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Delaware chief retraces Hudson history

By Kris DiLorenzo

Chief Greg Peters at Nun’s Beach on April 30.


DOBBS FERRY — Greg Peters, chief of the Moravian of the Thames Band of the Delaware Nation, visited Dobbs Ferry on Saturday, April 30. The chief came to view the Lenni-Lenape artifacts on permanent display in village hall, and to see Nun’s Beach and Wickers Creek, two riverfront sites in the near where the artifacts were found.

Lenni-Lenape is the indigenous name for the Delaware Nation, meaning “original people” or “first people.” Peters, 64, has been chief of his band for nine years. He was formerly a United Auto Workers organizer in Wallaceburg, Ontario. He and compatriot Gary Noah, a retired corrections officer and former Marine, spent the day in the company of Friends of Wickers Creek Archaeological Site (FOWCAS) former president Tom Morrison and award-winning naturalist painter Flick Ford, and artists Peggy and Larry Blizard of the Dobbs Ferry Historical Society.

Among the artifacts Peters and Noah viewed, including those in a half-dozen storage boxes, were net sinkers used for fishing, striker stones for generating fire, varieties of flint arrowheads, a grinding stone for grains, and a small axe. “I thought we could do a display for our understanding of where our people lived, how they lived — anything that contributes to that,” Peters said. “On the reservation we have a small place where we display some of our artifacts.”

The reservation is a 3,000-acre parcel of land called Moraviantown, in the province of Ontario, Canada, about 80 miles northeast of the Detroit-Windsor border. Peters explained that its name derives from the fact that in the late 1600s, this particular band of Lenni-Lenape traveled from their original homelands in southeastern New York (including what is now Manhattan) with Moravian church missionaries, settling in Canada in 1790. Currently, 600 people live on the reserve while 1,200 other members of the band live elsewhere. The band is considering a name change. When asked what he would call Moraviantown, Peters joked, “Greg’s Place!”

Leaving village hall, Peters and Noah were escorted to Nun’s Beach and Wickers Creek. The area is one of the Hudson Valley’s most important Native American sites, where, long before Henry Hudson arrived, the Lenni-Lenape civilization was organized into regional networks of towns and villages, with extensive trade and agriculture.

In the 1990s, Summit Residential of Valhalla, while excavating for construction of The Landing townhouse development, unearthed approximately 18,000 artifacts. Pottery found at Wickers Creek is unique, meriting its own classification.

A footbridge from the edge of The Landing property crosses over the Metro-North railroad tracks to the small beach. Near the bridge’s entrance gate is a shell midden, a large mound of discarded oyster shells that has provided significant information about the Lenni-Lenape civilization. Its location also yielded most of the village’s artifacts, but the midden is now hidden under a grass-covered mound; a plaque was installed in 2005 marking the midden.

In March, Peters had contacted Ford, a former Irvington resident now residing in upstate Schodack Landing, about visiting Dobbs Ferry. “I said, ‘I’ve got to go meet these guys, because this is important stuff,’” Peters explained. “If nothing else, this is an opportunity for us to connect with some knowledgeable people in this area where we originated, because we don’t have that firsthand information that we can get from them.”

At Nun’s Beach, Peters revealed that this was the first time he had seen the Hudson River. He talked about Lenni-Lenape life “pre-contact,” that is, before white settlers arrived, mentioning their villages and burial sites all along the valley. “We existed in what turns out to be paradise, right here in the Hudson Valley,” he said. “Look at the landscape, the availability of all the resources to sustain the nation, access to all the traditional medicines. It was an ideal place.” Peters inquired about the state of the river in terms of pollution and fishing, saying, “It’s got to get better.” Observing a pair of kayakers launching their vessels from the beach, he said, “I can’t swim, but it looks cool.”

Peters had heard about the controversy surrounding the site, where after 14 years of public access, The Landing Homeowners Association locked the footbridge gate, requiring would-be visitors to purchase a key fob. “I heard a little bit about it, that there was an agreement reached back in the ‘90s that access would be granted,” he said. “It was one of the concessions, I guess, that they got a plaque and they got access, but now they’re reneging on the access.” He added with deadpan humor, “It’s hard to imagine that a group of non-natives would make an agreement with a group of natives and then renege on it.” Since a judge ordered in March that the gate be unlocked, The Landing is again in compliance with the agreement.

Peters intends to organize a trip to the Hudson Valley for 150 members of his community to see the artifacts and the lands once inhabited by their people. “I think my people would be happy to see the Hudson River Valley — it’s a very beautiful place — just to get a concept that we lived along this river, and that this is where we were most at home, with the collection of the medicines and the fish coming up every year, and access to the ocean.”

The chief views such a visit as part of cultural development, especially for the young people of the band. “Knowing who we are, being proud of who we are, knowing where we came from is a major steppingstone into the future for our young people. We’re trying to make sure that our children and our grandchildren can recognize that we had strong governance systems and strong community values long before contact with so-called Christian civilizations.”

“People are going to have an opportunity to see something, and you never know. We’re all different spiritual people, and we all sense and feel things a little differently,” he explained. “We can’t even begin to predict what kind of connections our young people are going to have when they see where their ancestors come from. That’s what I expect from our trip along the Hudson.”

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


May 6, 2016

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