Piscataway Nation teaches tribal dances
The Piscataway Indian Nation are a major part of Charles County’s history and now they are sharing their dance program with local children all over the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region.
On June 29, the Piscataway Indian Museum & Cultural Center, specifically the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Conoy Indians, hosted a Kentkatám program through its “Living the American Indian Experience” mobile program for children ages 6-11. The interactive musical dance program included an hour of song, dance and education about the Piscataway culture deeply rooted in the county.
“We taught the children how to relate to our culture through dance and that the Piscataway are here, we’re fun and lively,” said Crystal Proctor, executive director of the “Living the American Indian Experience.” “Being mobile and coming out to the community is not something that we have done since we have been here. For us it’s been sad that we haven’t been able to reach out to our communities and give them something that is free. Dancing should be interactive and culture is a way of life that should be free for everyone.”
During the Kentkatám, meaning “let’s dance,” children were led in songs and dances such as the robin dance, snake dance, friendship dance and a freestyle dance portion by Natalie “Standing on the rock” Proctor, tribal chairwoman of the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Conoy, and Crystal Proctor, both from the Piscataway Indian Museum & Cultural Center in Waldorf.
The Piscataway’s mobile program also diminished many of the tribe’s stereotypes with facts about its culture. They said all people are hands-on learners and retainers, so it is important to make the information come to life in order to better help others learn about the Piscataway.
“It’s important for us to have that first impression with children so that they don’t grow up thinking that we look a certain way or we sing a certain way,” Natalie said. “People tend to clump us together. We are not Indians, we are Piscataway. Not all of us do the rain dance, because each group does their own social dances.”
The Proctors, or “Wild Turkey Family,” shared valuable information about the Piscataway Conoy Indians, such as the Piscataway having been around for more than 24,000 years. The Piscataway Indian Museum & Cultural Center has been open since 1995 in order to raise awareness about the Piscataway Indian Nation.
“We are here to show the children some of our traditional social dances that were done almost 24,000 years ago,” Crystal said. “They may have evolved a little bit but we shared the modern parts of those dances. These are social dances, not ceremonial dances that are sacred and done amongst our own families, but Piscataway social dances that everyone can participate in and get some exercise while being outdoors.”
“The Piscataway are part of our local culture and we are bringing that to our future generations living right here in Charles County,” said Mariana Sprouse, P.D. Brown Memorial Library branch manager. “How cool is it that now these children are able to learn about a different culture and given the opportunity to express their own identity and bring their own culture into the mix. They are making theses connections with the community and see similarities in their own cultures as well. You’re breaking those barriers by making children understand different cultures they can learn and take from other areas of life.”
Crystal spoke to the children about the origin of the Piscataway dances such as “the robin dance,” a dance that was typically done during the springtime, when the birds are chirping, flowers are in bloom and mother earth comes back to life, and the Piscataway begin planting seeds to have food for the year. The Piscataway chose to celebrate those changes through the robin dance.
“The Piscataway had a very relaxed approach along with a very welcoming attitude about this program, which everyone seemed to adopt during the event,” said Barbara Thorp, P.D. Brown Memorial Library children supervisor. “All of the children were dancing, especially during the friendship dance and it got really silly and fun because the moves were more complex and we weren’t doing it right. But I enjoyed watching the children, as well as the moms, bust a move. It was very comfortable and they were open to try it.”
The Piscataway are an indigenous people who hope that teaching their dances to local children in Charles County will also encourage them to learn more about their own culture. They said their goal is to always demonstrate harmony, love and not disdain during their “Living the American Indian Experience” mobile program.
The Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians will be coming back to the Charles County Public Library in July with examples of Piscataway archery and craft making for all of the local children.
On June 29, local children and their parents were taught the snake dance by Natalie “Standingontherock” Proctor, tribal chairwoman of the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Conoy, while at the P.D. Brown Memorial Library in Waldorf.
Crystal Proctor, left, executive producer of the “Living the American Indian Experience” mobile program, led Wednesday’s Kentkatám program in Waldorf.