by Ron Linker
US Correspondent for Dutch Public Radio
Onondaga Nation – This year my country commemorates the arrival of Henry Hudson on Manhattan in 1609. Hudson was an English sailor, who was employed by a Dutch company, the WIC. He was instructed to find a new route east via the polar waters. Halfway there, a mutiny broke out aboard his ship and he decided to change course. That is why he landed on Manhattan.
Dutch settlers build a community there and named it New Amsterdam. After 60 years the English bought New Amsterdam from us (the Dutch) and changed the name to New York. Although the event was celebrated on Manhattan, I was interested in getting the perspective of the Native Americans, and so I made an appointment with faithkeeper Oren Lyons, of the Onondaga.
He invited me to come to the big lacrosse stadium. On my way I saw a big line of cars waiting at the cigarette store. Later, I found out that the big stadium was built with money brought in from the small store. It must be a successful business, because so many people are waiting patiently.
In the stadium, Brad Powless and Mr. Lyons gave me a slideshow presentation of the history of the Haudenosaunee and the importance of the Gushwenta. It represents the first treaty between the Dutch and the Haudenosaunee, and it is still valid today. The visit of the Dutch did not bring prosperity to the Native Americans.
“Everything went to hell”, says Lyons. “The relations between the nations deteriorated”.
Still, even today, the Onondaga are not disappointed, “Because to us the spirit of the treaty is more important. The ideals that were established in the agreement with the Dutch are so pure and universal, that they constitute a blueprint for future relations”, says Mr. Powless.
It was an ambiguous experience for me: in Manhattan major preparations were in place for a big festival, and here, near the Canadian border, the mood was very different. I believe that one cannot be held accountable for acts committed by fellow countrymen four hundred years ago, but I did feel an obligation to report on the Native American perspective of Henry Hudson.
Later that day, I visited the New York State Fair, and spoke to Onondaga elder Lloyd Elm. He told me he was not angry with the Dutch, but he did have a message for my listeners. “You go back to your country, and tell your people that we’re still here. You did not break us. You have not succeeded in turning us into dark skinned Europeans. We’re happy that Mr. Hudson visited us, but we’re still here”.