It’s impossible to truly know the history of New York City without understanding the experience of the Native Americans who first inhabited the five boroughs long before Dutch settlers arrived. In November, we celebrate Native American Heritage Month as both a way to learn about the culture and contributions of indigenous people and to reacquaint ourselves with the often distorted history surrounding Thanksgiving. From live performances from Ojibwe artist Kelsey Pyro to enjoying a Lenape Harvest in the city’s largest concentration of forest, these events, festivals, and exhibits help New Yorkers understand just how significantly Native Americans shaped our city.
To celebrate Native American Heritage Month, New Yorkers can take a free paddling tour of the Bronx River this weekend while learning about the experiences of 16th-century indigenous communities. Hosted by the Bronx River Alliance and Moskehtu Consulting, the event takes visitors on a 30-minute canoe paddle through the Mitshubishi River Walk in the Bronx Zoo and explores the life and culture of Native Americans with a living village.
“Manhattan Island in the Sixteenth Century,” from the Memorial History of New York, 1892, via NYPL
This weekend, Lenape people hosted a Pow Wow on Park Avenue. The event, held at the Park Avenue Armory, was the first Lenape Pow Wow in New York since the 1700s. The gathering represented a homecoming for the Lenape people, who are the original inhabitants of the places we call New Jersey, Delaware, southern New York, eastern Pennsylvania, and western Connecticut. Brent Stonefish, a Lenape man who lives in Ontario told WNYC, “It’s home, and today it felt like we were welcomed home.”
Currently, most Lenape belong to the Delaware Nation and live in New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Ontario, but the word Lenape means “Original People,” and the Lenape are the Original New Yorkers. In fact, the name Manhattan comes from the Lenape “Manahatta,” meaning “hilly island.” Although the Lenape stove to “walk so gently on the earth,” without leaving an impact on the land, they influenced the city’s physical geography in ways we can see and feel today. From the Bowling Green to Broadway, Cherry Street to Minetta Lane, here are 10 sites in Manhattan that reflect the legacy of the Lenape.
John, a third generation Mohawk ironworker who helped raise One World Trade, photographed by Melissa Cacciola, via Melisssa Cacciola
“Skywalkers: a Portrait of Mohawk Ironworkers at the World Trade Center,” opens today at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The exhibit features photographer Melissa Cacciola’s tintype portraits of Kahnawake Mohawk ironworkers who volunteered in rescue efforts after 9/11 and helped raise One World Trade Center, Towers 2, 3, and 4, and the Calatrava Transportation Hub.
While we take for granted the paths and roads we use on a daily basis, it’s interesting to find out how they came to be. It’s not a new concept that paths worn by the comings and goings of early dwellers and subsequent settlers in a particular area became roads, streets and thoroughfares, often with names that reflect their beginnings. Brooklyn Heights Blog (via Viewing NYC) shares some insight into Brooklyn’s familiar roads that began as Native American trails on a 1946 map titled “Indian Villages, Paths, Ponds and Places in Kings County.”
Roger Horne, a Mohawk Ironworker in the Raising Gang, ca. 1970 via the Smithsonian
The Empire State Building. The George Washington Bridge. The United Nations. The Woolworth Building. 30 Rock. The Seagram Building. Lincoln Center. The Waldorf Astoria. Virtually all of New York’s most iconic structures were raised in part by Mohawk Native American ironworkers. Since 1916, when Mohawk men made their way to New York to work on the Hell Gate Bridge, ironworkers from two Native communities, Akwesasne (which straddles Ontario, Quebec, and New York State) and Kahnawake (near Montreal), have been “walking iron” across the city.