Wednesday, January 27, 2021

How Did The Anacostia River Get Its Name?

 During a zoom presentation to the St Peter School in November, a student asked me about how the Anacostia got its name and made me realize I was unclear about that.

Much of what we see now is a neglect of our Native history, so how did the river get its name?

It turns out that when Thomas Jefferson was serving as the first Secretary of State in the early 1790s, he was interested in learning the Native name for the river, and Andrew Ellicott, who was mapping the land that would become the District of Columbia sent him word that that the name was "Anna Kostia." 

Jefferson directed Ellicott to include the name on future maps, and Ellicott's 1793 map was the 1st to include a version of the name, Anacostia.


1. Hutchinson, Louise D. The Anacostia Story, 1608-1930. Washington: Published for the Anacostia Neighborhood Museum of the Smithsonian Institution by the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1977. Print.
page xix (#27): (see para 2)

Pdf online:

2. call number for Ellicott 1793 map - G3850 1793 .E42 1898)

Friday, December 4, 2020

Martin Luther King/DC Public Library - Native Land Acknowledgement, Nov. 15, 2020

 The DC Public Library linked to the Once As It Was Map of DC on it's page for Native American Heritage Month!

Then they invited a small group of us (you'll see folks in the video below), for a tour of the new remodeled MLK building and an Anacostan Land Acknowledgement.

Many thanks to Richard Reyes-Gavilan, the Executive Director, and Ryan Williams and the rest of the great staff!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

St Peter School Presentation and Native Land Acknowledgement

 Principal, Karen Clay, of the St. Peter School, reacted enthusiastically to the information on the Garfield Park poster. She asked an excellent question, which will be the base of a new project - can the park be renamed "Garfield-Anacostan Park?" We shall see!

Working with Erica Lopez, we did a zoom presentation for Native History Family Day and closed with everyone reading a Native Land Acknowledgement for the school.

Afterward, Prin. Clay emailed that she would include the Acknowledgement in the school's morning prayer!

It was terrific to work with Erica Lopez & Prin. Clay!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Garfield Park History Poster - Nov. 1, 2020

     To mark the beginning of Native American Heritage Month, this poster was put on the Garfield Park bulletin board on Nov. 1, 2020!

It's only a start, but it is the 1st version of a Native Village Marker on Capitol Hill!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Native Land Acknowledgment for the NMAI in DC?

Dear Kevin Gover,

As you know, there is a growing interest in Native land acknowledgments in the US. 
Here in Washington, members of the DC City Council have begun using them during Council meetings

My experience in Melbourne, AU over the last 12 years has sensitized me to the public acknowledgment of Indigenous people, since in Melbourne (as I have heard is also being done in Canada), public parks and many public buildings have permanent land acknowledgments at their entrances.

My question here is whether the NMAI in DC has a land acknowledgment for the Anacostans who once walked the land under the museum? Perhaps this already exists and I wasn't thorough enough in my search of online information about the NMAI. 
If not, Indigenous Peoples' Day will be Oct 12, 2020, perhaps placing this acknowledgment could be part of the museum events for that day?

As you might recall, I have emailed you previously starting in 2016, when I learned there is a documented Anacostan Native site less than a mile from the NMAI, asking why visitors to the museum aren't being told about it. In 2018, I emailed again to ask about a possible real or online exhibit to tell the history of the Anacostans in Washington, DC. In other emails with your staff I have offered the contents of the Once As It Was Map of DC for use on the NMAI website at no charge.

As you know, there is great concern in the Native American and African American communities about the erasure of their history. A Native land acknowledgment in the NMAI would be a giant step in focusing attention on the Native Americans who once occupied the land that is now Washington, DC.

Sincerely yours,
Armand Lione, Ph.D.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

DC Water Awareness of DC Native History

May 27, 2020

To: David Gadis, President/CEO DC Water
From: Armand Lione, Director DC Native History Project

Dear David Gadis,

DC Water is doing an excellent job providing clean water for Washington, DC. In the hope of improving what you do, this email will describe a perspective on the Native history of DC which seems to be missing from your important work.

DC Water has facilities at several sites that are very important in the Native history of Washington. For example, Blue Plains is part of the site where the chief of the Nacotchtank Indians lived before being displaced by settlers in the late 1600s. The Clean Water initiative aims to make swimmable the Anacostia, a river named for our Native people. Soon, DC Water will undertake work in Soapstone Valley, which amounts to what is left of one of 2 major DC quarries once worked by the Anacostans and other Native Americans for hundreds or thousands of years before the English settlers arrived.

Before going into any details, allow me to explain that I am working with the 
DC Native History Project to promote a recognition of the Native people who once lived, farmed and quarried in what is now Washington, DC. Among those involved in this group, we are honored to include Chief Jesse James Swann of the Piscataway-Conoy Tribe, based in nearby southern Maryland. The Nacotchtank, who later got their name Anglicized to the “Anacostans,” lived on both sides of the Anacostia River and southern Maryland when John Smith first visited in 1608.

