November is Native American History Month, and a good time for non-Natives in Brooklyn to acknowledge the Lenape peoples who lived here before us.
Land Acknowledgements are given to recognize the indigenous peoples who originally occupied “our” land but who were then displaced. Land Acknowledgements are often offered in places as statements of honor and respect for the places’ original inhabitants.
Land Acknowledgements can raise awareness about histories that are often suppressed or forgotten. The acknowledgement process involves asking: “Who lived here before us?” “What happened to them?” “Who should be accountable for their displacement?” “What can be done to repair the harm done to them?”
The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (not a real government agency but a “people-powered department”) offers a resource called Honor Native Land: A Guide and Call to Acknowledgement.
Here are their answers to the question: “Why practice Land Acknowledgement?”:
• Offer recognition and respect
• Share the true story of the people who were already here
• Create a broader public awareness of history
• Begin to repair relationships with Native communities
• Support larger truth-telling and reconciliation efforts
• Remind people that colonization is an ongoing process
• Opening up space with reverence and respect
• Inspire ongoing action and relationships
And here is their step-by-step guide to acknowledgment:
1. Identify: “The first step is identifying the traditional inhabitants of the lands you’re on. . . it is important to proceed with care, doing good research before making statements of acknowledgement.”
2. Articulate: “Once you’ve identified the group(s) who should be recognized, formulate the statement.. . . Beginning with just a simple sentence would be a meaningful intervention in most spaces.”
3. Deliver. “Offer your acknowledgement as the first element of a welcome to the next public gathering or event that you host . . . Consider your own place in the story of colonization and of undoing its legacy.”
In Brooklyn, and at City Tech, we currently occupy land that was known originally as the “Lenapehoking” or the Land of the Lenape. Lenapehoking included present day New Jersey, New York, and Delaware. At the time of European settlement, in the New York City and Brooklyn area alone, there were about 15,000 Lenape living in 80 settlements.
The destruction and displacement of the Lenape people began with European contact. Giovanni da Verrazzano sailed into New York harbor and traded with the Lenape in 1524. Verrazzano was followed by the Dutch in 1598. With every new contact between the Lenape and Europeans, more Lenape died due to disease and war.
By 1623, according to some accounts, there were only 200-300 Lenape left. European settlers pushed the remaining Lenape out of the East Coast and pressed them to move west. Today, after numerous wars, treaties, and forced displacement, most Lenape live in Oklahoma and Canada, with only a small number remaining in New York.
More on local Lenape history and culture forthcoming in Part 2!