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Five Years Down a New Path

In 2009, the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson entering into what would ultimately become New York harbor, there was considerable hoopla surrounding “all things Dutch.” The leadership of the Collegiate Church, with Dutch antecedents, felt this was insufficient—bordering on unjust—as there was no comparable recognition of those who were already here when Hudson sailed up the harbor—the Lenape people.

In response,  the Collegiate Church, in an unprecedented move, acknowledged their complicity in imposing an alien social, legal and economic structure on the Lenape people, by writing a statement seeking forgiveness into their official minutes. The leadership of the church then reached out to the Lenape people to hold a day of atonement in lower Manhattan which was attended by hundreds and which marked the beginning of a new era in the relationship between these two communities.  

Committing to a sustained relationship, the Collegiate Church joined with members of the Lenape community to forge a new way of working together to lift the profile of Native American voices in New York City. Both Collegiate and the Lenape were intentional about structuring a relationship that would not last for a day, but would reach far into the future—extending even for seven generations.

Compared to the 400 years during which we traveled separate paths, we know that this new way of working is but a young sapling in the forest of challenges faced by communities who have historically been apart. Yet, each journey begins with a single step and, with profound gratitude, I report that these past five years have demonstrated a steadfast commitment to walking together, where we have borne one another’s sufferings and celebrated each other’s joys. How? By working together: to support efforts to develop culturally sensitive materials in our schools; to fund social service organizations organized by and for Native Americans; to keep the Lenape language alive; to build a bricks-and-mortar Lenape Culture Center here on Manhattan island; to promote cultural and artistic programs created by American Indians.

The Concert Opera Purchase of Manhattan is the latest and most ambitious of these projects. It takes the myth of the “purchase for $24 worth of beads and trinkets” from a Native American perspective. Presenting the opera at Marble Collegiate Church—the very heart of power in colonial efforts to control the environment and its indigenous inhabitants—sends a powerful message.  This “intersection” is an important step in healing.

Throughout the past five years, the Collegiate Church has been privileged to experience the graciousness and generosity of our Native American brothers and sisters. The Lenape and their kin have been witness to the enduring commitment made five years ago as the Collegiate Church, open to exposing this old wound, has been dedicated in concrete ways to a new spirit of cooperation founded on mutual respect and affection.

This intersection—while only fragile right now—is positioned to grow and emerge ever stronger in the months and years to come. As new projects like Purchase of Manhattan emerge from this partnership, the world will have new models for cooperation in a world that too often seeks to divide.

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