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Native New Yorkers: The Legacy of the Algonquin People of New York

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To be stewards of the earth, not owners: this was the way of the Lenape. Considering themselves sacred land keepers, they walked gently; they preserved the world they inhabited. Drawing on a wide range of historical sources, interviews with living Algonquin elders, and first-hand explorations of the ancient trails, burial grounds, and sacred sites, Native New Yorkers offers a rare glimpse into the civilization that served as the blueprint for modern New York. A fascinating history, supplemented with maps, timelines, and a glossary of Algonquin words, this book is an important and timely celebration of a forgotten people.

ISBN-13: 9781571781352

Media Type: Paperback(Revised)

Publisher: Chicago Review Press Incorporated

Publication Date: 03-01-2007

Pages: 456

Product Dimensions: 5.75(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

Evan T. Pritchard is a descendant of the Micmac people (part of the Algonquin nations) is the founder of the Center for Algonquin Culture. He is currently professor of Native American history at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he also teaches ethics and philosophy. He is the author of Henry Hudson and the Algonquins of New York and No Word for Time: The Way of the Algonquin People, among others.

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The Naming of Things

Native New Yorkers is very much a book about the naming of things. By naming something, we take possession of it; by losing that name, we lose possession of it. New York State has been a battleground of words for centuries, as different peoples struggled to take control, to own, to erase, and to rename. I will be focusing on the original people, what they named things, and why, in order to give readers a glimpse of New York as it was when the land and the people were one.

Just about everyone knows what a "native New Yorker" is: someone who is born, raised, and lives in the unique and sometimes chaotic environment that is New York City. It's the accent, the clothes, the style, the survivor attitude. There's an intangible quality about a "native New Yorker," and you can spot it anywhere in the world he or she might happen to be. But these are not the people that this book is about. While the memory of most modern New Yorkers goes back at least to the blizzard of '78, the collective memory of the real "native New Yorkers" stretches back to the Ice Age. They are the Lenape, the "Real People" of New York City.

Who are the Lenape? Len means "common" or "real," and ape (a-pey) means "people." The word is used to mean "human," including both men and women. Therefore, the Lenape are the "Real People," although some interpret the word as "We the people." This could be to distinguish them from the "stone people," the "tree people," the "four-legged people," and other nonhuman "people" in the Native American tradition. The prefix Lenni- has often been placed in front, for "man," but this is passing out of favor. In this book, I will use the term "Lenape" to refer to all the direct descendants of the original people of New York and New Jersey. The Lenape are river people, and it should be at least mentioned that Len-nape can also mean "the people of that river there," although this is not the usual interpretation.

Regardless of what they called themselves, it remains clear, judging by several first-contact observations, that the Lenape had learned to cultivate the art of being human to its finest form. They knew how to live on the earth, and in brotherhood and sisterhood with each other.

The Art of Being Human

When challenged by adversity or placed under extreme restrictions, either by political pressure or social expectations, the great Lenape Chief Teedyuskung would loudly exclaim, "I am a MAN! Nee Lenni! I am a MAN!" I believe Chief Teedyuskung was standing up for his "humanity," and all that implies, fighting to get a moral foothold in his soul. Throughout their history, the Lenape have been trying to hold on to the sense of what it once was to be human. They have risen to the occasion with amazing moral courage. They have decided to be forgiving even when being eviscerated as a people.

Algonquin storyteller Ken Little Hawk of the Micmac shares a story that intimates how hard it is to be a "real human being" in this world, and how important it is to try. A young half-breed boy kept asking his full-blooded grandfather, "Teach me to be an Indian! Teach me to be an Indian!" After some weeks, Grandfather finally promised to teach him. He brought the boy to the edge of a beautiful lake. He gave the boy a big stick and said, "See this stick? I want you to take it over to the edge of that lake and stir up the water."

