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A Walk Through East Baltimore’s American Indian ‘Reservation’

Alum Creates Tour of Her Peoples’ History—and Continued Presence—in East Baltimore

By Shannon Clark M.Jour. ’22

Crowd outside church

One stop on a new tour of Indigenous Baltimore by alum Ashley Minner Ph.D. '20 (below) is the the East Baltimore Church of God, founded decades ago by members of Baltimore's Lumbee community. Many Lumbee tribal members remain in the city, including local elders who gathered on East Baltimore Street (at bottom) in 2012.

Church photo courtesy Rev. Robert E. Dodson Jr., colorization by Katie Lively; Ashley Minner portrait courtesy of Jill Fannon; Lumbee elders photo courtesy of Sue Hunt Vasquez

A side of Indigenous Baltimore hidden in plain sight for years will become more visible today, thanks to a University of Maryland graduate’s work that traces the path of important aspects of her own cultural heritage and that of thousands of other area residents.

Ashley Minner portrait

Artist and folklorist Ashley Minner Ph.D. ’20, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, has created a walking tour of “The Reservation,” the affectionate nickname of an area of East Baltimore roughly centered around the intersection of South Broadway and East Baltimore streets.

The area was once rich with American Indian businesses owing to thousands of members of various tribes—including many Lumbee—who migrated to the city after World War II for economic opportunity or to escape Jim Crow segregation in the South.

Determined to uplift what’s becoming a forgotten part of Baltimore history, Minner developed the illustrated guide, website and mobile app in partnership with other artists, designers, scholars and culture bearers—to transport users back in time with pictures and text, and to realize that American Indian people are still present. The Guide to Indigenous Baltimore mobile app was developed in partnership with Elizabeth Rule of the Chickasaw Nation, who also developed the Guide to Indigenous DC. These apps are the first two of her greater Guide to Indigenous Lands project.

American Indian elders

“In many cases, you can only imagine what was there because it’s not there now,” said Minner. “After you start hearing the stories [from American Indian elders], you start looking for traces of what was in the building. As you start to walk, you get an appreciation for how much was actually there.”

Minner’s tour is also available via baltimorereservation.com, and starts at the South Broadway Baptist Church, which was founded by Lumbee tribal members who needed a safe space to worship together. The church remains, while other stops, like the Hokahey Indian Trading Post, Hartmann’s BBQ Shop and the Volcano Bar and Restaurant, have been gone for decades.

Part of Minner’s mission is scholarly, and part is personal. Growing up in Dundalk, Md., separated geographically from fellow Lumbee in her youth, she sometimes felt the pressure of being perceived as “less Indian” by her peers. At a school where “no one looked like me,” she struggled to find her own identity between two separate communities.

“Nobody expects to meet an Indian in Baltimore,” said Minner. “Growing up, you might have one or two in your whole school, and you have to make an effort to be involved in your community. You’re just always trying to make space for yourself.”

The Lumbee Tribe as a whole has faced struggles for recognition. Although they have enjoyed partial federal recognition since 1956, the passage this year of the Lumbee Recognition Act in the U.S. House of Representatives (it’s currently progressing through the Senate with sponsorship from both of North Carolina’s Republican senators) points to the potential full federal recognition of the tribe of 55,000 enrolled members, a designation the Lumbee have sought since 1888. That would afford them a range of services and benefits available to other federally recognized American Indian tribes, and greater sovereignty as a nation.

As a young person, Minner was constantly encouraged to learn more about her culture by her aunt. For nearly twenty years now, she has worked as a professional artist, often using her art as an expression of her heritage.

“I did the ‘Exquisite Lumbees’ project in collaboration with 29 other people from my generation,” said Minner. “That [project] was just about reminding ourselves that we are beautiful and powerful and part of something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes where we live tries to make us forget that.”

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