Piscataway groups. “What they do is their business.”

For her part, Proctor stressed her desire for the Piscataway to reclaim a more positive public image not marred by the reports of infighting between the groups.

“I only want the best for Piscataway people,” Proctor said. “I only want a light to shine on them, from this day forth, in a very positive manner.”


  1. candis neal (draper)

    I’m from the Maryland area my entire family resides there, I was wondering if my family was apart of the piscataway tribe..Neal,Proctor,Savoy,Bulter,and Newmans. My grandparents resided in campspring,MD area as well some family members in the brandywine area.

  2. I was born in Frederick Md. My grand mother on my fathers side was Piscataway.

  3. I, Shahrezade Newman, would very much like to see our Piscataway (Conoy) Tribe Federally recognized. It would be fulfilling to be finally be able to check the ‘Native American’ box instead of ‘other’ on Federal forms. Somewhere in our country’s bureaucracy to be acknowledged as Indian descendants migrating to Maryland since 932 AD.

  4. I am a Piscataway convoy indian su… I read this article and it touched my heart. As a young child I’ve always had a hunch about things as being an American indian. Our land and properties are very precious to me. I think land is beautiful. It seems as if everything is starting to fade away or getting bought from us. As for not being federally recognized is a harsh down fall. We can not let that happen. I agree with Mrs. Natalie Proctor, chairman. I am the daughter of Valerie Proctor and the late, James Brawne. Both sides of my family has pretty much grew up around these parts, including me… what can we do as a tribe to help get us recognied federally?r and not alone getting our future kids educated of what us tries history and traditions…. language nonticoke, has been stated non existent. .. there are some of us out here that still have that language in hand… it’s like talking backwards and riddle like.. sort of like Asians back to front, with English grammer.. a different type of broken English sort of… anyhew, when I read the article a couple days ago it touched me… so anyone, how can we make this downward fall an upward one for We the Piscatawain tribe……?

  5. I Temicka Savoy of the Piscataway Conoy tribe would love federal recognition.

  6. My grandmother and father were Proctors and I have family members with the names Savoy, Proctor and Newman from the Southern Maryland area. I met with a cousin recently who told me she had registered for recognition of the Piscataway Conoy tribe. I am so hungry for the information regarding my tribe so if anyone can offer any information it would be very appreciated.

  7. Federal recognition looking forward to it.
    I’m very proud to be a part of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe.

  8. I would get some DNA going with those claiming tribal members. But, the main thing is to find some land that is tribal possibly using register of deeds office’s to see if there are lands that are not being taxed.The Mohegan catered to any and all tribes for letter’s of support.

  9. Also look through for archives for a “allotment schedule!” Most tribes years down the road gave tribes allotment schedule’s where allotted lands were given out to tribal members.