TROY NEIGHBORS FIGHT TO SAVE HISTORIC MOHICAN SITE FROM DEVELOPMENT
(this article originally appeared on Albany Proper)
Water flowing from the Hudson River laps at the shore of this wooded land in Lansingburgh.
Rare scrub oak trees creak as the wind flows through their branches. Birds chirp, beavers swim, and footsteps from deer and rabbits litter the snow.
This scene is familiar if you’ve ever visited nearby Peeble’s Island State Park — but the untouched land at 1011 2nd Avenue just outside downtown Troy is particularly special.
This land is properly named Mahicannituck, which means “the waters that are never still.”
It is the last undeveloped forest waterfront in Troy and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places with archaeological finds dating back to as early as 1500 BCE. The land is the former settlement of the Mohican Indians, traditionally named Muhheconneok, now officially known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community Band of Mohican Indians today.
The entirety of the Capital Region was first settled by the Mohican people, who also settled parts of the Catskills all the way up to Lake Champlain, including much of the Berkshires. They are known as the only indigenous tribe to help the original colonists and are said to have developed laws we still follow as a nation today.
The Mohicans are closely allied and interconnected historically with the Munsee (Lanape) people, who extended South of the Catskills into what is now Northern New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Mohican people were eventually removed from their eastern homelands in the Hudson and Housatonic River Valleys but still exist today as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community, a federally-recognized Tribal Nation headquartered in Wisconsin.
Today, their land outside Troy is only accessible by way of a small public road that runs up to it. Local residents frequently use the Mahicannituck site to fish and ride their bikes through the trails.
Developer Kevin Vandenburgh is asking the City of Troy to rezone this historic site so that he can build three four-story apartment buildings, a clubhouse, boat dock area, and an underground parking lot, all of which would decimate this land and its historical artifacts.
Indigenous people have been fighting to protect their land for centuries, including in 2016 during the highly publicized Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock Indian Reservation. There’s also no shortage of history regarding the Mohican people’s local struggle — a fight to preserve the Columbia County area of Lebanon Springs, previously known as Montepoale, made it to the Supreme Court three times in order to keep to the oral promise to the Mohicans that the water remain free for all people forever. That promise continues today and is legally protected. Local residents have historically aided this fight to take care of the land, work that continues today in Troy through a grassroots organized activist group, “Friends of the Mahicantuck.”
Their petition to protect this historic land and stop the proposed development has 2,425 signatures as of today.
The ‘Friends’ are a band of concerned residents and organizations, including a non-profit called the Schaghticoke First Nations Inc. who are not associated with the Mohican people. Jessica Bennett leads the cohort and has been actively fighting against this development — launching a website, social media pages, attending important city planning meetings, and urging those concerned to sign a petition to protect this historic site.
In an online press conference, Bennett said, “We understand Troy’s need for economic development, but the city must prioritize its role as a steward of the site of unique importance to the Mohican people. [Rezoning the land] violates New York State’s Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR).”
Bennett also expressed frustration that the residents of Schagticoke are being left out of the process. Although most of the land is in Lansingburgh, a portion of the land is also in Schagticoke. Bennett suggested that the city instead incentivize Vandenburgh to develop his apartment buildings at the recently closed Price Chopper land less than a mile away. This building is currently hosting the Troy Farmer’s Market for the winter.
