Manna-hata, a Lenape term meaning “island of many hills,” became Manhattanwhen translated into the English language by an Englishman working for the Dutch who had established a colony on the island.
The Lenape were defrauded of the island by the Dutch in 1626.
The “sale” of Manhattan was a misunderstanding. In 1626 the director of the Dutch settlement, Peter Minuit, “purchased” Manhattan for sixty guilders worth of trade goods. At that time Indians did everything by trade, and they did not believe that land could be privately owned, any more than could water, air, or sunlight. But they did believe in giving gifts for favors done. The Lenni Lenape—one of the tribes that lived on the island now known as Manhattan—interpreted the trade goods as gifts given in appreciation for the right to share the land. We don’t know exactly what the goods were or exactly how much a guilder was worth at that time. It has been commonly thought that sixty guilders equaled about twenty-four dollars. But the buying power of twenty-four dollars in 1626 is not known for sure.
As would be repeated across the region, the Lenape did not realize that the Dutch meant to claim the lands for their exclusive use — an exclusivity that the Dutch would work violently to protect against the Lenape and then the English.
In 1653, in fact, the Dutch built a wall attempting to block Lenape, other Native nations, and the English from attacking “their” settlement. By 1700, when the English assumed Dutch land holdings in the region, they tore down the wall and paved a street over its location that they called “Wall Street.”
The English would be defeated by the Americans. The Americans would preserve “Wall Street” — and all of Manhattan — as their own.
The Americans would never redress the history of Native land fraud that had made the U.S. possible. They would continue this fraud by violating their first ratified treaty with a Native nation — the Lenape in 1778. This treaty provided — among other things — safe passage for Americans through Lenape territory during their war with the English. As all of the treaties that followed, it was a treaty that would be violated by the Americans in the name of U.S. sovereignty and territorial rights.
“Wall Street” is only possible because of this history of land fraud and treaty violation.
The “United States” is only possible because of its still imperial-colonial relations with Native peoples.
What “Wall Street” and the U.S. have become — an imperial-colonial power over the world’s economics and the laws that protect it — is a direct legacy of the fraud and violence committed against Native nations.
Perhaps those who now claim to OCCUPY WALL STREET in the name of reforming America’s economy could remember their history and call it something else (see Racialicious’ post for more discussion of the importance of language in opposition). Wall Street is, after all, already an occupied territory.
As are all of U.S. land “holdings” in northern America, the Pacific, and the Caribbean.
(Woman in picture below: Jennie Bob [Lenape],1915)