A Collaborative Sign Project at Mawignack Preserve
Visitors to the new Mawignack Preserve along the Catskill Creek will take a short hike through the woods along recently constructed boardwalks before arriving at a beautiful floodplain meadow. Sections of the meadow are being restored with native tree species to help mitigate flooding for the downstream Village of Catskill. A network of creek-side trails lead to a landscape that was painted a dozen times by Thomas Cole, founder of the art movement known as the Hudson River School. The Greene Land Trust created and manages the preserve which is owned by Scenic Hudson.
However, there is more to this picturesque property than meets the eye. The lands here were home for thousands of years to the Mohican people and their ancestors. A collaborative sign project tells the story of these original inhabitants, and how, during the period of European colonization, the land was taken and farmed by the Dutch using the labor of enslaved people. The Mohicans were forced to migrate westward during colonization. The signs offer an inclusive perspective on the history of the land and engage the audience in an exercise of historical truth-telling often overlooked by similar projects.
Bonney Hartley, Historic Preservation Manager for the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation, modern descendants of the people who lived in the upper-Hudson River Valley, remarked that the history of indigenous nations are often erased from the landscape. "Projects like this help to raise visibility," she said.
In addition to acknowledging this history, the sign project provides a model for collaboration between conservation organizations and indigenous nations. Representatives from Greene Land Trust reached out to the Mohican Nation to help lead this work, and the signs themselves received the approval of the Nation’s tribal council. Hudson River Valley Greenway helped fund the project.
Through this partnership, the Nation was able to tell the history of this land in their own words, including the story of Pewasck, the female sachem who dwelt on this land at the time of colonization. The proud history of female leadership within the Mohican Nation becomes the theme of one sign within the park featuring a picture of the current president Shannon Holsey.
Native land acknowledgment is a growing practice, and one that is essential for conservation organizations. But in using this practice, it is vital that such organizations provide space for indigenous peoples to tell the story themselves. Anyone can begin this process by learning who the original inhabitants in your area are.
For organizations considering engaging in a similar project, consider these best practices from Bonnie Hartley for working with indigenous nations:
- Specifically name the modern people who are connected to the land/project rather than broad references to “Native Americans”.
- Directly reach out to the cultural affairs department of the modern tribe.
- Budget appropriately to compensate tribal members for their contributions, and provide enough time to allow for the processes of tribal governments.
This article first appeared in the DEC newsletter, Climate Resilience in the Hudson River Estuary. It was researched and written by Clifton Staples, climate outreach specialist with the Hudson River Estuary Program. SCA photo courtesy of Greene Land Trust. Sign photos courtesy of Bonnie Hartley.