Marcellus Proctor - Witnessing Maryland and Native American History
Associate Branch Head Marcellus Proctor of the Parts, Packaging, and Assembly Technologies Branch in the Applied Engineering Technology Directorate, is a proud member of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe. He was the Chairperson and remains a member of Goddard’s Native American Advisory Committee. Proctor was present on January 9, 2012, when Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed two Executive Orders officially recognizing three Native American tribes indigenous to Maryland; namely, the Piscataway Indian Nation and the Piscataway Conoy Tribe which includes both the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy Subtribes and the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians.
Proctor explains, “This is the first time in Maryland’s history that the state recognized its indigenous people. The Piscataway Conoy Tribe has about 1,800 enrolled members and the Piscataway Indian Nation has over 100 enrolled members. ‘Enrolled’ means that a person has successfully documented and identified his lineage as a member of a particular tribe as determined by the Tribal Council.” He continues, “All three Tribes, our people, lived near the Chesapeake Bay and various tidal tributaries of the Potomac River. We were fisherman but also grew corn and tobacco. To this day we still have a corn dance festival.” He adds that all three tribes share the same ancestral language, Algonquian, which they are trying to rediscover.
Proctor further explains, “Recognition means that the state now officially declares that there are Native Americans in Maryland whose ancestors were here prior to colonization. It is an acknowledgment of our existence and historical importance to the state. We as a people always knew our identity; however, it was important for the state to also do so. Recognition is the result of decades of work and compromise between the Piscataway Tribes and the State of Maryland.”
Proctor will never forget the recognition ceremony held in Annapolis the day of the signing. “About 200 of the Piscataway People consisting of all three tribes stood in the rotunda of the State Capital building. We stood together proud of what we had achieved together. A few were in Native dress. A chosen few played the ceremonial drums. The Chiefs of the three tribes sat together with Governor O’Malley and Maryland Secretary of State John McDonough.” Each tribal chief gave a speech as did the Governor and other officials.
The ceremony ended with a symbolic exchange of gifts. The Governor presented each Chief with a signed copy of the Executive Orders. Each Chief then, in turn, gave the Governor a gift. The gifts were a beaded medallion, a tribal flag, and tobacco.
He views state recognition as a stepping stone to obtaining Federal recognition. According to Proctor, state recognition makes these tribes eligible for about $17 million in potential funding sources, but Federal recognition would give them access to additional potential funding.
“To me,” says Proctor, “Maryland state recognition means that I can go in front of other Native People as a representative of this state-recognized tribe. Maryland was one of the last states to recognize their Native population.” He notes something else special about that day. “Despite the differences among the three tribes, on that day we all stood as one to achieve the goal of recognition by the State of Maryland.”
State recognition has another personal impact on Proctor. Goddard often sends him to conduct speaking engagements and other outreach events. Says Proctor, “Whenever I represent Goddard, I make it a point to tell the audience that I am a proud member of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe. I try to tell others about our culture.”
Proctor’s cultural overview begins by explaining that while these tribes do not have a reservation, some families within each tribe own ancestral lands scattered throughout Southern Maryland that they use for festivals and ceremonies. For example, the tribes have burial grounds and ceremonial gathering places used for pow wows and seasonal festivals relating to the harvest. Each tribe has unique ceremonial dress for men and women, a special flag, and a sacred animal. Each tribe has a Tribal Council headed by the Tribal Chair and advised by the Elders. For tribal matters, the Tribal Council is empowered by the members to represent their best interests both within the tribe and outside the tribe in, for example, obtaining state recognition. From now on, Proctor will most likely begin his cultural overview by proudly explaining about Maryland’s recognition of these three tribes.
› Piscataway Conoy Tribe
› Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians
› Piscataway Nation
› Video of the ceremony on the Governor's blog
› Photos taken during the ceremony by the Maryland Governor's office
› More Outside Goddard profiles
Elizabeth M. Jarrell
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.