On Sunday, October 8, 2023, BFS’ Arti-Facts column, which appears each week in The Weekly, was dedicated to respectfully recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In a previous Arti-Facts, we looked at the role that the Lenape people played in the naming of Pearl Street. Today, we would simply like to remember and celebrate the humans who were the original inhabitants of Brooklyn—once known as “Lenapehoking” or the “Land of the Lenape,” an offspring of the Algonquin civilization.
The Lenape were tragically forced out of their home when the Europeans “discovered” the land. These early indigenous inhabitants called themselves the Lenape, roughly translated as the “the people,” or “the true people.” The illustration along with this article comes from a book about the Lenape by Herbert C. and John T. Kraft.
The Lenape migrated to this land around 3,000 years ago, and by the time of European contact, there were nearly 20,000 Lenape living in what is now Manhattan and Brooklyn. A combination of the European conquest, new diseases, wars, massacres, and nefarious land “purchases” eventually reduced their population to just 10-percent of its former power and transferred “Lenapehoking” almost entirely into European hands.
Today’s Downtown Brooklyn stands as a reminder of what once was. According to a 1946 Brooklyn Historical Society map, “Atlantic, Flatbush and Division Avenues, as well as Fulton Street, were all built on old Lenape trade, hunting or walking paths and the modern-day Van Voorhees park is based on an old park labeled as Sassians. Boerum Hill appears to have been home to a burial ground, and what is now City Hall appears to have been a thriving indigenous village.”
As for the Lenape people, there are still approximately 16,000 Leanape descendants today in the United States—mostly living in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, and Delaware. On Indigenous Peoples’ Day—and everyday—we should pause and remember.
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Brooklyn Friends School centers the history of the First Nations and acknowledges the systems, which we are a part of, that have impacted their legacy and survival to date. Brooklyn Friends School honors and acknowledges the land on which our school is located is the traditional and unceded territory of the Lenape. We also recognize that members of our community are on territories in New York City which include the lands of the Canarsie, LenapeHoking, Shinnecock, Lekawe, Merrick, Munsee Lenape, Wappinger, Matinecock, Nissaquogue, Setauket, Secatouge, Unkechauge, Massapequas, Merrick, Corchaug, Montaukett and Mannansett. This acknowledgment is part of our school’s Quaker values; a commitment to moving toward just and compassionate relations with Indigenous people through recognition of our own history and responsibility. We name this acknowledgment as a living document.