The boy did so. Then Grandfather instructed the lad to stir up the stones, sand, and even the plants that grew under the water with that stick. The boy, being a boy, was happy to do so, and soon the water was a cloudy mess of leaves and mud and sand whirling around. The boy stepped back to admire his work.

After the cloudy water began to clear, Grandfather said to the boy, "Now I want you to put everything back exactly as it was before." The boy sat down and cried, "I cannot do that! It can never be the same! I thought you were going to teach me to be an Indian!"

"Yes," Grandfather answered, "but before you learn what it is to be an Indian, first you must learn what it is to be a human being!" The boy was on his way to learning an important lesson: The power to change things that comes with being human must be used responsibly — you cannot simply put things back as they were.

Is New York's Past the Key to Its Future?

For a thousand years, the "Real People," the Lenape, lived in a beautiful gardenlike paradise surrounding what is now called New York Harbor. Like the Algonquin elder in Little Hawk's story, they were well aware of their destructive potential as human beings, and strove to interact gracefully with their environment and fellow humans without causing permanent damage whenever possible. In doing so, they developed the art of being "real people" to its highest form.

All the major races of the world have contributed greatly to the international culture that exists in New York State today. They each possess different parts of the truth, different types of wisdom. Why does it matter that a few of these groups happen to be native to this continent and native to this state?

Wherever you live, you owe it to yourself to know the history of the land you live in and who lived there before. How did it come into your possession? The spirit of the people before you is still there in some sense, so it is appropriate and necessary to do a spiritual and moral "title search" wherever you live. "Title" denotes the right of ownership in law, and "right" implies moral responsibility. When we acquire ownership from someone, don't we also inherit their duties? Native New Yorkers is part of my own "title search" to help me understand the New York land I have lived on for over half my life, and the responsibility I have to take care of the land, as expressed by the Lenape land keepers four hundred years ago as they "transferred" title to the Dutch colonists, either knowingly or not.

There is a difference between being born in America and being Native American. The term Native American denotes a culture, not a state of circumstances. A Lenape or Cherokee born in Europe would still be Native American. Some people born on American soil are of this culture, but most are not, so the distinction must be made. Native American refers to a people whose civilization was born and raised in America, regardless of where they as individuals were born.

The true story of the contribution Native Americans have made to the culture of New York has yet to be told. These Native people, like those of the Hopi mesas, Rosebud, or Wind River, have a folk wisdom that now belongs to all the people. This wisdom includes how to live in harmony on and with the earth, and with each other. This is an important message that has yet to be transmitted successfully. In spite of five hundred years of confusion, it is still not too late for understanding and change.

The message of the New York "Indians," as Henry Hudson incorrectly called them, is not a surprise: "Honor the earth. We belong to our mother, and without her we are lost." This is a timely call to action because there is evidence that the biosphere may be disintegrating rapidly; ice caps are melting, water tables are down, temperatures are vacillating, storms are increasing, and species are becoming extinct. With the exception of Los Angeles, New York City generates more carbon monoxide than any other city in America. New Yorkers use a lot of clean water and generate more garbage and sewage than some entire countries. It is a place that is ecologically out of balance, where each person is totally dependent on distance sources for food and water.

Another important message of the New York Indians is this: "We are all medicine for each other. We need to treat each other with respect. We are all related." In No Word for Time: The Way of the Algonquin People, I listed seven principles of respect that I had observed among the Algonquin peoples, which include the Lenape. They are (1) respect for feelings and for suffering, (2) respect for individual space, (3) respect for limitations as well as strengths, (4) respect for boundaries and individual differences, (5) respect for truth, (6) respect for the earth and all paths, peoples, cultures, and customs growing here, and (7) respect for yourself. The Algonquin from New York City embraced this way of life, honoring the earth and each other.

One thing is clear: we need a better understanding of how people should live on the earth, and a belief system that gives us the strength to do it. This is one of the gifts of the Native American culture: they held this wisdom long ago, and have held onto it for millennia with amazing tenacity. To uphold this truth is something worth living or even dying for.