Bonney Hartley, Historic Preservation Officer and Heather Bruegl, Cultural Affairs Director at the Stockbridge-Munsee Community gave Albany Proper an official statement on the proposed development:
"STOCKBRIDGE-MUNSEE COMMUNITY IS OPPOSED TO THE PROPOSED DEVELOPMENT AT 1011 2ND AVENUE IN TROY BECAUSE IT WOULD BE OCCURRING ON AN ANCIENT MOHICAN CULTURAL SITE. THE SITE IS ELIGIBLE FOR THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES. IT IS IN CLOSE PROXIMITY TO OTHER HISTORIC MOHICAN SITES SUCH AS MOENEMIN’S CASTLE AT PEEBLES ISLAND, AND UNAWAT’S CASTLE ALSO IN LANSINGBURGH. ALL OF THESE SITES TOGETHER ARE IMPORTANT AS PART OF OUR MOHICAN HERITAGE IN THE REGION. OUR TRIBAL HISTORIC PRESERVATION OFFICER HAS REPEATEDLY SENT OUR OFFICIAL COMMENT LETTERS TO THE CITY OF TROY WITH OUR OBJECTIONS TO THE PROJECT. IF THE PROJECT WERE TO MOVE FORWARD THROUGH THE STATE SEQRA PROCESS, WE AS THE FEDERALLY-RECOGNIZED TRIBAL NATION WOULD CONTINUE TO CONSULT."
THE FRIENDS OF MAHICANTUCK HAS LED TO MUCH VISIBILITY OF THE ISSUE AND SHOULD BE COMMENDED FOR RAISING AWARENESS. WE CONSULT ON HUNDREDS OF SUCH DEVELOPMENT PROJECTS THROUGHOUT OUR HUDSON AND HOUSATONIC RIVER VALLEY HOMELANDS EACH YEAR, AND RARELY HAVE LOCAL ADVOCACY TO SUPPORT OUR CULTURAL RESOURCE CONCERNS. HOWEVER, THE FRIENDS OF MAHICANTUCK WAS FORMED WITHOUT OUR INVOLVEMENT AND IS WORKING CLOSELY WITH A NON-PROFIT GROUP THAT CLAIMS TO REPRESENT INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF THE HUDSON VALLEY, I.E. ORIGINAL MOHICAN AND MUNSEE TERRITORY. UNFORTUNATELY, DUE TO THE ALIGNMENT WITH THIS GROUP, CALLED SCHAGHTICOKE FIRST NATIONS INC., FRIENDS OF MAHICANTUCK HAS PUT US INTO A DIFFICULT POSITION. WE THEREFORE HAVE OPTED TO OPERATE SEPARATELY AND RETAIN OUR GOVERNMENT-TO-GOVERNMENT STATUS IN THE PROJECT CONSULTATION. WE DO EXCHANGE INFORMATION WITH THE FRIENDS GROUP.
Meanwhile, Bennett said that the developer “doesn’t seem to have respect for the land.” She claims to have been told by him: “You want the arrowheads? Fine, I’ll give them to you.”
As of today, the Troy Planning Commission has recommended against rezoning the land at 1011 2nd Ave. Now, it is up to the City Council to make a decision.
GRASSROOTS CHARITY GROUP GIVES FOOD, CLOTHING, AND FRIENDSHIP TO THOSE IN NEED
In a dark park nestled between the Capitol Building and City Hall, where politicians debate how to spend billions of tax dollars, people bundled in coats and wearing backpacks huddle in a long line on a recent Friday night, patiently waiting for dozens of free meals.
Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds unfold 6-foot tables and place individually packaged foods, smiling and laughing with one another. The smell of freshly cooked hotdogs fills the air and an array of bananas, pastries, even dog treats, line the tables.
They are StreetSoldiers, an independent group of helpers who come together every Friday evening to feed people who are struggling and oftentimes homeless — using their own resources to provide food and clothing to others.
Renee Fahey, co-founder of StreetSoldiers, runs back-and-forth across the park paths, assisting each volunteer to prepare for 7 P.M. meal time. Easy to miss, but everywhere all at once, Fahey is not trained in disaster response, but rather an independent helper in the fight against food insecurity. Starting with a bag of granola bars, crackers, and blankets in her car, Fahey has always noticed the Capital Region’s hungry. “If you open your eyes and drive around, you see it, so you acknowledge it. There’s a need out there and not everybody’s comfortable going through an organization and going through the steps to get that food insecurity fulfilled,” Renee said.
Renee pauses to say hello and take a picture of Katie and her dog, Nikki. She knows everyone — from volunteers to the housing and food insecure people who drop in, by name. Most of them have been coming since StreetSoldiers began. She calls them all her “friends.”
Renee and her husband Mike started StreetSoldiers in 2016 with only one card table. They handed out free soup and sandwiches to anyone, no questions asked.
“They’re comfortable here. We don’t ask them questions. There’s no paperwork for them to fill out. The volunteers don’t have to sign up to do anything. Our friends, they don’t have to sign up to come here. They’re not just a number. We know the majority of them by name. We know their stories from what they want to share with us,” Renee said.
StreetSoldiers provides more than meals — they provide care throughout the week to the people who they’ve come to know.
“We build that trust and that foundation and we grow a really good friendship with them, so during the week if they need something, they reach out,” Fahey said. “If we can get it for them, we’re dropping it off. If I’m not, Nancy is. If Nancy’s not, Lisa is. So we have a really good solid core of StreetSoldiers.”
READY TO GO
Fred Garavelli wears a wool cap and a patriotic mask as he stands behind a cooler.
“I usually bring hot dogs or something fairly simple,” he said. “The hot dogs are good because they can eat them standing up and they don’t need silverware.”
Every food item is individually packed at StreetSoldiers, not just because of COVID precautions, but because people can pack it up and take in their backpacks for the week. Garavelli started coming after he saw an article in the newspaper and has cooked weekly for them ever since. Garavelli frequently volunteers at a local soup kitchen as well and says things haven’t been the same since the pandemic began.
“The whole social aspect is gone,” he said. “You don’t know who your guests are now that they have masks on. It’s difficult to establish any kind of real contact.”
Madeline Connolly, another volunteer, explains that one of the most difficult struggles their friends go through is relationship poverty. “I absolutely love looking people in the eye, saying hello, and asking their name, slowly over time getting to know their story,” she said. “A lot of these people are alone, building relationships is empowering and impactful.”
GIVING THEIR FRIENDS A LEG UP
The Faheys and the other volunteers have helped a few people out of homelessness. One such person is Grey, who ran into the StreetSoldiers on New Years Eve in Washington Park, their former location. At the time, Grey was living in a tent by the river. “My life was so out of hand at one point where it was either a prison or a pine box,” he said. “It’s very humbling because my apartment just has – sometimes, it brings me to tears – things are in there and I don’t want to lose it for anything.”
Before spending his third winter outside, Grey finally found help when he broke his arm. “We went to the hospital with him. [They were] doing surgery,” Renee said.
One year, during a blizzard, Grey came with a shovel in hand and cleaned the area before the volunteers even arrived. “You guys come out during a state of emergency for us, that’s crazy,” he said. “The least I can do is show a little gratitude and help them set up. Just the compassion that goes in here. There’s no church behind this, there’s no organization behind this. It’s just people being human and that’s the biggest thing about it.”
Jazz also met StreetSoldiers at their former location in Washington Park. “For me, because I deal with homeless people, too, I saw them on the website and I said you know, my day was off, I went there and I said, you do you mind if I volunteer?” he said.
Homeless as well, Jazz recalls when Mike Fahey gave him a coat, boots, and jeans. Now he has his own apartment and volunteers with StreetSoldiers every week. “I never forget where I come from,” he said. “Renee, she takes my picture all the time. I have a good time down here with these people.”
StreetSoldiers had three previous locations in Albany, where Fahey says they were kicked out because of neighborhood association complaints and other reasons. They now finally share food and friendship in peace with a permit from the City of Albany for Academy Park.
Since then, StreetSoldiers has expanded to three cities in the Capital Region: Albany, Schenectady, and Troy.
‘MOTHER OF ALBANY’ FIGHTS FOOD INSECURITY WITH LOVE
Once the school day ends, the South End Children’s Cafe comes to life.
Tables are crowded with crayons, legos, and board games. The scent of fresh, home-cooked, healthy meals fills the air. Some call it “magical chaos.” Others call it love.
