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Md. Native American Tribe No Longer Extinct

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Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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CHARLES COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) — After decades of struggle, a Native American tribe in Maryland is no longer extinct.

Alex DeMetrick reports the Piscataway-Conoy tribe knew it was here all along. Now the state finally agrees.

One of the oldest Catholic graveyards in the country overlooks the Port Tobacco River in Charles County, land once home to the Piscataway-Conoy tribe.

“We supposedly died out in 1699. We couldn’t figure out how did everyone die,” said Tribal chairwoman Mervin Savoy.

Actually, Savoy’s father and her mother started the quest for tribal recognition 40 years ago. This week, after decades of paperwork and document hunts, Governor Martin O’Malley made it official: the Piscataway-Conoys are a living tribe.

“After 40 years, it is amazing,” Savoy said.

The proof of the tribe’s past and its ongoing existence came from records kept by the Catholic Church. That’s because the tribe converted in 1640, an event remembered with a stained glass window at Saint Ignatius and detailed record-keeping by Jesuit priests.

“So therefore, we have proof we were on this land when the Europeans arrived in Charles County,” said Elder Council Chair Sharon Franklin.

“We’ve always been here. We never left,” Savoy said.

Proof of existence they never doubted. And now, with Maryland’s recognition…

 “Those that we leave behind, it’s a great thing for them,” Franklin said.

State recognition doesn’t mean the tribe will be opening a casino. There’s no interest in that. But it could open the door to federal recognition and funds set aside for education and health care.

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