Imagine a pristine world devoid of toxic pollutants. Living in harmony with The Environment. The Land. The Sky. You know this world intimately, your place within it. Your responsibility to it. You harvest, process and manufacture everything needed for personal comfort, nutrition, medicine and trade with distant cultures. You sing, dance, joke, play games, give the best you have without thought of return. You live within an atmosphere of mutual respect and spiritual gratitude for life.
It may be difficult to imagine a place like this ever existed as we face the daily rigors of the modern world, but it did exist. In fact, it existed right here in Maryland and throughout North America within prehistoric Native American communities.
The story of the Eastern Woodland native culture reaches thousands of years into the distant past of what is now the state of Maryland. It is a heritage that is intimately woven into the fabric of our families and our nation, yet it is often misinterpreted and remains largely obscure. Disease epidemics and conflict wiped out much of this heritage and cultural bias, apathy and assimilation threaten to eliminate what has managed to survive. As a result, the general public has little awareness of the native culture.
In fact, our awareness if often limited to names that many of our towns, landmarks and even some of our consumer products still bear, but whose meanings have long since been forgotten. Our history curricula places major emphasis on comparatively recent European colonization and expansion and largely ignores more than 16,000 years of native culture. We may encounter an occasional museum exhibit or attend a commercialized native powwow - that mostly exemplifies contemporary Western native culture, not Eastern Woodland - but such events have limited reach and continuity.
More exposure to native culture - with its emphasis on self-reliance, community, spirituality, and an enduring connection to the natural world - brings with it potential for positive change at a time when American society faces a wide range of challenges. It could help offset our growing sense of isolation (from nature and each other), shore up deteriorating values and principles, and address some of the health issues that are having a pronounced effect on our children.
" [Children's] physical contact and intimacy with the natural outdoors has diminished greatly", notes a 2008 National Park Service report.
"Their inability to connect with nature is now recognized as a national issue of concern. There is speculation that the loss of a child/nature connection threatens their independent judgement, their value of place, their ability to feel awe and wonder, their sense of stewardship for the earth and their psychological and physical health."