The South End Children’s Cafe is a place to come home to for Albany children and their families. Some of these families are homeless, victims of violence, or under extreme stress. Most live with food insecurity and others have trouble in school. The South End Children’s Cafe tackles both with free, healthy meals and homework help from retired teachers and college students.
CREATING A HEALTHY, LOVING SPACE
Founder and Director Tracie Killar started the Cafe with her husband when their youngest child started college because they wanted to get back into direct service. Killar, better known by the community as ‘Miss Tracie,’ has worked in the non-profit world for her entire life, but she wanted to work with people directly. An Albany Native, Miss Tracie has family living in the South End. She was interested in helping children while her husband wanted to tackle food insecurity. Thus, the South End Children’s Cafe was born.
Inspired by Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen — the Cafe is about sitting together, breaking bread, and talking about what you have in common. “It’s not about what we have that’s different,” Miss Tracie said. “It’s about what we have in common. We want to be a part of joy.”
Food is donated from various organizations, local restaurants, and community members themselves through two outdoor cupboards. Food insecurity is about access to healthy food. Miss Tracie says, “We try our best to have food made from scratch that is also made with love and served to the kids, trying to educate the kids why it’s important [to eat healthy]. We’ve never used the fryer in the Cafe. We’ve never even turned it on.”
ALL ABOUT COMMUNITY
When they first opened, one of the kids asked to speak, thanking the volunteers for cooking the food. This started a daily tradition of gratitude, during which the kids ask to “say their words” and thank everyone at the Cafe for all that they do.
Miss Tracie explained that mental health is just as important as physical health. “We offer more than just food,” she said. “We offer what makes us overall well and healthy. We have yoga, a ballet teacher, a lego club, someone that teaches chess.”
The South End Children’s Cafe also offers homework help from retired teachers and college students. Some families come just for the homework program because it’s small. Some kids stay in the homework room until it’s time to eat dinner while others get special help for learning disabilities.
SUPPORTING LOCAL FAMILIES
Miss Tracie’s work has impacted one family significantly. After Peter and his kids, Josh and Tyler, lost their mother, they met Miss Tracie about three years ago. Peter said, “She loves my kids a lot and she’s always doing good things. She’s always been a beautiful person.” Josh and Tyler chimed in, ”and we love her too!”
When Tyler was 8 years old, Miss Tracie said that the Cafe was gifted three gorgeous tomato bushes and the kids would love to pick the tomatoes to give them directly to the chef. One day, the bushes were missing. Someone had taken them. Tyler said, “Well, Miss Tracie, maybe they were hungry and needed it more than us.” Now 10 years old, Tyler said Miss Tracie also teaches him how to be more peaceful through a form of meditation. He said, “One day, I started crying, and she told me to close my eyes and take ten deep breaths and it worked!”
The family looks at Miss Tracie like a mother. In addition to providing food, clothing, and emotional support, she wrote a recommendation for Josh so he could get into Green Tech, a local charter school that prepares children and teenagers for college.
When asked what they could do to give back to Miss Tracie, Tyler said, “I’d probably take her to a nice dinner and a really good show. If I ever won the lottery, she’s the first person I would donate to.”
“Since the corona, they’ve been anxious,” Peter said, regarding his children. “Even with the corona, she was still there. If it wasn’t for her in this area, half of these people wouldn’t have a good year. She deserves a plaque: ‘The Mother of Albany’ because she deserves it. She helps everybody in Albany.’
PROVIDING HELP IN THE HARDEST TIMES
The Cafe is a bit quieter these days since COVID-19 impacted the Capital District this past March. “When COVID started, we had to shut down the cafe. We always had 35 kids in the cafe to 25 volunteers because we want kids to have 1-on-1 attention. We still had our food in the kitchen, we still had our chef and our volunteers, so we just kept cooking. People were coming to the door and telling us they had no way to get there, so we started delivering.”
