Maryland lawmakers consider name change for Indian Head Highway

Md. Route 210 is known as a lot of things: a crucial highway from the Beltway into southern Maryland, an unsafe road where dozens of people have been killed and, formally, as Indian Head Highway.

While changing the first will never happen, changing the second is a work in progress — and changing the third could happen even faster.

A bill that would rename Indian Head Highway to Piscataway Highway is making its way through Maryland’s General Assembly. During a committee hearing held Friday, there was virtually no pushback presented against the idea.

“It removes a discriminatory name of Indian Head Highway from Route 210,” said Del. Jay Walker, who sponsors the bill. The highway runs through the portion of Prince George’s County that he represents.

Walker said renaming the highway would “honor and remember” the ancestral lands of the Piscataway Tribe.

“I thought it was a good idea to take a negative connotation word and make it a positive connotation word,” said Walker.

House Majority Whip Tallmadge Branch of Baltimore City, who claims Native American ancestry, said the idea has the backing of all eight recognized tribes in Maryland.

“All of them agree this is something that should be done,” said Branch.

Native groups have spent years pushing for a name change and trying to bolster public support, as well as the backing of county leaders.

“This name is derogatory to not only the Piscataway people, but all Native Americans in general,” wrote Chief Jesse Swann of the Piscataway Conoy Tribe earlier this week.

In a statement given to local lawmakers, Swann said, “this is our ancestral land and this highway was a major thoroughfare used by Piscataway and the surrounding tribes that were under our empire.”

Excerpts from Swann’s letter were read into the record by Del. Branch.

“As you know, our people didn’t write history books, our history is carried through the generations by the stories we carry,” said Swann.

“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. Please honor our wishes and start righting some of these wrongs against our people.”

In his testimony at Friday’s House Environment and Transportation Committee hearing, Walker said renaming the road as Piscataway Highway is backed by leaders in both Prince George’s and Charles counties, where the road runs through.

“I think this is a great idea, I have no problem with it,” remarked Del. Jerry Clark, whose district is comprises parts of St. Mary’s and Calvert counties. Other Democrats on the committee were also supportive of the idea.

This is not the first attempt at renaming the road.

In early 2021, Walker had pushed to rename Route 210 as Thurgood Marshall Highway. Also, in the state Senate last year, Charles County Sen. Arthur Ellis proposed renaming the road after former president Barack Obama.

Walker said his daughter pointed out the “negative connotation” of the name Indian Head when she was 13 years old: “Wow,” said Walker. “She’s now 24.”

“What are we seeing when you come from Virginia into Maryland going by National Harbor?” Walker said. “The very first sign you see says ‘Indian Head.’ We need to change that.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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