Brian Witte, Associated Press
From right, Chief Billy Tayac, of the Pascataway Indian Nation, stands with Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, Mervin Savoy, tribal chair of the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Sub-tribes and Natalie Proctor, tribal chair of the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians, on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012, in Annapolis, Md., as O’Malley formally recognized American Indian groups indigenous to Maryland for the first time by signing an executive order.

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — For the first time in Maryland's history, two American Indian groups indigenous to the state were formally recognized in executive orders by Gov. Martin O'Malley on Monday.

O'Malley, a Democrat, signed the executive orders during a crowded ceremony under the Maryland State House rotunda to officially recognize the Piscataway Conoy Tribe and the Piscataway Indian Nation in southern Maryland.

"Today is a day of recognition," O'Malley said. "It is a day of reconciliation, and it is a day of arrival — a day 380 years in the making, a day made possible only by the kindness, the forgiveness, the goodness of the Piscataway people of this beautiful place that we now call Maryland."

The Piscataway Conoy Tribe includes two entities, the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Sub-Tribes and the Cedarville Band of Piscataway Indians.

Tribal officials thanked the governor. Mervin Savoy, tribal chair of the Piscataway Conoy Confederacy and Sub-tribes, recalled her mother and father and others who had worked for official state recognition.

"So sorry they weren't here to see this, but they are dancing in heaven," Savoy said, noting the importance of creating a sense of identity to motivate the young.

The ceremony follows a process established by the General Assembly to formally recognize American Indian tribes, bands or clans.

According to the census, Maryland has 23,162 Native Americans living in the state, and 58,000 people who identify themselves as having American Indian heritage. State law requires that petitioners document that the group has been identified as part of a continuous Native American community from before 1790 until the present and is indigenous to Maryland.

More than $17 million in potential funding may now become available to the state and the Piscataway in education, minority business contracting, housing and public health, according to the O'Malley administration. Recognition also means the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs will be able to assist in getting federal funding for the re-establishment of the Title VII Indian Education program in southern Maryland.

Before recognition, the Maryland Historical Trust had to consult with out-of-state tribes on the reburial of Maryland Native American Indian remains. Now, the state can consult with Maryland indigenous Piscataway Tribes.