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Healing Turtle Island

The Collegiate Church, established in New Amsterdam in 1628, held a healing ceremony with representatives of the Lenape Indians on Friday, November 27, 2009. The date marked the first observance of Native American Heritage Day, as signed into law by President Obama in June. “Turtle Island” is a common reference among Indian peoples for the land that European settlers called “the new world.”

As the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of Manhattan draws to a close, the healing event offered a substantial peg for a story on Collegiate   Church, the oldest surviving institution of New Amsterdam, and the Native Americans who met the Dutch settlers here.

The ceremony marked a reconciliation between Collegiate Church and the Lenape, the result of two years of work and trust-building by Intersections. The ceremony has spiritual elements, on the part of both Collegiate and the Lenape, but was not, strictly speaking, a religious event.

As the “company church” of the Dutch West Indies Company that made New Amsterdam a “company town,” Collegiate Church, speaking only for itself, acknowledged publicly the role it played in the cultural marginalization and physical dispersion of the Native Americans living here, slowly degrading them (in European eyes) from a people with their own culture and civilization to merely another resource.The event site was near where the first Collegiate Church was raised in Fort Amsterdam. Surrounding the site are reminders the most enduring contribution by the Dutch to American civic life, an economic system built on Calvinist enterprise and laissez-faire capitalism, exemplified by the Beaux-Arts Custom House itself, Steamship Row, the Standard Oil building and Wall Street. Native Americans were excluded from this feast, however, or were exploited by those who were admitted.

Just across State Street from the event site is a monument to possibly the greatest misunderstanding by the Dutch of Native Americans, Peter Minuit’s so-called “purchase” of Manhattan in 1626 for 60 guilders’ worth of dry goods. “Thus was laid the foundation of the City of New-York,” says the marker on the monument.

That is true, of course. But the Lenape did not have a concept of private ownership of land; likely, they believed that Minuit simply was thanking them for the aid they had given the Dutch settlers when they first started arriving here. However, the Dutch either did not know or did not care to know that fact and proceeded as though they had bought Manhattan outright. Four hundred years later, European arrival, settlement, and culture still dominate New York and America’s paradigm of history.

With no illusions about correcting past errors, Collegiate Church has determined to acknowledge its forebears’ short sightedness in the healing ceremony and move forward with new found care and respect for the Lenape and other Native Americans who respond to the church’s outreach. According to census figures, New York City has the largest number of self-identifying Native Americans living in an urban area, almost 90,000.

The ceremony included prayers from both parties, music, symbolic exchanges, a statement of healing, adopted by the 57 member Consistory of the Collegiate Church as an official resolution and a response by representatives of the Lenape people and their kin. The event concluded with a traditional fellowship meal and was open to the public. The story was told by the people whose story it is, representatives of Collegiate Church and the Lenape.



Press Release

Collegiate Church Statement

Lenape Response

Transcript of Event

Purchase of Manhattan Libretto
(Opera performed at Marble Collegiate Church on Nov. 20, 2014 )


Mr. Murray Sams, Jr. is an Army Veteran with six years of service. He joined in 1964 and was stationed in Munich, Germany where he was with the Fifth Battalion, 32nd Armory as a gunner and tank commander. But before his heroic service, the 74 year old was working as an orderly at Hillman Hospital in Alabama on a Sunday morning 55 years ago.


It was 10:22am September 15, 1963, when the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL was bombed. Many were hurt, but four little girls lost their lives while in Sunday School. Denise McNair was just 11 years old. Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley were 14 years old. That infamous church bombing was one of the most horrific of the Civil Rights Movement and Mr. Sams was there when the girls were brought into the hospital.


It was no surprise the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was targeted. It had been a central meeting place for the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. Following the terrorist attack, it continued as a historic strong hold in the fight for racial justice. Members of the KKK Cahaba Group were eventually convicted in the deadly bombing. Herman Cash was suspected, but died before being prosecuted. Robert Chambliss was convicted in November 1977, Thomas Blanton was convicted in 2000 and Bobby Cherry was ultimately convicted in May 2002.


Four little girls died that day 55 years ago, as did two other teenagers when fires and rioting broke out throughout the city of Birmingham. This violent church bombing was a costly, yet pivotal moment in the civil rights struggle.

Mr. Murray Sams, Jr. is an Army Veteran with six years of service. He joined in 1964 and was stationed in Munich, Germany where he was with...