Nanticoke Indians Celebrate Heritage Month

Article & Photo By: Ron MacArthur – Cape Gazette, November 8, 2023.

The Nanticoke Indian Association celebrated Native American Heritage Month Nov. 4, with a festival on the grounds of the tribal museum on Route 24 near Long Neck and Oak Orchard. The event celebrated the traditions, language and stories of the Nanticoke Indians.

The event featured a museum open house, traditional dancing and flute playing, Native American arts and crafts booths, and food, including traditional fry bread.

Nanticoke Chief Avery “Leaving Tracks” Johnson said tribal members are keeping the ancestors’ customs, stories and dances alive for people to appreciate and learn from.

He said it took many years, but the tribe and its people were eventually accepted as vital members of the community. “We exist to persist,” he said.

Featured speaker Drew Shuptar-Reyvis, a member of the Pocomoke Tribe, is a Maryland state archivist and an Algonkian living historian and museum historian.

The Nanticokes have a long history on the Eastern Shore, dating back centuries before European settlers arrived.

The tribe, which had settled in Maryland’s lower counties, spent warm months near water, including the Nanticoke River, and inland to hunt during cold months.

Their European contact was with Capt. John Smith in 1608 as he explored the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. By the end of the 17th century, only the Nanticokes and Choptank remained in the area. Attempts at treaties and a reservation on Broad Creek, a tributary of the Nanticoke, did not work out. Their land was seized by settlers and some Nanticokes left the area, but others moved east near Indian River, where the largest concentration of Nanticokes still live.

In 1881, the tribe was recognized by the state, and in 1922, the association was granted nonprofit status, the year after it was formed. They also had their own school. Today, some 700 Nanticokes live in the area and throughout the eastern United States and Midwest.

The tribe operates a museum, resource and cultural center and Indian Mission United Methodist Church. Plans are underway to enlarge and renovate the center and museum. Their annual Powwow at Hudson Fields near Milton attracts thousands of spectators.

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