ACPS Celebrates National Native American Heritage Month
The rich cultures, contributions and accomplishments of Native Americans are celebrated each November as we observe National Native American Heritage Month. Congress first issued a joint resolution in November 1990 authorizing the president to proclaim the month annually to pay tribute to our nation’s Native Americans. Alexandria’s history has long-standing ties to these Indigenous peoples.
For thousands of years before the founding of Alexandria in 1749, Native Americans seasonally lived in and traveled across the lands that would become the City of Alexandria to areas where there was good fishing and camping. As the Potomac River borders and connects Alexandria and Virginia to Maryland and Washington, D.C., it currently encompasses more than a dozen federal and state recognized tribes and nations.
The types of artifacts discovered in Alexandria indicate that Indigenous peoples visited the area beginning about 13,000 years ago. Despite the construction and development of the past 250 years, archaeologists have identified more than 30 sites containing Native American artifacts and have registered them with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. A hunter’s broken spear point was found on a bluff overlooking Hunting Creek at the southern edge of the city, providing the earliest evidence of human occupation in Alexandria, to date. The second oldest artifact found in Alexandria is The Kirk Point, with one of the characteristics of this quartzite point its serrated edges. The Kirk Point was found at the Jones Point Site, on the banks of Hunting Creek, and is from the Archaic Period, 10,000 to 3,000 years ago.
There are a number of sites in or near Alexandria whose names have Native American origins. The word Chinquapin is believed to refer to a species of tree that grew in the area, the Allegheny chinkapin or chinquapin. Records indicate that in 1612, an infusion of chinquapin leaves were used by Native Americans to relieve headaches and fevers. The name “Dogue” may have been derived from the Powhatan word “taux.” And the Occoquan River Valley region was settled by the Dogue Indians who named the area “Occoquan,” meaning “at the head of the water” or "at the end of the water." Potomac was one of two Algonquian words for the river that forms the northern boundary of Virginia and may have meant "great trading place," "place where people trade" or “something brought.”
Federally recognized tribes and nations in Virginia include Chickahominy, Chickahominy Eastern Division, Monacan, Nansemond, the Pamunkey, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi. Virginia’s state recognized tribes and nations are the Cheroenhaka (Nottoway), Chickahominy, Chickahominy Eastern Division, Mattaponi, Monacan, Nansemond, Nottoway, Pamunkey, Patawomeck, Rappahannock and Upper Mattaponi.
We can learn more about the contributions and cultures of Native Americans at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. On the museum grounds, The National Native American Veterans Memorial opened on Nov. 11, 2020. For the first time on a national scale, this tribute to native heroes recognizes the distinguished service of Native Americans in every branch of the U.S. military. On the museum’s website, check out Native Knowledge 360° - Interactive Teaching Resources about Native Americans, including Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs. Other resources include Learning for Justice’s Native American Heritage Month webpage and book selections for Native American Heritage from the Alexandria Library.
- National Native American Heritage Month