We Were Queens
Americans populated Queens long before the first
Europeans dared test the horizon with their wooden
galleons. For the tribal natives, who had already
lived here for thousands of years, the phrase
“New World” didn’t have much
One tribe, the Matinecocks, established villages
at what are now College Point, Flushing, Whitestone,
Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, and in various
places across Long Island.
A generally peaceful people, the Matinecocks lived
off the land and didn’t take from it more
than was necessary for survival. They hunted no
animals for sport, and they offered prayers of
thanks to the ones they did kill for food. Back
then, giant sturgeon migrated through the free-flowing,
clean waters of the East River; forest and woodland
were as common as concrete and skyscrapers are
Archeologist Eugene Bousch has conducted extensive
excavations in Queens. Working with the Poppenhusen
Institute, the community cultural center in College
Point, he has helped uncover some of the Matinecock
legacy long hidden beneath Queens’ houses
“They were mainly agriculturists,”
Bousch said. “[They] grew mostly corn, beans
Evidence of indigenous peoples in Queens stretches
as far back as 10,000 years, according to findings
Several archeological sites have been uncovered
throughout Queens, offering clues to what life
was like for the first people to settle our borough.
During the 1930s, one was excavated at Graham
Court, during a dig by several College Point archeologists.
In 1997, another site—near 114th Street
and 14th Ave.—garnered enough attention
to bring about state legislation requiring mandatory
excavations on any area where artifacts have been
Tallman’s Island (127th Street and Lax Ave.)
is believed to have been either a pow-wow site
or a village.
The College Point Nursing Home is believed to
be the former site of the primary Matinecock village.
Bousch worked on the site at 114th Street and
14th Avenue. He says most of the pottery shards,
quartz waste shavings, and projectile points found
there were determined to date from 1500 BC to
Americans participate in annual pow-wows
held in locations throughout Queens. Tribune
photo by Ira Cohen
first white settlers arrived in the 1630s and
40s. Encounters with European colonists eventually
resulted in the diminishment of the Matinecocks
and other area tribes, in both power and population.
Not only did the Europeans bring warfare with
them, but new, foreign diseases like small pox,
which ravaged a population lacking natural immunities
to combat them.
Bousch discussed the effects that European settlers
had on the Native Americans. The passing out of
blankets contaminated with small pox, he said,
was “wittingly or unwittingly an example
of early germ warfare.”
In an effort to keep the peace, tribe members
entered into negotiations for land sales with
the European settlers. But for a culture perceiving
itself as custodian of the land—rather than
owner of it—deeds and contracts of land
ownership had little meaning. With no concept
of land transference, for the Matinecocks, fair
trade was lost in translation.
One descendent of the Matinecock royal family,
Nuppaqua — whose name translates to Water
Woman, Giver of Life —today still bears
the wounds of what she considers a dirty deal
handed to her ancestors. She is the present-day
Matinecock Council Chairperson, as well as a respected
healer and dancer. Nuppaqua explained that there
is much debate over the ownership of the land
of New York City, which is a focus point for the
Scandinavians were the first explorers in the
area and traded with the Native Americans.
“They had respect,” said Nuppaqua.
“They would come, trade, then return [to
their native lands].”
The Dutch and English engaged the Matinecocks
in a similar fashion, with explorers journeying
across the Atlantic in search of new barter to
secure. The Dutch and English, however, established
a permanent presence in the Americas.
“We have deeds to property on Long Island
and they are not honored,” said Nuppaqua.
“The documents that indicated the sale of
Manhattan and land throughout New York City do
not contain authentic Native American signatures.
We own half of Long Island and downtown Manhattan.”
She also claims that Chief Takapusha, one of the
great Matinecock leaders and a direct descendant
of hers, never sold the land. She claims that
as there was no concept of land-ownership among
her descendents—they believed all land was
under the ownership of the earth, not humans—there
could therefore be no legal sale of property.
Nuppaqua said that the majority of people dismiss
Native Americans, offering little or no respect.
“The Matinecocks are the only tribe within
city limits,” she said. “We are a
national landmark with federal recognition, and
are listed in the Department of Interior as a
National Treasure. And still we are treated badly.
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