An island nature preserve near downtown Albany is back in the hands of descendants of its original inhabitants.
Four centuries after its Mohican inhabitants were forcibly removed from their home, the Papscanee Island Nature Preserve is being returned to the Stockbridge-Munsee Community. The island, located 10 minutes from downtown Albany in Rensselaer County, has been cared for the last two decades by the Open Space Institute.
The conservationist group purchased the property then partnered with Rensselaer County to create the 156-acre preserve.
Heather Bruegl is the community's director of Cultural Affairs.
"Open Space Institute reached out to us and was, you know, saying, ‘hey, you know, we know how this this piece of land is very significant to the Stockbridge-Munsee community,’ and they actually had protected the island back in the 1990s, from development. And, you know, we have also in the Stockbridge-Munsee community, have played a role in making sure that the island stays protected, that, you know, development doesn't happen on it, or things like that. And so they approached us about having the island put back in our ownership. And we, of course, jumped on the opportunity."
According to the Institute, in 1637 leaders of the Mohican community signed a deed transferring Papscanee Island to Dutch diamond merchant Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, a founding member of the Dutch West India Company.
When the land was immediately settled and farmed by Dutch tenants, the Mohican community learned that the Dutch intended that their ownership of the island was to be exclusive. In the 1770's tribespeople were removed from their Stockbridge, Massachusetts home. In the 1820's a group of Mohicans traveled to Muncie, Indiana where they found land that had been promised to them had been taken by American settlers. The groups ended up at what became the Stockbridge-Munsee Community in Wisconsin.
"This is our first step in being able to take significant pieces of land back into our ownership. Currently, to my knowledge, we don't have anything else in the works. But it will, you know, Papscanee Island nature preserve will stay a nature preserve, it still will be open for people to use the walking trails and what have you. And we are actually working with the Rensselaer Land Trust, who will be maintaining those trails for us, since we are no longer located in our homelands."
Charlie Burgess, northern New York steward for the Open Space Institute, says the return of the land is a celebration and acknowledgment of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community’s rich history, cultural resilience, and commitment to stewardship during and beyond the current historical reckoning.
" I think increasingly, the conservation community is recognizing the importance of indigenous people to the conservation of biodiversity. 80% of the world's biodiversity is on lands that are owned by indigenous people. And, you know, I think that as we as people come to understand that more, I think we'll find more relationships like this.”
- Related: The Long Journey Home
About the Stockbridge Munsee Community
The Stockbridge-Munsee Community is a federally recognized Tribe situated on Reservation in Shawano County, North central Wisconsin. The Tribe’s ancestral homelands span the Hudson River Valley in what are now the states of New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania before the Tribe was removed Westward during the nineteenth century. The Nation moved to what are now the towns of Red Springs and Bartelme in Shawano County Wisconsin as a result of the Treaty of 1856. Approximately half of the 1,500 members of the Stockbridge-Munsee currently live on or near the reservation which has several thriving businesses including the Stockbridge-Munsee Health and Wellness Center, Mohican North Star Casino, and Pine Hills Golf Course. More information at www.mohican.com.