Clarifying the Piscataway petition for recognition

Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

I read with interest the article by Erica Mitrano, ‘‘A tribe divided,” about the Piscataway Indians, and write to offer a clarification [Maryland Independent, Aug. 3].

The author relied heavily on unpublished Web site postings by a Thomas Ford Brown, who the article described as ‘‘the most vocal critic” of the Piscataways’ claim to be Native Americans.

Brown’s objections to the Piscataway claim to be Native Americans notwithstanding, a recognition advisory committee appointed by the Maryland Historical Trust and comprised of professionals in the fields of anthropology, ethnohistory and genealogy independently studied such a claim and became absolutely convinced that the Piscataway Indian Nation was a bona fide Native American band.

Some years ago, I was appointed by the Maryland Historical Trust to serve on the recognition advisory committee for the Piscataway Indian Nation’s petition for state recognition. I served on that committee with the distinguished anthropologist Dr. Helen Rountree of Old Dominion University, and the genealogist Dr. Carson Gibb, who was affiliated with the Maryland State Archives.

Working with the Piscataway Indian Nation, the committee recommended additional research and an amended filing because of gaps in the genealogical research presented to us by that group.

Dr. Gibb referred the Piscataway Indian Nation to a colleague and professional genealogist, who was able to fill in the gaps in the Piscataway family history using census data from around the turn of the 18th century.

After these deficiencies were removed, our committee was convinced of the veracity and probity of the case for state recognition of the Piscataway Indian Nation, and voted unanimously (5-0) to recommend recognition to the secretary.

The Piscataway Indian Nation is headed by Chief Billy Redwing Tayac, son of the legendary Chief Turkey Tayac, 27th hereditary sagamore (chief) of the Piscataway, whose original land claim for what is now National Colonial Farm⁄Piscataway Park was filed with the National Park Service in 1941. Decades later, Chief Tayac was buried at the National Colonial Farm by virtue of an act of Congress sponsored by Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

Apart from the genealogical data provided by a professional, one compelling piece of evidence for the veracity of the Tayac’s claim to be Native Americans was a testimonial accompanying their petition for state recognition from the renowned linguist and recognized expert in Native American languages, Dr. Julian Granberry.

Dr. Granberry wrote that the late Turkey Tayac’s handwritten list of Piscataway words not only had to be Piscataway linguistically, but that it clearly constituted the only surviving record of the Piscataway language.

One of the central recognition criteria in the Maryland regulations involves continuity, and for the Tayacs, and the Piscataway Indian Nation, such continuity is evident culturally, in folklore and folk medicine, linguistically in the tapes and written memorabilia of Chief Turkey Tayac, and it is manifested in the native polity, in a series of ‘‘Tayacs” or chiefs, spanning centuries, from Chief Billy Redwing Tayac to Chief Turkey Tayac to Chief Woosah Tayac, etc.

The recognition advisory committee voted unanimously to recommend state recognition of the Piscataway Indian Nation, based on sound evidence and proper anthropological, genealogical, linguistic and ethnohistorical reasoning.

I hasten to clarify the record on this matter because of the importance of this matter to the Piscataway.

R. Christopher Goodwin, Frederick