ANNAPOLIS – Eight years have passed since Mervin Savoy submitted a petition requesting state recognition for her Piscataway-Conoy Confederacy and Subtribes, one of only two Maryland Native American tribes to do so.
More than a year after officials said state recognition of the confederacy was imminent, Maryland’s small, but outspoken, Native American community is still awaiting an endorsement from the Department of Housing and Community Development before it is passed to Gov. Parris N. Glendening for final approval.
If approved, the tribe would become the first in Maryland to receive state recognition. Such recognition could open up economic development opportunities, improve health services and boost prospects for federal recognition, said Ed McDonough, spokesman for the state housing department.
The Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs voted to recommend recognition of the Piscataway confederacy in August 1996, but the petition has been delayed by bureaucratic inaction.
The Piscataway Indian Nation, a rival Maryland tribe, which has accused the Piscataway confederacy of falsifying its genealogy, also submitted a petition for state recognition. Their campaign began in 1978, said Billy Tayac, who added his tribe is recognized by the Catholic Church and United Nations.
The complexity of approving state recognition is the main cause for the long delay, state officials said.
“We have never before gone through the recognition process in Maryland,” said McDonough. “It’s a very complex procedure. We’re treading on territory that we have never encountered.”
Piscataway confederacy representatives fear that delays will push the issue beyond the end of Glendening’s term in 2003, and the administration change will slow things even more. A similar delay occurred when Raymond Skinner was appointed the new housing secretary in November 1998.
Indian affairs has become a hot topic in Maryland, with an increased push from the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs to ban offensive Indian mascots from public schools and protests of Columbus Day as a state holiday.
The right to bury Indian ancestoral remains found in Accokeek in the 1930s is also at stake. The Maryland Historical Trust will hand over the remains to the first Maryland tribe to gain state recognition.
The Piscataway confederacy has filed preliminary recognition papers with the federal government. Federal recognition would bring benefits like the right to operate casinos, whereas state recognition does not allow for any rights or responsibilities more than that of any Maryland minority.
“There are many programs that a federally recognized tribe can participate in — from health services to education to housing,” said Keith Parsky, spokesman for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Savoy publicized plans in 1993 for a large casino complex that could include hotels, a marina, and a theme park and has received financial backing from several developers. However, the tribe needs to meet specific criteria to build a facility.
Casinos can only be built on tribal land, said McDonough.
Maryland law says the tribe must prove direct descendancy to indigenous people in Maryland in 1790 for a tribe to gain state recognition. The specific requirements for state recognition are modeled after those for federal recognition with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The delays, said McDonough, are justified: “We are just making sure that they meet the standards in the genealogy of the tribe.”