University of Maryland Honors Local Tribe with Dining Hall Name
BY NOLAN CLANCY
In a ceremony on Monday, November 1, the first day of Native American Heritage Month, the University of Maryland’s new dining hall received a name to honor the legacy of Native Americans and Indigenous peoples.
President Darryll J. Pines and other university officials welcomed members of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe to campus for a traditional ground blessing ceremony at the newly-named Yahentamitsi Dining Hall. ‘Yahentamitsi’ means “a place to go to eat” in an Algonquian language spoken by the Piscataway.
“I believe it is our responsibility to record, to interpret, and to raise public awareness about tribal history,” Pines said. “This effort was long overdue.”
Pines noted that the land on which the university sits was part of Piscataway ancestral land, before it was stolen from them by European colonizers.
“Thank goodness the Piscataway are a resilient people, with a vibrant and living culture, who lived in the Chesapeake region for centuries before Europeans arrived, and who are still here today,” Pines said.
The dining hall is the first building on campus named in honor of the area’s Native American heritage, said University Vice President for Student Affairs Patty Perillo.
Pines presented tribal elders and ceremony participants with gifts of tobacco wrapped in red cloth, a symbol of the unified strength of the university and Piscataway people, according to Perillo.
Perillo thanked Keith Colston, Administrative Director of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs, for his leadership in planning the ground blessing ceremony.
Pines presented Colston with a replica wampum belt, emblazoned with two parallel blue lines that Perillo said symbolize the united pathways of the university and the Piscataway nation.
“The Piscataway are no strangers to first accounts: the first peoples of this land, one of the first to encounter John Smith, to being the first state recognized tribe here in the state of Maryland,” said Colston.
Colston serves as the Administrative Director of The Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs, the organization which oversees state recognition of tribes. The state of Maryland currently recognizes the Piscataway Indian Nation, the Piscataway Conoy Tribe and the Accohannock Indian Tribe, according to the Maryland Historical Trust.
Maurice Proctor from the Cedarville Band of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe carried out the ground blessing, burning tobacco, sage and sweet grass. Colston said these items are gifts from the creator that carry prayers.
Proctor blessed a handful of dirt from each corner of the building, finishing with the northwest entrance of the dining hall nearest to the university’s new Heritage Community’s courtyard.
The ceremony also featured a traditional calling song, honor song and memorial song performed by Haliwa-Saponi Tribe member Troy Richarson.
Pines announced that Yahentamitsi Dining Hall will open in fall 2022, the third building in the Heritage Community, joining Pyon-Chen and Johnson-Whittle residence halls.
Pyon-Chen Hall is named for two former University of Maryland students: Pyon Su, the first Korean student to receive a degree from any American college or university, and Chunjun Constant Chen, the first Chinese student to enroll at the university. Johnson-Whittle hall honors Hiram Whittle, the first Black man to be admitted to the university and Elaine Johnson Coates, the first Black woman to graduate with an undergraduate degree.
The 1000-seat dining hall will feature a tribute to the Piscataway people throughout the interior, using art, artifacts and other educational materials, according to a press release from the university.
University students Ayden Allston of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia and Jeremy Harley of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe unveiled the new name to close the ceremony.