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Signs in the Wappingers Algonquian Language of Westchester, NY

Dec 2-10, 2019

‘The Native Voice’ is a public installation at Purchase College consisting of signs presenting words in Wappinger Algonqiuan and translations in English.  The goal of this project is to introduce the campus community to the native language of Purchase and to raise awareness of native heritage and endangered languages worldwide.  The Wappingers dialect of Eastern Algonquian was spoken by the local Siwanoy, Quarropus, Warramaug, and Mamaroneck tribes, all part of the Wappinger Federation, who lived in the Purchase area and traded wampum beads made of seashells to the interior tribes.  The Wappingers dialect was spoken throughout Westchester and western Connecticut and is closely related to the Lenape language of NYC and New Jersey, the Mahican language of the upper Hudson Valley, and the Mohegan-Pequot language of Eastern Connecticut. Today, the Wappingers dialect of Eastern Algonquian has no native speakers left.  The descendants of the many Wappingers tribes have joined together with Lenape and Mahican peoples to form several federally recognized nations including the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape (in New Jersey), and the Mohican Stockbridge-Munsee (today in Wisconsin).

The Siwanoy Tribe of Purchase lived in farming villages along the Rye Brook and other steams and coastal estuaries.  They fished, gathered shellfish, and hunted in the forest.  Their society was matrilineal, with children belonging to their mother’s clan.  Villages were governed by a council of respected elders and a leader called a sagamore (local chief) or sachem (senior chief), both of which were elected by the people.   Regional associations like the Wappinger Confederacy were formed through negotiation and respect.  Siwanoy culture, including their democratic structure, their kinship system, their religion, and their respect for the earth and environment, are embedded in their language.  The native history of Westchester is all around us, from the paths of Route 9 and 22 to the familiar place names, some in the Wappingers language such as ‘Mamaroneck’ and others literal translations into English and Dutch.  This project aims to connect our campus community to the native heritage of this area, to raise awareness and respect, and to help preserve local language and culture.

This project was developed by the New World Archaeology class (History) and Prof Mara Horowitz in association with Algonquian expert and tribal elder Prof Evan Pritchard, the United Nations’ International Year of Indigenous Languages, and the Purchase College History Club.  Special thanks to Humanities Chair Aviva Taubenfeld, Dean of Arts and Sciences Ross Daly, Department of History, the Office of Community Engagement, and the Multicultural Center.

A Dictionary of Wappingers: An Indigenous Language of the Hudson Valley’s Eastern Territories, 2000, by Iron Thunderhorse. Algonquian Confederacy of the Quinnipiac Tribal Council Series 3, Quinnipiac Tribal Council Press, CT.

Center for Algonquian Culture:

UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages: