How Local Native Americans React to Hate Language, Crimes

By Michael Gold

Hate crimes happen here.

Despite the generally serene and quiet joy emanating from the sidewalks and storefronts of the towns in this part of Westchester, the local police have recently recorded a number of painful incidents of hate crimes, including:

  • Racist and anti-Semitic graffiti found at the Chappaqua train station the last week of August. One sentence read, “Ann (sic) Frank should have worn a TAC mask.” The TAC mask reference is to a type of mask worn during a video game, to shield the user from a type of gas used to poison the player during the game. Anne Frank died in a concentration camp from typhus, along with millions of others, many of whom were poisoned.
  • In early August, someone painted a 200-foot-long noose on the road in front of a Black family’s home in Chappaqua.
  • “Black Lives Matter” signs have been stolen from the Presbyterian and First Congregational Churches in Chappaqua.
  • A swastika and racist language were spray-painted on a dugout at Scout Field, a Westchester County park in Bronxville, this past May.

I haven’t heard of this happening here, but it’s important to note that people of color are often insulted around the nation by the repugnant sentence: “Go back to your own country!” A man in Fairfax County, Va. was recorded saying this in late July to some women sitting on a blanket in a park.

Last year, The New York Times asked readers to write about their experiences of being told to go back to their own country. There were 16,000 responses, including African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Jewish Americans.

I don’t know why, but I’m still shocked by these incidents.

And I find it sad that the people saying this are so ignorant or uncaring about their own country’s history that outside of Native Americans we are all immigrants to this land. And the ancestors of African Americans did not come here willingly.

So, I reached out to a few Native Americans who live in Westchester, Rockland and Queens to find out what they thought of these incidents.

Dwaine Perry, chief of the Ramapough-Lenape Nation, the leader of about 3,500 members in New York and New Jersey with headquarters in Mahwah, N.J., educated me on some history we generally don’t learn in school.

The Ramapough-Lenape allowed George Washington to use their footpaths to transport soldiers and equipment to fight the British during the Revolutionary War.

Also, the cannonballs, bullets and the chain used to block the Hudson River near West Point from British ships came from Ramapough-Lenape iron deposits.

“Without us, there would be no country,” Perry said.

Petra Thombs, the executive director of the Ramapough-Lenape Center, is of Cherokee and African American heritage.

The ancestral lands of the Rampapough-Lenape include New York below Albany, western Connecticut, Delaware and eastern Pennsylvania.

She said if she heard someone tell her, “Go back to her own country,” she would say, “You first.”

Referring to her Cherokee ancestors, she said, “My people have always been here.”

Of her African American heritage, she said, “My ancestors built this country with their blood, sweat and tears. I will not turn my back on them.”

Vida Landron, a teacher and assistant director of the Children’s Cultural Center of Native America, located in the Church of the Intercession on 155th Street in Manhattan, has Powhatan, Taino and African American ancestors.

The Powhatan, from Virginia, were Pocahontas’s people, the woman who possibly saved colonist John Smith from execution. The Taino, living on islands in the Caribbean, were enslaved and massacred by Columbus and successive Spanish conquerors.

“If someone said go back to your own country, I say, ‘Let me introduce you to it,’” Landron said.

She pointed out that Broadway in Manhattan started out as a Native American footpath, as an example of the often-forgotten part the original people living here had in the history of the country.

Bedford Road was once a Native American footpath, called the Succabonk Trail. A plaque commemorating the trail is located on property at the corner of Bedford Road and Great Oak Lane in Pleasantville. It states, “Here passed the Succabonk Trail over which the Litchfield Indians carried their furs to trade with the Dutch at the mouth of the Neperhan.” The Neperhan is now known as the Saw Mill River.

Before Europeans arrived, the natives in this area grew corn, beans, hickory, nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, squash and berries. They also hunted bear, elk, white-tailed deer, rabbits, turkey, river otter, raccoons, woodchucks and waterfowl.

Landron said that First Nations is the preferred name for the descendants of the people living here when white people arrived here for the first time.

Once a bartender, Landron got into a conversation with a customer, who said, “You got the casinos,” as if that is supposed to settle all arguments about who owns the land now.

“I wanted to say, if you got removed from your house, would you be happy?”

“On paper, this country is absolutely beautiful,” Landron said. “We can prosper, but you must respect an individual’s right to live.”

We must focus, she said, on “character over color.”

Michael Gold has published articles in The Washington Post, The New York Daily News, The Albany Times-Union and other newspapers. Miriam Gold provided research assistance for this article.