PART TWO: THE LANDKEEPERS
According to Algonquin scholar Evan Pritchard, the Landkeepers are spirits who made a covenant with the land towards the end of their long and well-lived human lives. They were exceptional people who had evolved sufficiently to no longer incarnate on the earth plane but who voluntarily stuck around to be guardians. They chose to remain on the second level of existence, which is closest to the physical level we are familiar with. The veil between those two levels is porous. Although non-physical, the Landkeepers can often be seen by psychics, Native and non-Native alike, and usually appear to be of normal human size.
A Civil War-era photo of Steven Talkhouse Pharaoh, collaged into a vision of Landkeeper Winegaanpough watching over Manhattan. Image courtesy of Evan Pritchard.
My first encounter with one was on a Native American walking tour of Lower Manhattan with Evan Pritchard. We were at the loading dock tunnel of a building on Worth Street, the approximate site of “a small cave where ceremonies were performed, often using turtle shakers.” We did our own ceremony and were soon joined by a Landkeeper named Winnegaanpough or Winn-aan-a-po-ic. Communicating his ideas through Evan, he told our group to prepare for continued dark times. He expressed how important it is to develop a relationship with the land itself. He suggested we make offerings by burying medicine bundles in the earth near where we live. By doing so, the land will again become sacred and will be able to nurture and sustain us.
As I was writing this article, Evan announced a new tour, Journey Into the Past, and hinted that we would attempt to make contact with Landkeepers at Stryker’s Bay Shell Midden (around 100th Street inside Riverside Park) and at Konaande Kong Village (Park Avenue at 97th Street), both sites connected by an ancient trail. Soon after, I heard the word “Landkeepers” interrupting my thoughts every half hour until I realized they had a message to share with NY Spirit readers.
Overlooking the Mohicanituck (aka Hudson) River, the Stryker’s Bay Shell Midden is located in present day Riverside Park. Our group walked up to 105th Street so we could fully experience the place where oyster shells had been discarded by inhabitants of a long ago village. We strolled back down to around 100th Street where we found a spot that proved advantageous for contacting the local Landkeeper. It took some effort, however. A couple of us attempted to tune in but the connection was sketchy. The group sang together and tried again. Finally, Evan pulled out a shaker, sang a couple of prayers and the atmosphere shifted.
Osingwac, whose name translates as “people of the stones,” spoke to us. He said, “This island was always a place for vision and purpose. Now, it is like a stack of stones, ready to topple over. Duck!” Around 1910, this part of the island was reconstructed and he became detached from the land. That is why we had a hard time connecting with him. He blessed us and said we were like pioneers, walking around the area looking for him; it had been a long time since anyone had tried to commune with him. He told us that there are portals around the area, portals to the realm of the Landkeepers. However, he did not advise trying to enter them as there is too much disruption at this time.
As Evan explained, “The naturo-spiritual world is full of guardians at various levels.”
Konaande Kong Village today: Park Avenue at 97th Street looking north. Foto: P.C.Turczyn
Following the path of a long trail eastward, we found ourselves in a pocket park in the center of Park Avenue between 96th and 97th Streets. At the north end, train tracks emerge from underground. When the train tunnel was being excavated, the largest quartz crystal found in this area was discovered. A little further up, at 102nd Street, there is a natural spring, now trickling out of a wall facing the train tracks. This is the site of Konaande Kong Village. The name is Dutch for “the King’s Queen.”
In the local Native tradition, a chief or sachem was democratically elected. If he died, he would often be succeeded by his wife, known as the sunkskwa (Head or Leading Woman). She would know how things were to be done, where things were stored, etc.
Generally, the role of women in Indian society was elevated in contrast to women in Dutch society of the time. In fact, many Euro-American suffragettes and feminists, including the groundbreaking Elizabeth Cady Stanton, were inspired by contact with Mohawk, Seneca and other Indian cultures. Ironically, Stanton herself became a Sunkskwa by succeeding her famous husband Henry (abolitionist co-founder of the Republican party) upon his death, as a philanthropist. Stanton’s last home is situated right at the crossroads of the Konaande Kong and Mohican Trials; time travelers can walk right in and view her family photos.
The Dutch apparently wanted to buy the land of Konaande Kong Village but their law required it be purchased from and signed by a man. However, the Sunkskwa was in charge of the village of about 25 lodges (at least 200 inhabitants.) To get around the legal issues, the Dutch cleverly named the town and the Sunkskwa “the King’s Queen.” Thus, the pocket park on the site has inadvertently become a tribute to women in positions of power
The guardian of Konaande Kong Village is the very same Sunkskwa, who identified herself to us as “Rose.” She is proud of being around fifty years old, is chubby, has bright eyes and dresses in a dark tan deerskin. She had tried to teach the Dutch how to live lightly on the land. Some learned; others did not. She stands in proud resistance to those who would harm the land.
She suggested using tobacco when praying for the land and recommended working closely with the Landkeepers. They are powerful beings but they are not physical, so they cannot stop the buildings from being erected. Only we who are incarnate on the physical plane would be able to do that. She was happy we were there with her and proclaimed, “Let us all stand four-square on the earth with respect and honor.”
Walking through Manhattan neighborhoods with Evan Pritchard can help us in that regard. He has a wonderful ability to utilize our imaginations to recreate the landscape of our city before the arrival of Europeans. He describes it as a beautiful natural paradise, densely populated by multiple indigenous communities. When we occasionally encounter the spirit of a Landkeeper who has a message to share, we again hear about the importance of honoring the earth. Respect her. Protect her. As Winneganpough said, by making offerings to the land, it will become sacred once again and will be able to nourish and sustain all of us.
All of the quotes and most of the facts and figures here are derived from “Touring Native New York: Five Self-Guided Tours Through the Algonquin History of Manhattan” by Evan T. Pritchard (Resonance Communications, PO Box 259, Rosendale, NY 12472). Most else was learned by following Evan on strolls around Manhattan.
Evan T. Pritchard, of Mi’kmaq and Celtic descent, is the author of “No Word for Time” (Millchap Books), “Native American Stories of the Sacred” (Turner Books), “Native New Yorkers” (Council Oak) and its sequel, “Henry Hudson and the Algonquins of New York” (Council Oak). As founder and director of the Center for Algonquin Culture in Rosendale, NY, he has worked with countless elders to help preserve the ancient history of North America. Evan has taught Native American studies courses at Marist, Vassar and at Pace University and lectures widely across the Eastern US and Canada.
His latest book is “Bird Medicine: The Sacred Power of Bird Shamanism” (Inner Traditions).
You can learn more by visiting www.algonquinculture.org or by contacting Evan Pritchard at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ask to be put on his mailing list to be informed of upcoming tours, public appearances and workshops.
Featured Foto by Shakti Smith