Does Indigenous History Matter?

There is one thing all Indigenous people have in common. They have all been uprooted, forced to migrate and corned into a life of colonization and genocide often through war, exclusion, and inability to defend oneself physically (not have adamant access to firearms/ammunition in comparison to European forces) or genetically (having a low immune system to defend from diseases). This is the story of the Delaware Lenape people. In the early 1600s, European explorers discovered the cultivated land mass that was Lenape territory. The Dutch began colonizing the land north of the Delaware Lenape territory for commercial land use. Quickly following, the Swedes and Finns claimed this land as “New Sweden” (Norwood) and a war emerged between the Lenape and the Dutch over frustrations of invasion, ultimately asking, “Who owns this land?” Is it the Indigenous population who has cultivated the land and lived within the colony for 10,000 years? Or is it the European settlers who recently arrived with “new world” skill sets and this new goal to put a price tag on a piece of land?

Historically, the colonizers won this battle of displacement. The European explores made a new home on Lenni-Lenape land, and the Lenni-Lenape tribe migrated to a safer location. The Lenni-Lenape population drastically declined due to European diseases their immune systems couldn’t fight (Norwood). The migration was a decision of fight or flight; restart your life in a foreign place or risk the chances of physical harm on your homeland? A struggle that sounds familiar to today’s current immigration wars, right? Except this Indigenous immigration took place in our American homeland, not across a border or in a different country. It took place right here in New York City.

While this story of forced colonization and genocide of Indigenous people may be something we have all heard before, the problem is that in various literature and Higher Education institutions, history begins after the attempted erasure of Indigenous people ended. In other words, the Indigenous People were erased from history.

This erasure of the Indigenous population is evident in my ecology of Columbia’s relationship with Indigenous people, more specifically the Lenape Plaque installed on Indigenous Peoples Day/Columbus Day October 10, 2016 (Woo). This endeavor to install a plaque was brought to light by the Native American Council at Columbia University ‘s petition in 2012 (Change.Org). Critics, like Columbia University College Republicans, argue that Manhattan’s worth is “not the original inhabitants who occupied or sold it,” (Airaksinen) but the colonizers who commercialized it to what we know to be present-day Manhattan. However, history should not be told in only the white European gaze nor should records of history begin with the arrival of the colonizer. Native stories and histories should not be erased from history.


This is the Native American Council at Columbia University’s booth on Indigenous Peoples’ Day (October 9, 2017).

It took Columbia University 262 years to install a singular signage stating that Lenape people (1) existed and (2) lived on the land the campus is located on. Two hundred and sixty-two years. During the beginning of this project, I viewed the Lenape plaque as this token of recognition from Columbia as if to say, “Here, we recognize the Indigenous people, just don’t ask too much more from us.” But, I was proven wrong during my discussions with the Native Students at Columbia on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I quickly learned that the plaque represented this great pride from the Indigenous Students on campus that their native histories we recognized (by a community of administrators and university owners who represent the modern-day colonizers). This form of recognition represented this formal acknowledgement that native histories exists. Now it is a question of recognizing that native lives don’t just exist in the past,  but that Native students exist at Columbia University, that Indigenous culture is not just part of history.  What is being done to acknowledge, support, or fund Indigenous communities at Columbia now in 2017? That is what I’m trying to figure out next.

Works Cited

“History.” History | Columbia University in the City of New York. Web. 24 Oct. 2017.

Native American Council at Columbia University. “Columbia University: Acknowledge Lenape Territory.” N.p., 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2017.

Norwood, John R. We Are Still Here! The Tribal Saga of New Jersey’s Nanticoke and Lenape Indians. Moorestown: Native New Jersey Publications, 2007. Print.

“Welcome to Lenape Lifeways.” Welcome to Lenape Lifeways. Lenape Lifeways, 15 July 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2017.



~ by cashmanaiu on October 24, 2017.

4 Responses to “Does Indigenous History Matter?”

  1. 1. engagement: You write with so much passion it is impossible to pass over. Your ecology is particularly striking because, as an indigenous woman, this is your lived reality, rather than just a vicarious interest.

  2. Your engagement/style was great in this, through the more casual tone of voice you used and the syntax of your sentences. For example, when you switched from typing “362 years” to writing the numbers out, it had a very powerful effect. In doing this throughout the post, you engaged me and made me want to learn more.

  3. I like how you start off your blog post, it’s very efficient because you immediately attract the reader. Also, you give some background information about the history of the Lenape which is important because not everyone knows of it. Your writing style is effective in making the reader think and feel empathy towards your ecology. It’s incredulous that Columbia University only allowed for one small plaque to indicate indigenous existence; they should have done more and given more recognition to the history of the land they’re settled on. This post is instructive because it makes the reader realize that although it seems places are inclusive of cultures, many forget that there were cultures beforehand that existed. You make the case that people should pay more attention to this and that the history of the indigenous people does indeed matter, that it shouldn’t be forgotten but rather commemorated.

  4. Such an engaging post — from the picture you used to your personal recollection of your interaction with the indigenous community in the Columbia University campus, seeing the way your ecology has evolved as time passed (as these narratives aren’t easy to come by, which is why it is such an important topic!), it really made my heart a little lighter to see that this Plaque meant more than just an acknowledgement / dismissal of such an important history.

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