Natalie Proctor, Chairwoman: NMAI’s Meet Native America Series
In the interview series Meet Native America, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian invites tribal leaders, cultural figures, and other interesting and accomplished Native individuals to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. Together, their responses illustrate the diversity of the indigenous communities of the Western Hemisphere, as well as their shared concerns, and offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native peoples today.
Please introduce yourself with your name and title.
Natalie Standingontherock Proctor, tribal chairwoman, Wild Turkey Clan, Cedarville Band of Piscataway Conoy.
What responsibilities do you have in your community?
I'm the liaison responsible for local and state programs. I oversee and implement cultural, agricultural, health, and education initiatives and projects. I collaborate with tribal members to determine goals and missions. I meet with political and legislative members to foster and build relationships that help promote tribal needs and concerns and help maintain longstanding community partnerships.
How did your life experience prepare you to lead?
My parents often talked about tribal activities and discussed the problems of their times, especially the problems brought upon us. I did not grow up on a recognized reservation, but lived in a community of solely Native people. I began school in an all-white school, and it was socially and culturally difficult. I could not wait to get home to the safety of my community.
We did so much together in sharing our gardens, dividing the meat, fishing, and the like. My father included us in all the work. When it came to tribal affairs, I never thought much about being on the council or in a leadership role, but took much pride in being behind the scenes, working to see the elders' missions and goals accomplished. I enjoyed working with the elders and was willing to help wherever help was needed. While I did not plan to lead, it has become my life's passion and work.
Who inspired you as a mentor?
I was inspired by the Piscataway elders. I found true inspiration in my father, Pete, and my grandmother, Gladys Keeperofthepipe, who is also our current Clan Mother. I would listen to the stories of their time and could feel the pain of their struggles as I experienced my own. I could see how hard they were working to make a difference for the future generations.
Where is your community located? Where are your people originally from?
The Piscataway's original territory covered what became colonial Maryland, which included present-day Washington, D.C., parts of Virginia—Fairfax County, Loudon County, etc.—and West Virginia, and some of Pennsylvania. The majority of Piscataway people now live in Washington and the southern part of Maryland, in the counties of Prince George and Charles.
What is a significant point in history from your tribe that you would like to share?
When trying to choose a specific point in history, my mind keeps returning instead to a defining span of time that is painful and unique to our Eastern Indian populations, who were the first encroached upon. For those indigenous people who managed to survive the first few hundred years of invasion and the stripping of land, resources, and culture, a law was passed that essentially enabled the stripping of our identity. The law allowed officials to "sight identify" children—meaning an official looking at you could identify you as what he perceived you to be, and that identity was issued on birth certificates and other records.
Otherwise stated, every effort was made to ensure that on paper Piscataway Indians did not exist. Some historical sources state that the Piscataway just left. This is why we, and other Eastern tribes, do not have reservation lands. Why would a nonexistent people need land?
From the mid 1700s until just last year, we were an unrecognized people. But we were here all the while.
The Piscataway Conoy Tribe and the Piscataway Indian Nation received official recognition through an Executive Order by Governor Martin O'Malley in January of 2012.
To read other interviews in the NMAI series visit here.