Remembering DC's First Residents on Indigenous Peoples' Day

Indigenous Peoples' Day

As we reflect on the changing populations of the District in recent decades and grapple with the questions of who our city belongs to, it is important to remember the earliest residents of our city--long before it was “our city”--many of whom were killed, forced off their land, enslaved, or died from imported disease. 

Thousands of years before Pierre L’Enfant imagined the design of a capital city in 1791, and even before colonist John Smith ventured north from Jamestown in 1608 to what is now the District of Columbia, the Piscataway people lived here. 

The Piscataway were one of the Algonquian language tribes that lived along the east coast of what later became the United States and Canada. Other Native groups that lived in the region included Anacostank, Pamunkey, Mattapanient, Nangemeick, and Tauxehent. The village of Nacotchtank was one of three Native villages in the Washington area, located along the southeast side of the Anacostia River in the area between today’s Bolling Air Force Base and Anacostia Park, and the name Anacostia comes from Nacotchtank. 

After centuries of historical narrative dominated by white, Eurocentric perspectives, we are increasingly creating space for other sides of our stories to be told. Indigenous Peoples’ Day began in South Dakota in 1989 as an alternative to Columbus Day, which many believe celebrates the violent history of colonialism. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is now recognized by many US states and cities, including the District of Columbia, while Columbus Day is now recognized by fewer than half of US states. 

Nationally, indigenous people continue to be marginalized and struggle for autonomy and to protect their lands and their rights. Fighting for and alongside indigenous people must be part of our work to dismantle racist systems. One coalition of Native and non-native activists, educators, students, and organizers--The Red Nation--advocates for an end to violence against Native peoples and their nonhuman relatives. The Red Nation’s demands include the reinstatement of treaty rights; full rights and protection; access to education, healthcare, social services, employment, and housing; an end to disciplinary violence, discrimination, dehumanization, and persecution; repatriation of Native lands; and an end to capitalism and colonialism.

As DC Action works to address structural racism and its impact on children, youth, and families, based on the belief that ALL children and youth should have the opportunity to reach their full potential, regardless of their race, ethnicity, zip code, or family’s income, we acknowledge that Native children also face disproportionate barriers to positive education and health outcomes based on historical institutional racism and oppression. We stand in solidarity with indigenous people and recognize their struggle and their right to liberation.

The entire DC Action for Children team
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