Piscataway Conoy Tribe wants to rename Indian Head Highway

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been changed to reflect the correct location of the town of Indian Head. 

Members of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe want the name of Indian Head Highway and the town of Indian Head in Charles County, Maryland, renamed because they say the names are derogatory to Native Americans.

Jesse James Swann, chief of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, wrote a letter on Monday to Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, county and state lawmakers and commissioners in Charles County requesting the change. Swann said the tribe wants the name to be changed to Piscataway Highway or Pascattoway Highway to honor Maryland’s two state-recognized tribes.

“This is our ancestral land and this highway was a major thoroughfare used by Piscataway and the surrounding tribes that were under our empire,” Swann wrote. “We are the original inhabitants of this land — we were very accepting and very giving to those who formed what is now present day Maryland.”

This is not the only effort to rename Indian Head Highway, also known as Maryland Route 210, which runs about 20 miles from the town of Indian Head north to the D.C. boundary in Forest Heights.

Last year, state senators in Maryland introduced legislation to rename the highway after former President Barack Obama.

Proposals to change the name because some consider it offense to Native Americans go as far back as 2003.

In this latest effort, the Piscataway Conoy Tribe has gathered more than 3,700 signatures on a Change.org petition and said it expects several hundred more signatures to come.

“As of today, we have no reservation for our people, no homebase, etc.,” Swann wrote in his letter. “As you know, our people didn’t write history books, our history is carried through the generations by the stories we carry.  This story is not one of honor — we should not honor this name of Indian Head. We should however include the Native Americans into this conversation as it is derogatory to us.”

Swann added that while he appreciates the bill to honor Obama, “as many of our people voted for him, we don’t think this name should be changed to honor him. This is our homeland and we believe he would agree with us.”

Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

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