Sisters of St. Joseph of CarondeletJune 17, 2019

Earth Concerns News

Those Who Walked Here Before Us: The Turtle Island Story by Sister Joanne St. Hilaire, CSJ

(Sister Joanne gave the following presentation at the Autumn Equinox Event at the Provincial House. The Home/Land committee shares Joanne’s story in light of our General Chapter call “to deepen our understanding of cosmologies which teach us the interrelatedness of all creation and to let those understandings influence our way of being community and carrying out the mission.”)


            After the earth had been formed on Turtle Back in very ancient times, human beings had land on which to walk and share with other creatures and their Creator. Our story of the land on Turtle Back begins very early, about 9,000 years ago, 7,000 B.C. our time. The first people who walked the land on which we are now standing were Paleo-Indians, that is, the white anthropologists’ name for them, of course. We do not know what they called themselves. The Paleo-Indians migrated across Turtle Island, our earth, at the southern edge of the melting glacier, in search of big game like the mastodon. Only fluted spear points made of stone remind us of the existence of these very early people. We can only imagine their rugged life and struggle for survival.


Ancient Nomads


            Thousands of years later, nomads of the archaic period wandered over this land and settled along the alluvial flats formed by the glaciers. They were hunters and gatherers. Nearby are two prehistoric sites, located between Breaker Island and Menands where these people settled.


Woodland Settlers


            Finally, much later but before the white people from Europe arrived, Woodland people migrated from the Midwest. These people made permanent settlements since they were farmers as well as hunters and gatherers. They grew corn, beans and squash. For the winter, they dug pits in the ground to store food. For hunting, they used spears and javelins. The Woodland people, as a whole, were a large group, speaking many languages. For hundreds of years, they migrated eastward and northerly. Those moving north became known as the Iroquois, of whom the Mohawks lived closest to this land from the area around Oneida Lake eastward to the mouth of the Schoharie River. A second group of Woodland people, who spoke an entirely different language, migrated from the Delaware Valley northward along the Hudson. One tribe became known as the Mahican; these were the Algonquins, a tribe hostile to the Mohawks.


The Mahican Tribes


            Today we are standing on the hunting territory of the Mahicans, the last to walk on the land before the Europeans arrived. The Mahicans had several villages along the Hudson, the nearest on Peobles Island at Kahoos; this was known as Monnemin’s Castle or village. Unwat, another village, was located in Lansingburgh, and a third in Castleton.

            Before contact with the white Europeans, the Mahicans were very powerful. They controlled the territory from Lake Champlain south to the present Duchess County and from Southern Vermont westward to Schoharie Valley where they competed with the Iroquois for hunting grounds to feed the people of their villages.

            To the West the Mohawks, who called themselves Kaniengehaga, People of the Place of the Flint, made their homes in longhouse villages. They, too, were farmers, hunters and gatherers, especially known for their building skills. The Mohawks were part of the Confederacy of the Five Nations and lived under the Great Treaty of Peace.


The Dutch Settlers


            When the Dutch West Indies Company began trading for furs, they dealt, at first, largely with the Mahican and related tribes. In 1630, Killean Van Rensselaer sent an agent from Fort Orange to purchase a tract of land for settlement from the Mahicans who agreed to let the Dutch use their land for hunting. Accordingly, “The Colonie Rensselaerswyck began at the southern end of Barren Island in the Hudson River and ran northerly along the river as far as the Great Falls at Cohoes, some 23 miles.”

            The Turtle island story ends sadly because of the conflict over the terms of the land agreement. The Mahicans gave the Europeans the right to use the land along with them, but the Europeans kept the land for themselves.

            (Information taken from The Town of Colonie: A Pictorial Study by J. Olton and W. Broderick, History of the Indian Tribes of Hudson’s River by E. Ruttenber and Indian Affairs in Colonial New York by A. Trelease.)


(February 1995)