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Decolonizing Education: Native Americans

This guide was originally created for the use of instructors and students in the reACT Decolonizing Education Experiential Learning Program funded by the 2022-2023 TLTC Curriculum Grants. Specifically: ARCH460; ARCH478; ARCH601; ARCH678; CHBE473; ENCH648


Indigenous cultural landscapes demonstrate aspects of the natural and cultural resources that supported American Indian lifeways and settlements in the early 17th century. Considered trail-related resources to the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, these evocative places may be important to descendant communities today as well as to conservation strategies in the Chesapeake watershed. Ongoing research is helping to define and identify these large landscapes.

This concept grew from attempts to explain an indigenous perspective of large landscapes in the Chesapeake region in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order of 2009. This perspective demonstrates that American Indian places were not confined to the sites of houses, towns, or settlements, and that the American Indian view of one's homeland is holistic rather than compartmentalized into the discrete site elements typically used in our language today, such as "hunting grounds", "villages", or "sacred sites".


FLICK, A. J., & KING, J. A. (2019). “We Can Fly No Farther”: Colonialism and Displacement among the Piscataway of Southern Maryland. In T. Weik (Ed.), The Archaeology of Removal in North America (pp. 19–44). University Press of Florida. 
This chapter explores the relationship between memory, place, and the post-Contact dispossession of indigenous lands on Maryland’s western shore. Documentary, oral, and archaeological evidence reveal how the colonial dispossession of land and the accompanying displacement of Native people proceeded hand in hand with the removal and/or appropriation of the material signs of the indigenous past. Displaced people, however, resisted this erasure in the remaking of place. Those who left the region adopted new practices while retaining familiar ones including, in the case of the Maryland Indians, a persistence in hunting, wigwam, and canoe construction and in mortuary practices reminiscent of ossuary practices known in the homeland. Those who remained in the region maintained and perpetuated memories of culturally significant places through repeated acts of visitation and oral tradition.

Beacham, Deanna, et al. (2017) “Indigenous Cultural Landscapes: A 21st-Century Landscape-Scale Conservation and Stewardship Framework.” The George Wright Forum, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 343–53. An “indigenous cultural landscape” (ICL) is a concept that depicts combined natural and cultural landscape features that together could have supported an indigenous community in its entirety. The concept originated as a way to translate intuitive environmental knowledge into defined criteria for which evidence-based data can be gathered today. For example, rich soils and varied topography are based on definitions around chemical composition and elevation change. Intuition about the landscape builds on observations gathered over millennia, and although unwritten, is scientific in its evidence-based nature. In pre-colonial times and today, the right combination of land and water characteristics creates optimal conditions to support a community and its cultural and spiritual identity.

King, J. A., Mansius, M. K., & Strickland, S. M. (2016). “What Towne Belong You to?” Landscape, Colonialism, and Mobility in the Potomac River Valley. Historical Archaeology, 50(1), 7–26. This article uses a landscape archaeology approach, with an emphasis on travel or mobility, to document and interpret the uses and meanings of English objects in native hands in the lower Potomac River valley during the century following European settlement. Wide-area survey data, archaeological assemblages, and a rich documentary record indicate that native people in the Potomac drainage reproduced familiar and hybrid practices, schedules, and rituals using both native- and European-made objects. At the same native actors recognized and used the power of European objects in native hands to provoke colonial anxieties.

Cullen-Unsworth, L., et al.  (2012). A research process for integrating Indigenous and scientific knowledge in cultural landscapes: principles and determinants of success in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area, Australia. The Geographical Journal, 178(4), 351–365. It is widely accepted that Indigenous ecological knowledge (IEK) is potentially valuable for maintaining biodiversity within linked social-ecological systems, and cultural landscapes in particular. However, IEK is declining globally, along with biodiversity. Adaptive co-management frameworks incorporating both Indigenous and scientific knowledge systems have the capacity for greater success than frameworks embedded within a singular worldview. A major challenge exists, however, in identifying pathways for the integration of these knowledge systems.  Cooperative research using joint learning is emerging as one potentially useful approach. 

Blue Spruce, D., et al. (2008). The land has memory: indigenous knowledge, native landscapes, and the National Museum of the American Indian. University of North Carolina Press in association with the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution.  In the heart of Washington, D.C., a centuries-old landscape has come alive in the twenty-first century through a re-creation of the natural environment as the region's original peoples might have known it. Unlike most landscapes that surround other museums on the National Mall, the natural environment around the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) is itself a living exhibit, carefully created to reflect indigenous ways of thinking about the land and its uses. Abundantly illustrated, The Land Has Memory offers beautiful images of the museum's natural environment in every season as well as the uniquely designed building itself. Essays by Smithsonian staff and others involved in the museum's creation provide an examination of indigenous peoples' long and varied relationship to the land in the Americas, an account of the museum designers' efforts to reflect traditional knowledge in the creation of individual landscape elements, detailed descriptions of the 150 native plant species used, and an exploration of how the landscape changes seasonally. 

