On Saturday, Sep. 8, Historic St. Mary’s City (HSMC) hosted its annual Woodland Indian Discovery Day. The day included activities such as a native plant walk and a Tayan Territory Dancers performance, and demonstrations of archery, canoe burning, clay pottery, a clothing try-on, fire starting, hide tanning, stone and bone tool use, and Indian foodways.
Bill Schindler, the site supervisor for the Woodland Indians Hamlet, noted that the event is meant for “slowly redeveloping native skills.” He also added that the focus of this year’s event was on the different Native American buildings. The hamlet was filled with different reconstructed house structures used by the Indians and early English settlers. “We’re looking at the tools the Indians used to survive, as well as what the English used to survive,” he said. Several of the buildings included wichotts, or longhouses, and wigwams.
Nick Grenier, who works for Ancestral Knowledge, a non-profit program based out of Alexandria, VA, was contacted by HSMC to be a part of the day doing “fire by friction” demonstrations. Grenier normally teaches home schooled children basic wilderness survival and naturalist skills. He noted the importance of learning about and practicing native techniques of living. “If you study anything like economics or the humanities, people will often start their thinking by considering the primitive human lifestyle,” he said. “By practicing primitive skills, you can experience what that was like. There’s a lot to be learned about the human condition.”
One young attendant to the day’s activities and resident of Lexington Park, Dallas Croce, had a blast learning during the day. “I like to learn about how Indians lived.” While enjoying everything he saw and participated in, Croce also picked up knowledge about the lifestyle of local Indians. “The kids’ job was to scare off birds in the garden while the men are usually making canoes. The girls did the cooking.”
A key attraction at the event for many was the archery activity. Four lines were set up so instructors could teach people how to shoot instinctively. Children lined up to take their best shot at a fake turkey, deer, or tennis ball.
Jim Mezick, volunteer at the event and owner of all the archery equipment, said that to shoot instinctively you must “focus on your target; you don’t have to judge the distance. Your mind learns where to move your arm. It becomes second nature. Once you learn the technique, it becomes so easy.”
Caroline King, a resident of Lexington Park, was also in attendance for the activities. King noted that she and her family were “looking forward to learning about the Indian way of life.” Her three-year-old son was very interested in learning about the animal hides on display. “He really likes hands-on things and we like coming for the experience.”
According to Schindler, the total number of visitors at the event was 332 people. He also noted that popular attractions for the event were necklace and rattle making, archery, and the Tayac dancers.