Eccentric Millionaire Returns Manhattan Building to American Indians

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Jean-Louis Goldwater Bourgeois plans to return his small part of Manhattan to the Lenape Indians by transforming the building into prayer house.

Jean-Louis Goldwater Bourgeois, 76, plans to transfer the deed of his $4m West Village House to the Lenape American Indian tribe, also known as the first Manhattanites. The house was purchased under the Goldwater Bourgeois family name in 2006 for $2.2m. An architectural historian and activist, Goldwater Bourgeois told the NY Post “I have a romance with the history of the city, and I have been generally appalled that the land that the city is on has been taken by whites.” He went further to say, “This building is the trophy from major theft. It disgusts me.”

Goldwater Bourgeois is referring to the Lenape’s original inhabitation of Mannahatta, meaning “land of many hills”. Original correspondences show Dutch traders purchased the land from the Indians in 1626. Johanna Gorelick from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian explains “They did not believe at that time that land could be privately owned. It was something that wasn’t part of their world view. The sale of Manhattan was a misunderstanding.”

The three story clapboard house is located in the Weehawken Street Historic District, facing West Street and the Hudson River. Goldwater Bourgeois is working with former Lenape chief Anthony Jay Van Dunk to convert the building into a house of prayer. “I told Jean-Louis about the idea of a patahmaniikan, or a prayer house,” Van Dunk said. “He liked it, and we went forward from there.”

The men commenced the project with a small initial ceremony. “The purpose of that was to let the spirits know what was about to happen and what our vision was for the space,” described Van Dunk. “We had a pipe. We had a smudging. We had prayers being said. It was a healing. We wanted the spirits to know we were coming in with a good heart.” The gift was contested by Dwaine Perry, 69, current chief of the ­Ramapough Lenape Nation. He said that Van Dunk was expelled from the tribe and he would like to work with Gold Water Bourgeois to transform the house “into a Native American embassy providing services to indigenous people.” Regardless, Goldwater Bourgeois is dismissing the “unfounded” claims and going forward with Van Dunk, who is currently a Brooklyn woodworker and has been banned from the tribe. It is unclear who will directly receive the house.

Jean-Louis is son of the late sculptor Louise Bourgeois. In 2015, an immense bronze and silver nitrate spider of Bourgeois was auctioned for $28.2m. Her son is also active in Dakota Pipeline protests, stating he donated $600,000 to the Oceti Sakowin camp site for “food, firewood, protective hay bales and transportation”. He continues to contend with his “rage against what whites have done and some guilt, no, a lot of guilt” and says the “the right thing to do is to return [the house].”

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Reprinted with permission from True Activist