Beacham, D. (2011). The Indigenous cultural landscape of the Eastern Woodlands: A model for conservation, interpretation, and tourismIndigenous Cultural Landscapes, Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.  The ICL concept is a way for conservation and environmentally-focused entities to promote indigenous thinking about how landscapes have been, and still are, used and understood. The concept considers a pre-Contact period perspective on the landscape, with all the lifestyle components of an indigenous community, including the surrounding land and water. The name of the concept reflects indigenous thinking which does not divide the surrounding world into arbitrary categories of “natural” and “cultural.”

Plumwood, V. (2006). The Concept of a Cultural Landscape: Nature, Culture and Agency in the Land. Ethics and the Environment11(2), 115–150.  An important critical challenge is to help us understand the conceptual frameworks and systems that ignore the crucial support provided by natural systems and prevent us from seeing nature as a field of agency.  A key cultural challenge for survival is to recognize, represent, and value the health and services systems, collectively designated as 'nature,' provide for us. A high-priority issue for theorists interested in changing the situation is: How do we recognize the agency of these disregarded service providers, and should we recognize and represent the 'environmental services' these systems provide for us? Both aspects of this cultural change project raise issues for concepts at the base of our critical discourses.

Bousé, D. (1996). Culture as Nature: How Native American Cultural Antiquities Became Part of the Natural World. The Public Historian, 18(4), 75–98. Identifies problematic management, exhibition, and interpretation of Native American cultural antiquities by the federal government, and by NPS in particular. Demonstrating it to have deep roots in Euro-American intellectual and cultural traditions. The patterns of cultural naturalization and historical denial make up part of the code by which white America has come to understand the existence of the Indian population in North America. Recommendations for confronting his marginalization are articulated.


Strickland, S. et al. (2016) Developing Priority Watershed Areas for Mapping Indigenous Cultural Landscapes of the Greater Chesapeake Bay. Prepared For: The Chesapeake Conservancy, National Park Service Chesapeake Bay. The Indigenous Cultural Landscape (ICL) concept, developed as an important tool for identifying Native landscapes, has been incorporated into the Smith Trail’s Comprehensive Management Plan in an effort to identify Native communities along the trail as they existed in the early 17th-century and as they exist today. Identifying ICLs along the Smith Trail serves land and cultural conservation, education, historic preservation, and economic development goals. Identifying ICLs further empowers descendant indigenous communities to participate fully in achieving these goals.

Sullivan, K. (2013) Indigenous Cultural Landscapes Study for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Prepared under cooperative agreement with The University of Maryland and The National Park Service Chesapeake Bay. This report summarizes the findings on the history of the concept of indigenous cultural landscapes, as well as methodology and criteria for identifying and representing indigenous cultural landscapes for the purposes of conservation and interpretation. Includes an important annotated bibliography on Cultural Landscape theory and practice.

Sullivan, K. Indigenous Cultural Landscapes Study for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail: Nanticoke River Watershed. Prepared under cooperative agreement with The University of Maryland and The National Park Service Chesapeake Bay. The Nanticoke River watershed indigenous cultural landscape study area is home to well over 100 sites, landscapes, and waterways meaningful to the history and present-day lives of the Nanticoke people. This report provides background and evidence for the inclusion of many of these locations within a high-probability indigenous cultural landscape (ICL) boundary. ICL This is defined as areas that reflect “the contexts of the American Indian peoples in the Nanticoke River area and their interaction with the landscape,” including "both cultural and natural resources and the wildlife therein associated with historic lifestyle and settlement patterns and exhibiting the cultural or esthetic values of American Indian peoples." The report provides nine ICL criteria met by the area defined as being a high-probability area for an ICL, and we describe the methodology used to obtain this information and represent the resulting landscape.  Includes an annotated bibliography of "Indigenous Peoples and Places in the Nanticoke River Watershed and Surrounding Areas."

Strickland, S., et al. (2015) Defining the Indigenous Cultural Landscape for The Nanjemoy and Mattawoman Creek Watersheds. National Park Service. The purpose of this project was to identify and represent the Indigenous Cultural Landscape for the Nanjemoy and Mattawoman creek watersheds on the north shore of the Potomac River in Charles and Prince George’s counties, Maryland. The Nanjemoy and Mattawoman creek watersheds comprise approximately 223 square miles of land approximately 50 miles southeast of Washington, D.C. In addition, the project area included lands in the vicinity draining into the Potomac and Port Tobacco rivers. The watersheds have a human history stretching back thousands of years and were among the more populated landscapes observed in 1608. Following the arrival of European settlers in the 1630s, the region remained a largely indigenous landscape until later in the century, when English encroachment created serious challenges for the Native people residing in the watersheds. Despite displacement through at the end of the 17th and 18th centuries, descendants of the Native occupants remained in the area and many still do. Members of Maryland’s two state-recognized Indian tribes, including the Piscataway Indian Nation and the Piscataway Conoy Tribe of Maryland, were involved from the beginning in this effort to document the Nanjemoy and Mattawoman Indigenous Cultural Landscape – their landscape.

Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center: Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center, a school site within the Charles County Public School System, is located on 10 acres along Nanjemoy Creek, a tributary of the Potomac River. Thanks to a generous land-lease agreement with Mr. Richard Posey of Nanjemoy, Charles County Public Schools has been able to incorporate environmental education into its curriculum at a beautiful site that contains many diverse habitats and plenty of opportunities to experience nature firsthand. 

Nanjemoy Creek: One of Maryland's most pristine watersheds, the Nanjemoy Creek Preserve, in Charles County was established by the Nature Conservancy to protect a large breeding colony of great blue herons that once nested here. Self-guided tours are available. 
Mattawoman Creek, Charles County:
 Mattawoman Creek Natural Area includes over 1,300 acres in northwestern Charles County. This area is one of Maryland's most significant natural resource areas, and the estuarine portions of the creek have been described by some as a model for a fully restored Chesapeake Bay. The Natural Area is owned by the State and is managed by the Maryland Park Service. Charles County manages the Indian Head Rail Trail.

Beacham, D. (2015).
Examples of Indigenous Cultural Landscapes in Virginia. US National Park Service. Following the initial creation of the criteria for the concept within the scope of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, nationwide outreach activities continued with the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and at conferences and consultations. In addition, to assist in implementation of this conservation and interpretation concept as the Trail is developed, this paper was written in 2011 to describe some examples of indigenous cultural landscapes along proposed segments of the Trail in Virginia. The example descriptions include lists of which criteria apply and how the sites can be interpreted as indigenous cultural landscapes. The paper was updated for the National Park Service Chesapeake Bay in 2015.
Chippokes Plantation State Park: Located in Surry County on the south side of the James River, this 1683-acre state park was originally the territory of the Quiyoughcohannock Indians, and both the plantation and adjacent creek were named for the leader of that tribe at the time of the English arrival. Although the current interpretive theme of the park is primarily the history of Euro-American farming, and the preserved farmlands and outbuildings contribute to that aspect, the lands adjacent to the waterways are intact, with considerable wooded area, including terraces along the James.
Mattaponi Wildlife Management Area: The area is managed to conserve critical habitat for wildlife and inland fish as well as threatened and endangered species in a rapidly developing area of Virginia. The varied landscape of the WMA ranges from mature upland hardwood and mixed forests to wetlands and rivers. This is a rich, high-resource area, and examples of the wildlife critical to the Virginia Indian lifestyle are abundant. Due to the diversity of habitats, the land supports game animals including turkey, migratory waterfowl, quail, deer, bear, squirrels, and rabbits along with non-game animals used for food and clothing by the Indians, including raccoons, groundhogs, beaver, and turtles.
MenokinThe 500-acre site in Richmond County on the Northern Neck that includes the former home of Francis Lightfoot Lee and Rebecca Tayloe. At English Contact, this region was the aboriginal territory of the very large Rappahannock tribe. When John Smith visited the area, he mapped Rappahannock towns at Cat Point Creek as well as in many places along the Rappahannock River. Archaeological surveys and excavations at Menokin have shown several sites with pre-Colonial Woodland components, including one on a terrace near Menokin Bay that is considered to be Late Woodland or Contact era. Menokin staff have previously created interpretive education material on the natural resources of the site, including a guide to wildlife and a guide to trees. A Master Naturalist volunteer has compiled a listing of plants along with their uses by English colonists as well as by the Rappahannock tribe. As the Menokin staff and volunteers have expertise in native plants, further interpretation on the use of plants by Native peoples of Virginia would be of particular interest there.
Presquile National Wildlife Refuge:  Located on a 1329-acre island in the James River in Chesterfield County, approximately 20 miles south of Richmond, Virginia, this refuge is part of the Eastern Virginia Rivers National Wildlife Refuge complex, it was established in 1953 to protect habitat for wintering waterfowl and other migratory birds. Some interpretation of the indigenous cultural resources present is offered in the exhibits at the Presquile visitor center, including information on which migratory wildfowl and land-based animals might have been hunted there, and plants from this part of the ecosystem that would have been especially useful to the Appamattuck Indians. The addition of a boardwalk into the wetlands area offers additional opportunity to interpret the Natives’ use of indigenous plants.