City of Amnesia

Perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, New York is a city of immigrants. It is a city of displaced people in a displaced world. Once, though, it was a circle or hoop, Woch-ah-ga-po-ay in Munsee (the root language of the Lenape), of many great nations. New York doesn't know its own past. Without a true sense of the past, it steams blindly toward the future without a rudder. It is a city with amnesia. Like a person so afflicted, it doesn't know that anything is missing. I love New York City dearly; it just feels hollow to me sometimes. I feel a huge emptiness, like there's no one really there. While I often get a strange sense of peace standing on a street corner at lunchtime in midtown, feeling totally alone with my thoughts, sometimes I also feel the city's pain — its lack of direction or roots. Then it seems that nothing really matters, since everyone else is lost in self-distraction or caught up in the fast pace and vast energy of city life.

Nowhere else is the displacement of a great people by another great people so complete or more devastatingly significant for the course of world history. Nowhere else is the contrast more dramatic between what was lost and what replaced it. The great nature-loving metropolis of the Lenape of New York City has, over the last five hundred years since Columbus sailed from Spain, been completely eradicated and replaced with another totally different culture, a culture in denial of the natural world. The long history, geography, wisdom teachings, ecology, and language of the previous culture were almost completely cast aside in a frenzied rush toward the future, their humble pathways (aneyk mettelen) buried deep beneath the dust of progress; their ochred bones crushed and crusted over with miles of concrete and asphalt.

But in a thousand subtle ways, the influence of the Lenape remains. Through five hundred years of extermination, of building, bulldozing, and dishonoring Mother Earth in every way imaginable, the spirit of the Lenape still abides in the land. It is very strong, and getting stronger. It touches the life of everyone who visits the land, and yet they are unaware of it. Once you see New York City through Algonquin eyes, though, you will never be the same. The legacy of the great Lenape city is everywhere — the triumph of their persistence, the tragedy of their loss.

What's in a Name?

The Munsee and Unami called it Lenape Hoking, "Dwelling-Place of the Lenape," or E-hen-da-wi-kih-tit, "Where the Ordinary People Dwell." The Mohawk called it Knonoge, or "Place of Reeds." The explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano called it Angouleme in honor of King Francis, Count of Angouleme. Later the Dutch called it New Netherlands, and parts of it New Amsterdam. Finally, in 1664, the British called it the colony of New York, and the rest is history. Or is it?

We can learn a lot by understanding the origins of placenames throughout the colony that has become New York State. Each placename in the world has an ethnic flavor due to its language. We don't taste that flavor if the language is our own. We don't notice the ethnic bias that builds up over the years, but the indigenous people do.

It's a global phenomenon. From school to school, the globes in New York City's classrooms all consistently present the same country, city, county, province, river, and mountain names, and the students believe these are not only the correct names, but are the only names that ever existed. As they grow up and travel around the world — or around New York — they talk to people of different ethnic groups and find out the truth. A large percentage of the world's placenames — as we in America are taught to say them — are not only imposed by conquerors, but are often distasteful to the conquered.

Nowhere more than in geography do the winners write history. We use awful names that glorify bloody conquests and blatant human rights violations, and we remain blissfully unaware. It is important to acknowledge this, even if we don't change the maps.

What we call New York is a land that people have visited on business for some twelve thousand years, and have called home uninterruptedly for about seven thousand. It is not new, nor does it resemble York, England, in any way. This name implies that the land was "discovered" by the people of England, which we know wasn't true. And to name it "new" repeats the sin of "Columbus Day"; it subtly implies that no one was here, so it was "all right" to move in and take over and build a reproduction of England on this vacant lot. This is sheer Albionic fantasy, and names like New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Brunswick, and New England, not to mention New Bedford, New Salem, Newark (after Newark, England) all validate this fantasy.

What Is Old York?

