The Importance of Acknowledging Our History: The Washington National Records Center, Suitland, Maryland

This is another post in my ongoing blog series that acknowledges the ancestral lands on which the National Archives’ buildings are situated across the country. This series of acknowledgements is a simple way to offer recognition and respect to the people who once lived on these lands.

The Washington National Records Center in Suitland, Maryland (staff photograph)

The National Archives’ Washington National Records Center is located in Suitland, Maryland, which is situated on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples, the same peoples who inhabited the lands on which the National Archives in Washington, D.C. now stands.

This 1624 map of the Colony of Virginia held by the Library of Congress takes some adjustment to view – north is to the right. But in this close up, where the Potomac River branches back towards the Chesapeake Bay we see the Nacotchtank noted.

The Nacotchtank people were part of the Piscataway Chiefdom, with settlements stretching along the Potomac River. Anacostia is a rendering of the word “Nacotchtank” by English Jesuits. From the American Association of Geographers.

“For thousands of years, until the late sixteenth century, they were sustained by and lived in balance with a verdant, pristine, and generous environment. The region was heavily populated and vibrant with human activity. The people spoke languages that were part of the immense Algonquian language family that reached from the Southeast up the Northeast coast into what is now Canada, across to the Great Lakes and even to some parts of the Great Plains and what is now California. These languages were not mutually intelligible but they bore enough similarities to enable peoples of the Chesapeake region to communicate with one another. The communities were organized under chiefdoms, a sophisticated and multi-layered system of government. They practiced diplomacy and developed political and military alliances. They were deeply spiritual and expressed their religious values and beliefs in cyclical ceremonies and rituals that kept their world in balance. Long before Europeans arrived, Native people developed and participated in widespread trade systems that brought them into contact with people, goods, and ideas from distant places. Although change has always been part of Native American cultures and lives, Chesapeake peoples’ ways of life were destroyed in a relatively brief period of time when contact with Europeans occurred. Confronted with a catastrophic tidal wave of change, they incurred devastating losses and had to summon every ounce of ingenuity and strength to survive. Some were overwhelmed and extinguished, but some remain to tell their stories today.” from  We Have a Story to Tell.

Enter your address in this interactive map of Traditional Native Lands to see who once lived where you are now. 

My thanks to Cody White, Archivist and Research Services Subject Matter Expert for Native American Related Records, for providing the research for this post, and to Ann Baker, WNRC Administrative Officer, who provided the facility photograph. 

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