Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 10, 2018

In the Spirit of the Departed Munsees

Filed under: Catskills,Counterpunch,indigenous — louisproyect @ 2:38 pm

Four years ago the Stockbridge-Munsee Indians decided to cancel plans to build a gambling casino in Sullivan County since Gov. Andrew Cuomo had approved another Indian-owned gambling casino in Orange County that was closer to New York, thus putting theirs at a disadvantage. Starting in the early 2000s, there was a growing momentum to build such casinos in the economically-ravaged Sullivan County. Like Flint, Michigan after the departure of General Motors, Sullivan County bled jobs after the Borscht Belt hotels closed down due to New York City’s changing Jewish demographics. In the 1940s and 50s, garment workers sent their wives and kids up to the Catskills in the summer to escape the oppressive heat of tenement apartments. When their children became lawyers, doctors or accountants after graduating from a CUNY college, they could afford to move to Long Island, install air conditioners in every room, and fly to Europe instead.

When Donald Trump first found out about these casinos, he went ballistic. He said, “We’re giving New York State to the Indians.” If you know the real history of New York, you’d say instead that “We’re giving New York State back to the Indians.”

Some politicians objected to the plans since it went against the norms of gambling casinos being located exclusively on reservations. How could the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsees build a casino so far away from their home? As it happens, the pols in Albany calculated that offering the Indians the right to build a casino in exchange for dropping a land claim in Madison County, NY for 23,000 acres illegally seized hundreds of years ago made sense. But then again, how could a tribe in Wisconsin be entitled to New York land? What’s going on here? The answer should be obvious to anybody who has studied Native American history. Ethnic cleansing and genocide.

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4 Comments »

  1. Love your review Louis-weaving in your personal history and the similar genocides of today. A needed history on the Indians of New York. It’s about time for a history of these peoples. I have an ancestor (a Cornell), who settled with Annie Hutchinson in Lowe Westchester in 1642. He and Throckmorton (Throggs Neck is named after him) were apparently seeking a patent while the Algonkians attacked the settlement. The Dutch wanted the English settle there to serve as a buffer because of the retaliation to Dutch aggression. As you may know Annie Hutchinson wasn’t tolerated in Boston or Roger Williams Rhode Island. Looking forward to the read.

    Comment by Lewis Ward — August 10, 2018 @ 4:30 pm

  2. Feedback from an expert on the region:

    Good morning,

    Regarding yesterday’s Counterpunch piece, once again, the place-name Shawangunk did not refer originally to the eponymous Ridge, nor does the name refer to misty conditions (of which there are other Lenape words to describe such conditions) on the Ridge. See above. As the name appears nowhere else in the Lenape’s region, the Lenape linguist Ray Whritenour believes the name is a reference by the survivors to the September, 1663 massacre by the Dutch of the Munsees at their new village in the Wallkill Valley east of the ridge. The Dutch burned their primary village in Wawarsing on the west side of the Ridge in June of 1663.

    From E.M. Ruttenber’s 1906 Indian Geographical Names: “When the Dutch troops left it, it was a terrible picture of desolation. The huts had been burned, the bodies of the Indians who had been killed and thrown into the corn-pits had been unearthed by wolves and their skeletons left to bleach on the plain, with here and there the half eaten body of a child. For years it was a fable told to children that the place was haunted by the ghosts of the slain….”

    This was the final engagement of the Second Esopus War, which effectively stopped Munsee resistance to European colonialism in the mid-Hudson Valley.

    With compliments,

    Christopher S,

    Comment by louisproyect — August 11, 2018 @ 2:02 pm

  3. Hi, I appreciate your important invocation of Steven Salaita and the links between settler colonialism in Palestine and the U.S.

    I would caution though against assuming either that the Munsee have “departed” or that you (or any settler) could act in their “spirit.” Quite simply, there are still Munsee who never left their territory in what is now called the Hudson Valley (by some) and they are obviously capable of representing themselves.

    Grumet’s longer text (2009), from which the one you refer to is drawn, makes the critical error of assuming local Native extinction by the early 19th century. Unfortunately, wittingly or unwittingly this act of erasure furthers settler notions of legitimate access to what still is stolen land.

    I recommend Evan Pritchard’s (Mi’kmaq) Native New Yorkers in lieu of Grumet’s text. Joanne Barker’s (Lenape) Native Acts complements it well.

    Comment by Dan S — August 15, 2018 @ 3:26 pm

  4. Thanks for the leads, Dan.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 15, 2018 @ 4:30 pm


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