Why We Need to Talk About the Lenape People and New Amsterdam

Last Updated: June 17, 2024By

Why We Need to Talk About the Lenape People and New Amsterdam


Have you ever wondered about the real story behind New York City? Well, it’s not all about Dutch settlers and beaver pelts. The Lenape people, who lived there long before the Dutch arrived, are asking for an apology and reparations for what happened to them when New Amsterdam was settled. Let’s dive into their story and see why this matters today.

The Lenape’s Call for Justice

Four hundred years ago, the Dutch set up a colony where the Hudson River meets the sea. This place is now bustling New York City. But, for the Lenape people, it’s a place filled with memories of war, slavery, and loss. Descendants of the Lenape are now asking for a more complete story to be told, one that includes their struggles and their resilience.

Brent Stonefish, a representative from the Delaware Nation in Ontario, Canada, voiced the Lenape’s desire for recognition. At the opening of an exhibition in Amsterdam, he shared a heartfelt plea for an apology and reparations from the Dutch government. He said, “We’ve lost a lot. We’ve lost culture, language, and our connection to our homeland. We were massacred all the way up to Ontario.”


A Glimpse into the Past

This exhibition, which is the first of its kind in Amsterdam, showcases the history of North America’s colonization from the Lenape’s perspective. It runs from May 16 to November 10 and includes both historic and contemporary art, artifacts, and videos of Lenape people sharing their stories. One shocking piece of evidence is a contract that allowed a public display of an enslaved Lenape man, even though slavery was illegal in the Netherlands.

The show also questions the legitimacy of the so-called “treaty” where the Dutch claimed to have bought Manhattan for 60 guilders. The Lenape, who saw nature as something that couldn’t be owned, never agreed to such a sale. The Dutch West India Company, attracted by the profitable beaver fur trade, set up their settlement in 1624, leading to wars and the eventual establishment of New Amsterdam.

Moving Toward Healing

Cory Ridgeway, from the Nanticoke Lenape Nation, shared a hopeful message despite the painful history. Her people, though now dispersed across ten communities and much fewer in number, find strength in sharing their culture and stories. The exhibition includes a wampum belt, a powerful symbol of future cooperation between the Lenape, the Amsterdam Museum, and the Museum of the City of New York.

Judikje Kiers, the managing director of the Amsterdam Museum, emphasized the importance of this exhibition. “We have reversed the perspective,” she said. “They are telling the story.”

By sharing these stories, the Lenape people hope to shine a light on their history and pave the way for a more just future.

Why It Matters

This isn’t just about the past. It’s about recognizing and addressing historical wrongs. When we acknowledge the full story, including the painful parts, we take a step towards healing and understanding. The Lenape people’s call for an apology and reparations is a plea for justice that resonates with many other indigenous communities worldwide.

So next time you think about New York, remember the Lenape. Their story is a crucial part of the city’s history, and their voices deserve to be heard.

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