York is a very old town in England that dates back to prehistoric times. The name was changed from Eburacum to York even before the Romans packed up their gear and went home. York is short for eoforwyc-ceastre, the place of the wild boar. Eburacum, which is what the Romans called it, means the same thing in Latin. In ancient European mythology, the wild boar is the creature that wounds or slays the son of the cosmos, the savior, the sun god.

According to Joseph Campbell, Tammuz, Adonis, and Attis were all gods or demigods slain by the wild boar; Odysseus, Wotan (Wodin), and others were crippled. A stone sculpture of a wild boar made in Roman times and unearthed near London also attests to the importance of the boar in Roman mythology. York, England, was and shall always be thought of as the place of the wild boar. The boar is the hero's downfall. The pig, whose skin is most similar to that of humans, has had associations with fertility and sexuality throughout the history of the Western world, and the sharp-tusked boar is a symbol of the Goddess's power to avenge the mistreatment of women, as well as of the animal kingdom and Mother Earth herself. The woman-boar, as in the Arthurian story of Ragnell, who sat at the crossroads, was a symbol of love and death in ancient times, the destructive/seductive power of life and procreation. That's New York in a nutshell, the place at the crossroads where the strongest and most heroic are tempted and destroyed by the seductive attractions of earthly life. Some Lenape sachems — sages and leaders — were among those fallen heroes, seduced by rum, money, and trinkets. New York is therefore the "new place of the wild boar," a place of mythic importance for our times. But why name it after York, England, when it had such a history of its own?

The Dutch towns of New Amsterdam and Fort Orange were renamed "New York" and "Albany" respectively by the English in honor of a certain Duke of York, who was also Duke of Albany. He later became King James II.

Other colonists in Lenape Hoking created New Sweden, New Amsterdam, New Holland, New Haven, and New Utrecht, but the English have branded us all "New Yorkers" even though England had control of the area for only 119 of its twelve thousand years of human habitation.

This choice to retain the name New York in 1781 eliminated seven thousand years of Algonquin/Iroquois history. The names of the counties of Essex, Sussex, Kings, Orange, Queens, Richmond, and Westchester all come from England, but all of this land is still part of Turtle Island, where the spirits of the Native American Land Keepers still keep silent watch over the terrain.

Some geographers try to downplay the importance of placenames, because it's a lot of work to change a map or learn a word in a different language. They call the study of the etymology of placenames "toponymics," but fail to see the potentially enlightening lesson in social studies. Whether you call it toponymics, or cultural genocide, erasing the original name of a nation sweeps generations of human occupation, oppression, and removal under the rug of semantics. It removes the fingerprints from the body of everyday history. It is a way of insuring that children don't ask the wrong questions, the ones that are hard to answer. Where there are no bones, there is no murder. There are only "missing persons."


Excerpted from "Native New Yorkers"
by .
Copyright © 2007 Evan T. Pritchard.
Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


Table of Contents

1. The Naming of Things,
2. How Green Was Manhattan,
3. A Paradise for the Living,
4. A Walk around Old Manhattan,
5. Exploring the Ancient City: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island,
6. Verrazzano and His Legacy,
7. We Belong to the Earth,
8. The Two-colored Snake: A History of the Dutch Occupation of New York,
9. The World of the Lenape,
10. Sweet and Full of Meaning: the Languages of Manhattan,
11. Counties,
12. The Head of the Wolf: Orange and Ulster Counties,
13. A Walk Down the Minisink Trail,
14. Native New Yorkers of Stony Country: Rockland County,
15. Native New Yorkers of the North — the Mohican: Dutchess, Columbia, Rensselaer, Washington, Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany, and Greene Counties,
16. The Mysteries of Long Island,
17. The Thirteen Tribes of Long Island,
18. Lenape Exodus,
Appendix I,
Munsee Vocabulary,
Appendix II,
The Verrazzano Diary Letter to Francis I of France,
Munsee Letter to President Zachary Taylor,
The Nimham Lineage,
Appendix III,
Time Line of Lenape History,