By Barbara Kay
With November being Native American Heritage Month, SUNY Purchase welcomed an Indigenous guest speaker and displayed a tribute to the property’s Indigenous tribe outside of the library to continue the conversation of acknowledging the property’s history.
Evan Pritchard, a professor of Native American history and founder of The Center for Algonquin Culture, spoke at Purchase on Nov. 10 to “decolonize” the Purchase property, and the Westchester area.
He began the lecture by “smudging” the room, which is a Native ritual that intends to enlighten the space one is in.
“If you really want to decolonize [Purchase], tear down the buildings and build wigwams,” he joked.
Pritchard displayed several handmade maps depicting the Westchester area with the Wappinger’s original, Indigenous names for rivers, and other areas.
From his research, he concluded that the Mamaroneck River was originally called the Pacheteswake River, and the Hutchinson River was the Aquenouck River.
Pritchard feels that subtitles with the original names on signs directing towards the rivers would be a “progressive” action to take to acknowledge the livelihoods of the Wappingers before the massacres, and relocation.
“Many Wappingers were recruited illegally [in King William’s War] it is said two-thirds of their people perished,” he said. “A lot of people will tell you all the land was stolen by white people, and you should be careful when someone starts out a sentence that way. I’ve seen many of these treaties, and it’s not necessarily a question of if it was stolen… but whether [colonists] actually paid the natives."
The descendants of the Wapping people who have not left the Westchester area are not federally recognized and don’t have reservations. Those who left have joined other tribes in Connecticut just north of Purchase and in New Jersey and Wisconsin.
A member of the audience suggested changing the name of Westchester County to Wappingers County. Pritchard asked if they would “be willing to take that initiative,” the audience member replied, “why not?”
Other audience members suggested having a permanent exhibit placed in the Neuberger Museum. Tracy Fitzpatrick, the director of the Neuberger and associate professor of art history, says that communication between executives is underway.
“The Neuberger will be meeting with the executive committee of the Political Science Club and their faculty sponsor next week to talk about a fall project for the museum's Open Classroom that will look at the history of the land,” she stated. “Then, later that week, I'll be discussing with the Campus Committee for Public Art, which I chair, ways in which we might be able to mark the history of the land through a public art project.”
Some faculty members at Purchase have already taken the initiative in remembering the Wappinger people.
Pritchard assisted with "The Native Voice," a project led by Mara Horowitz, visiting professor of liberal studies. Pritchard supplied the 2019 archeology project with an Indigenous dictionary to translate English words to the Mohican dialect the Wappingers spoke.
“‘The Native Voice ' is a public installation at Purchase College consisting of signs presenting words in Wappinger Algonquian and translations in English,” states the "The Native Voice" link on the Purchase website. “The goal of this project is to introduce the campus community to the native language of Purchase and to raise awareness of native heritage and endangered languages worldwide.”
The project was associated with the “International Year Of” association, a “cooperation mechanism dedicated to raising awareness of a particular topic or theme of global interest or concern, and mobilizing different players for coordinated action around the world,” their website states.
2019 was the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Horowitz said that she was looking for ways to “acknowledge” languages and histories that society is naturally, and forcefully forgetting. She also feels that the school could do more to better their recognition of Black, Indigenous, and people of color history.
“I look for ways for languages, and cultures can be acknowledged,” Horowitz said. “I would love to see the school have a relationship [with Indigenous people]. We could set up a Native American college fund… We could even be hosts for a summer powwow!”
Laura Chmielewski, the chair of the history department said, “The History Program will indeed continue to offer a full array of courses including Ancient ones. Our Ancient offerings might be a bit different but certainly not diminished in number or richness of content!”
“The school really needs these classes because they’re pre-colonial,” Horowitz said.
At her inauguration, President Dr. Milly Peña stated, "Before I share my reflections on the day and my vision for our shared future, I’d like to acknowledge our responsibility to the original caretakers of this land, water, and air: the Siwanoy of the Wappinger federation.
She continued, “We are grateful for the opportunity to live and work on these homelands. We offer our respect to the Indigenous caretakers, and honor their history and deep connection to these lands.”