A split has opened up in the campaign by Native Americans for historical compensation after descendants of East Coast Indians have defended the infamous real estate deal that swapped the island of Manhattan for some beads.
‘What nobody acknowledges is that these were really nice beads’ said Karl Skywolf who is on the more moderate side of the Native American movement. ‘They had these dinky little shells and sparkly bits, and you could double them up and wear them as a bracelet as well as a necklace.’ he went on. ‘People always criticize our ancestors in the Carnarsee tribe for handing over the most valuable real estate in the world for a handful of sparkling trinkets, but you have to appreciate that Manhattan needed a lot doing to it. It’s had a lot of cash spent on it since then, and the beads seemed a good deal at the time.’
More militant Native Americans point to the infamous exchange as a symbol of their exploitation at a time when Indians did not recognise the concept of land ownership, and accepted the trinkets as a goodwill gift. ‘We demand the return of all the land in the metropolitan area of New York as rightfully ours’ said one militant. ‘Oh come on, it’s not going to happen…’ responded Skywolf, ‘it’s not as if we still have the jewellery to give back in return.’
However the Mayor of New York refused to dismiss the idea out of hand. With falling property prices, rising crime and unemployment, the mayors office is open to all ideas. ‘If you can find the beads after all this time’ he said, ‘we might be able to do you a deal on the Bronx and part of Queens.’
16 December 2008