BALTIMORE— The Maryland State Arts Council has announced the winners of the 2024 Heritage Awards through its traditional arts program, Maryland Traditions.
Locally, the Pocomoke Indian Nation is the MSAC Heritage Award for Pocomoke Homelands in the category of Place. The $10,000 unrestricted award will support the nonprofit’s mission:
“To preserve the heritage and way of life of the Pocomoke Nation, whose villages and resources encompassed the Annemessee, Manonoakin, Monie and Pocomoke watersheds and hinterlands; the sounds of Tangier and Pocomoke and their islands, as well as the coastal bays and island of Chincoteague.”
As nominator Virginia R. Busby, PhD, noted, “Pocomoke Homelands, Pocomoke Paramountcy and the Pocomoke Indian Nation are synonymous. They are maintained through traditional practices in place which include within-tribe teaching, land and water stewardship, and public education throughout their homelands…. Conceiving of tribal people and place as synonymous is characteristic of American Indian cultures across the Americas and is exemplified by the continual relation of the Pocomoke to their Lower Shore homelands.”
The award recognizes that most tribal members and volunteers continue to live in their Lower Eastern Shore homelands and practice, share and preserve traditional indigenous lifeways of this region.
Historically, Pocomoke villages stretched along today’s Annemessex, Manokin and Pocomoke rivers, as well as Tangier, Pocomoke and Chincoteague bays and sounds. Historic references to the Pocomoke and their homelands include Captain John Smith’s 1608 account, and 17th and 18th century descriptions of their lands and efforts to maintain them, are documented in Maryland colonial records held in the Maryland State Archives.
Numerous treaties were signed by the Pocomoke King, the last of which was in 1742. Despite colonial displacement constricting territorial access, Pocomoke People persisted, attested by written and oral histories, and by today’s thriving community.
The Pocomoke play an important role in the State of Maryland and in tribal contexts with Chief Norris Howard, Sr. being among other invited Maryland tribal leaders who met with Gov. Wes Moore in an historic State House summit on Sept. 28, 2023, and Gov. Moore’s appointed tribal member Norris Howard Jr. as the Pocomoke representative on the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs (MCIA).
Building on the work of the late Chief Harold M. Howard Jr. the Pocomoke Indian Nation Inc. has provided over 10 years of important Native American folklife programming in Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset, and Dorchester counties.
The tribe provides education through consultations and partnerships with the Delmarva Discovery Museum in Pocomoke City, the Allen Historical Society Museum, the Pocomoke River State Park, the Julia A. Purnell Museum in Snow Hill, the Rackcliffe House Colonial Fair in Berlin, the Nanticoke Historic Preservation Alliance in Vienna, and the J. Millard Tawes Museum in Crisfield.
Pocomoke Indian Nation partners with other nonprofits and tribal groups at regional heritage tourism sites, including the National and Maryland Folk Festivals. These educational and heritage opportunities cross barriers of income and race, seeking to connect the community to the land on which they visit or live.
They strive to provide local educators with resources to convey the local indigenous history into the curriculum. Additionally, the Nation is developing a mobile traditional lifeways display supported by a Maryland Heritage Areas Administration grant for the Beach to Bay Heritage Area.
Six awards are being provided a $10,000 grant this year.
The other five honorees this year are Donald Owens, a steward of Baltimore City’s African American community theater; Angel Rivera of Frederick, a master of Puerto Rican percussion and dance traditions; the Carroll County Deer Creek Fiddler’s Convention; The Emerald Island Club of Baltimore County; and Frostburg Derby Day, organized by the Frostburg Elks.
“This year’s Heritage Award winners reflect the traditions and enterprising spirit of communities from the Western Maryland mountains to the Eastern Shore,” said Maryland Department of Commerce Secretary Kevin Anderson. “We’re pleased to shine a light on their work as examples of our state’s strong cultural fabric.”