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The National Museum of the American Indian is located within the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House.
Photograph: By TTstudio / Shutterstock

400 years since NYC’s colonization, this new event series looks candidly at the past

"We cannot change the past, but we can face up to it."

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan

Four hundred years ago in 1624, traders from the Dutch West India Company arrived in a land called Lenapehoking looking to trade with the Lenape and other Indigenous nations. Within just a few years, the Dutch “bought” the land, European colonists arrived with enslaved people, and they forced out the Indigenous population. They called the land New Amsterdam. Today, we know it as New York City. 

For many years, this history—particularly the implications of the land “purchase”—has been obscured. Now, four centuries later, it’s coming into view. The King of the Netherlands apologized for his country's role in slavery and the country is funding a significant event series in New York City, which will center Indigenous voices. They announced the series called Future 400 in an event at the National Museum of the American Indian this week.

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Rather than a celebration, the anniversary is being positioned as more of a "marking," Tracy Metz, a journalist and author based in the Netherlands, explained at the event.

Birgitta Tazelaar, ambassador for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, didn't mince words in describing the "raw reality of colonial history."

“Often it is ugly, painful, and even downright shameful. We rightfully call out those unacceptable parts of history, including our own Dutch history. For instance, New Amsterdam and New Netherlands, like other colonies of its day, was built in part by enslaved people. The Netherlands’ history with slavery has many pages that fill us, as people of the 21st century, with dismay and horror. We cannot change the past, but we can face up to it.”

We cannot change the past, but we can face up to it.

Despite the grim history, she also recognized the economic bonds between the Netherlands and America that continue to this day. Dutch settlers developed the first stock exchange, and even today, trade with the Netherlands supports 1 million jobs in the U.S.

Laurie Cumbo, NYC's commissioner of culture, acknowledged the significance of the events kicking off at the National Museum of the American Indian, steps away from where auction blocks for African people once stood. 

Today is really a turning point on so many levels.

"Today is really a turning point on so many levels on turning that tide that was so strongly going in the wrong direction," she said. 

While many of the events center Black and Indigenous voices, it is worth noting that the executive director of the Lenape Center, Joe Baker, told Gothamist he had not been consulted on the Future 400 series.

The full event list can be found here, with several highlighted events below.

Here are some of the upcoming Future 400 events

The Castello Plan: Encounters in New Amsterdam

New-York Historical Society | Now-July 14, 2024

Explore The Castello Plan, the last and most detailed map of New Amsterdam before it became New York. The plan provides a glimpse of daily life in the settlement by detailing streets, homes, businesses, canals, and Fort Amsterdam around the peak of the settlement in 1660. The exhibition surrounding this vital artifact tells the stories of those who lived in New Amsterdam: Indigenous communities, enslaved people, and European settlers.

Beatrice Glow: When Our Rivers Meet

New-York Historical Society | March 29-August 18, 2024

Through conversations with nine culture bearers, artists, and scholars whose heritages have been impacted by the Dutch colonial enterprise, Beatrice Glow: When Our Rivers Meet considers the local and global influence of the Dutch settlement on present day New York. Glow imagines an alternative commemoration of its 400th anniversary via a series of seven VR-sculpted and 3D-printed maquettes. 

Conference: Slavery in New Netherland and the Dutch Atlantic World

New-York Historical Society | May 3–4, 2024

The event will extend the Dutch call for increased historical research on slavery to the United States and inspire fresh discussions about how to approach memorializing slavery.

We Are Still Here: A Celebration of Lenape Resilience & Culture

The Museum of the City of New York | May 4-5, 2024

This weekend of activities will celebrate the resilience and cultural heritage of the Munsee people. Activities include musical and dance performances, craft workshops, a marketplace, and discussions led by Indigenous speakers and artists. 

"Kings…come home"

The Apollo Theater | February 24–March 16, 2025

“Kings…come home” follows a family that leaves their motherland, moves into a home in a field, and establishes their own micro-utopia there—until the walls begin to move and that structure slowly starts to come undone. By Ira Kip’s Kip Republic Theater, Amsterdam, this production makes its world premiere in the Netherlands before coming to the Apollo, in performances presented by National Black Theatre. The play investigates the effects of migration caused by a spectrum of social and economic issues and examines how migration is intrinsically connected to colonial pasts and their long-term effects.

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