You know that story about how Indians traded Manhattan to the Dutch for a bunch of beads worth not much? The Mythographer has that one on long-term surveillance. This past weekend Inwood Hill Park–legendary site of the unfair trade–hosted “Drums Along the Hudson”, apparently the largest Native American pow wow in New York City. The story about the Dutch was repeated by the Parks Department representative in his opening remarks, and visiting Native parents read the stone’s inscription to their kids. Nobody seemed bothered by it.
The powwow celebrated various Native traditions, many from Western Plains tribes, not the Lenape people who made Inwood their settlement in 1609 when the Dutch bought the island.
Elsewhere this week, in honor of the 400th anniversary of the Dutch “discovery” of Manhattan, a lush coffee-table book called Mannahatta: A Natural History of Manhattan is being released, with a corresponding website with the Wildlife Conservation Society where you can see maps of every square inch of Manhattan in its 1609 state. Speaking on WNYC yesterday, the author, Eric Sanderson, singled out Inwood Hill Park as the site of the largest human settlement on 1609 Mannahatta. He mentioned that the landscapes we now consider to be wild, like the giant field the powwow dancers took over last weekend, are actually the result of sustained human intervention: the Lenape would burn the field every ten years or so in order to crow more corn, beans, and squash. It was an eloquent reminder that sometimes the line between human and nature is finer than we think.
Sanderson didn’t specifically address the Dutch-Indian trade legend; he was hearkening back further for his Manhattan origin stories. And like many who explore origins, Sanderson is doing so to inspire a new vision of the future. He’s about to sponsor a competition called “2409” in which architects compete to design an ecologically sustainable Manhattan that will last 400 years from now. Wish them luck.