This paper is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Deanna Beacham, American Indian Program Manager
National Park Service, Chesapeake Bay

Indigenous cultural landscapes (ICLs) in the Chesapeake Bay watershed 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.

The concept of indigenous cultural landscapes originated during conversations organized in response to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order of 2009, during attempts to explain an indigenous perspective of large landscapes. This indigenous perspective reveals that American Indian places in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were not confined to the sites of houses, towns, or settlements.  It also demonstrates how the American Indian view of one’s homeland is holistic rather than compartmentalized into the discrete site elements typically utilized in popular accounts today, such as “hunting grounds,” “villages,” or “sacred sites.”

The original paper that was referenced in the 2010 comprehensive management plan for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which includes the criteria posited by the initial advisory team, can be read here.  You can also view a video recorded in 2013 in which the concept is introduced, and the rack card that was developed for distribution at conferences.

The paper Examples of ICLs in Virginia, originally authored in 2011, describes examples of indigenous cultural landscapes along proposed segments of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail in Virginia.  This paper was updated in 2015.  Each ICL example includes lists of which criteria apply and information on how the sites can be interpreted as indigenous cultural landscapes.

ICL research began in 2012, and by 2013 a team from the University of Maryland had completed a prototype methodology summary with recommendations for further research, and a pilot study of the Nanticoke River watershed using this prototype methodology.

During that same time period, a team working on the implementation of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT Lower Susquehanna segment also produced a report on their ICL findings, but lacking an extant descendent community there was no tribal input to include.

Building on the prototype methodology for documenting ICLs and earlier studies, researchers from St. Mary’s College of Maryland completed a thorough study of the Nanjemoy and Mattawoman Creek watersheds in November 2015. This study added the dimension of predictive modelling, which was field tested with excellent results.

Using similar predictive modelling on a much larger scale, the same team of researchers also completed an ICL priorities report for the entire tidal Chesapeake Bay watershed in February 2016. This report was commissioned to help the National Park Service prioritize ICL research areas over the coming years.

Currently researchers are working on identifying the indigenous cultural landscapes on a segment of the Rappahannock River in Virginia. Information from the priorities report indicates that the York River (including the Mattaponi and Pamunkey rivers) and the James River (including the Nansemond and Chickahominy rivers) are likely candidates for future research. All research reports will be published by NPS here when they are final.

The NPS envisions indigenous cultural landscape research being informative and useful for future National Register of Historic Places eligibility determinations of historic districts that are part of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail.

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