Cafe volunteers started a weekly pick up and delivery service, feeding 650 children and their families. They also continued their annual summer program. The program was 6 weeks long with small groups. Kids received lunch, dinner, and a snack every day.
Before COVID, the South End Children’s Cafe served 60,000 dinners. After COVID, the Cafe has served 100,000 dinners.
The cafe is set to open its doors this Monday with new COVID restrictions, including social distancing that will require them to limit the space to nine afterschool children from their usual 30.
Like Elf, Miss Tracie says “Smiling is my favorite. With the masks, it’s much harder to connect with the kids. We can’t hug them. It’s hard not to have that.”
SOUTH END NIGHT MARKET BRINGS OPPORTUNITY TO LOCAL ENTREPRENEURS
Every Thursday evening, tents of many shapes and colors line Warren Street. Tables adorned with fresh vegetables, flowers, homemade body scrubs, and freshly made empanadas add color to an otherwise quiet street.
This is the newly established South End Night Market.
The Night Market is a collaboration between AVillage, Siena College, Radix, and a growing number of local vendors.
Shameera “Meera” Brown, owner of MeeraBeyond, started sewing masks when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Capital Region. Her table includes masks for any taste or size along with various oils infused with her favorite — dried rose petals.
“I love roses and use baby oil all the time, so I made this. People have been giving me great feedback for it. It’s been three or four months now.”
Brown’s friend suggested she come to the market to sell her masks when there were only four other vendors. Now, she makes scalp moisturizer and lip gloss from scratch, too.
“Every day I read about something and try something new. I ordered books on essential oils and everything,” she said.
Brown now lives in Lansingburgh, but she grew up in the South End and her family still lives here. “This is my way of giving back to anyone less fortunate.”
MORE THAN A MARKET
Another early vendor, Amber Henry, started selling her Olies Oils products after she was introduced to the market by co-organizer Kaciem Swain. Henry operates a simple table covered in hair and body products. Involved in real estate, Henry started her business as a way to give back to the community. “I wanted to do something more geared towards Albany, so I can support my community,” she said.
The South End Night Market also includes vendors who provide services at no or little cost. Just last week, three families filled out the census. Theresa Rodriguez and Katya Joseph provide legal services for the local community through their organization Legal Shield.
Both originally from the New York City area, Rodriguez fell in love with Albany and the idea of fixing up a property of her own. She moved to the South End two years ago and is just now finishing the renovations on her house. She plans to stick around for the long term and introduced Joseph to the area.
Legal Shield provides affordable access to legal advice for individuals in the South End. “We make sure people don’t have to break the bank to protect themselves,” said Joseph.
Meanwhile, at the market, Rodriguez was also selling freshly made empanadas at the Legal Shield tent.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
The market started this May as a simple farmer’s market at the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center on the corner of Warren and Grant Street. There was only one single vendor. It has since grown in the past three months to include easily over 10 vendors covering the length of the block, with new vendors added weekly.
“We decided against being monthly,” said Swain, Events Manager at AVillage and one of the founders of the South End Night Market. “Every Thursday was on the calendar and we just went with it.”
“It’s really about community and wealth building because it takes a village,” Leah Carroll, Development Director for AVillage, added.
Carroll and Swain, along with Dr. Ruth Kassell and Dr. Dan White, both of Siena College, are also working on a program called VISTA through AmeriCorps. VISTA is a 10 month fellowship program that builds wealth in the South End, starting with local people. “It invests in the community,” said Carroll. “People here love where they live. You want passion.”
Regarding the future of the South End Night Market, Swain is very optimistic. The market plans to host outdoor, socially distanced yoga and fitness classes soon. Since people are cooped up due to the pandemic, Swain says, “people want to get out of the house.”
Once the weather gets colder, the South End Night Market also plans to move indoors, expecting to operate weekly for the foreseeable future.
The South End Night Market is open to all every Thursday from 4-7PM.