Dozen of members of Maryland Indian tribes, some in native dress, stood behind Gov. Martin O?Malley on Tuesday as he signed into law a bill designating the Friday after Thanksgiving as American Indian Heritage Day, a newstate holiday.

The holiday won?t cost the state a thing, said Mervin Savoy, chairwoman of the Piscataway-Conoy tribe in southern Maryland.

That Friday is already a holiday for state employees, but it now gets a new name.

"We were written out of Maryland?s history," Savoy said. Many people think the natives have completely left the state, she said, but there are about 121,000 American Indians living here, though many have come from out of state.

"More native people live off the reservation than on one" throughout the country, Savoy said, but there are no federally designated tribes in Maryland. "Since we were here all the time, we should have a day," she added.

The new holiday "helps tell the world that we?re still here," said David "Longeye" Holland, treasurer of the Accohannock tribe in Somerset County.

His sister, Mary Hope Billings, said the bill "will help people realize how many of us there are. The history has not been told."

The surviving Indians kept their identity private, Holland said, because if they hadn?t, they would have faced the same discrimination and segregated schools as black people. "The clan mothers kept things together," he said.

"This governor has come in and revived the Commission on Indian Affairs," Holland added.

Keith Colston, executive director of the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs and a member of the Tuscarora-Lumbee tribe of North Carolina, said the commission focuses on repatriation, education and recognition for the native tribes of Maryland. He said he hoped the new holiday, along with American Indian Heritage Month in November, would make people "more aware of what we are and what we do."