Blue Plains

Let's first consider aspects of the construction that was planned over a decade ago and completed in 2019 at Blue Plains. As mentioned, the site where the Blue Plain treatment facility and Bolling Air Force Base now sits was identified on John Smith's earliest map as the location occupied by the Chief of the Nacotchtanks:

Here's a map of the area currently:

And a 2018 Google map image of the Blue Plains construction site which was almost completed: 

Out of interest to learn if any mention was made of the archaeological history of the site, I inspected the final version of the 
Combined Sewer System Long Term Control Plan. The description given in that document states only that the the site was "an athletic field."

Any archaeological information from an earlier Environmental Assessment was not included in the final report.

Although it is likely that the construction site had been examined and designated not to be of archaeological interest because of all the preceding disruption that had been done in the area, the Blue Plains digging did go deeper than any previous construction. The final document certainly does not include mention of the more than 100 Native skeletons that were foundnearby in 1937 during the construction of Bolling AFB.

Nor does it mention the much older 
ceramic Native bowl that had been found in 2009, in Bellevue, less than a mile from the Blue Plains site.

DC Water Bill Insert: Restoring the Anacostia River

I was excited when I found an article on restoring the Anacostia River in the 
August 2018 edition of “What's on Tap.” It opened with a brief review of the Nacotchtanks who had lived along the river. Yet the article never informed readers of how the name of the river had been derived from the name of the tribe. One is left to wonder how many staff at DC Water, who had seen and reviewed the contents prior to publication, missed the glaring omission of this basic fact about the river they are so painstakingly working to restore. It does not speak well of the corporate awareness of the Native history of the Anacostia.

Soapstone Valley Park

Finally, there are the documents on the upcoming Rehabilitation of Sewer Infrastructure in Soapstone Valley Park. As noted in the 
environmental assessment, “No archaeological sites have been identified within the APE; [area of potential effect].” There is no clear reason to challenge that conclusion, but what is not mentioned in any of the DC Water documents, what is not publicly explained in or around Soapstone Valley, is the history of quarrying by the Native Americans who lived in the area for several thousand years, and who produced and traded bowls, pipes and various other useful items from the soft stone that still sits in the stream bed of the valley.

The soapstone quarry itself has been eliminated by urban development. To neglect mentioning its previous existence is one more step in erasing the long history of the Natives who lived here before us.

Clean and plentiful water is a powerful symbol of the District’s bountiful past, historical legacy, and exciting renewal. Contacting you on these matters is not intended to suggest that DC Water is uniquely at fault in neglecting the Native history of Washington. However, the connection between DC Water and the city’s waterways offers a unique and powerful opportunity to inform the public of the historical bounty from which its residents’ continually benefit.

Those of us involved in the DC Native History Project will be happy to work with DC Water to improve what the public learns as you improve our public life through your ongoing water and sewer projects.

Please contact us to open a dialogue about our concerns and to learn more about the enhanced role DC Water may play in honoring the Native history of DC, while protecting the city’s natural resources.

Best wishes,


Armand Lione, Ph.D.
Director, DC Native History Project

CC: Chief Jesse James Swann
Piscataway Conoy Tribe

CC:Tommy Wells
Chair, Board of Directors DC Water

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Acknowledging the Origin of "Anacostia" in the name of the Anacostia Watershed Society

This email was sent to the President of the Ancostia Watershed Society May 12, 2020:

Dear James Foster,

The excellent work of the Anacostia Watershed Society has a strong relationship with the Native Americans who had lived in the watershed for thousands of years before European settlers displaced most of them and polluted the resources they found.

Yet your website's history section says only: "In 1608, Captain John Smith sailed up what we now know as the Anacostia River and marveled at its depth and clarity..."

"In the old days, the Nacotchtank tribe called the Anacostia and its environs home, and when white explorers first sailed its clear, slow moving waters, they marveled at the river’s splendor, and the bounty of its flora and fauna..."

In the 2nd example, there is a mention of the tribe that was identified when John Smith explored the river in the early 1600s, but there doesn't seem to be any acknowledgment of how the name of the Nacotchtank tribe got modified into the name "Anacostia," now used by the DC community, the river and your organization, among others. As you probably know, Jesuit scholars who accompanied Lord Baltimore in the 17th century Latinized Nacochtank to “Anacostan” which then changed eventually to “Anacostia”. 

As you are also probably aware, currently, not much attention is given to the fascinating history of the Natives who lived in what is now Washington, DC for thousands of years before the city was built. Our group, the DC Native History Project, is trying to improve that situation, and in this case, we are calling on your organization to acknowledge publically the history of the Native Americans who first lived in the Anacostia Watershed that now carries their name.

Of course, the DCNHP will be happy to work with the AWS to make these changes happen!

Best wishes,
Armand Lione, Ph.D.
Director, DC Native History Project
Washington, DC

CC: Chief Jesse James Swann
Piscataway Conoy Tribe