Some may remember a discussion Littoral Society staff had last year with Ty Gould-Jacinto of the Native American Advancement Corporation (NAAC). In it, we talked about a 63-acre tract of land that she and her organization were working to preserve. We are happy to share that they have succeeded in that goal, and the Cohanzick Nature Reserve is officially owned by the NAAC!
We’d like to congratulate our allies at the NAAC on their success and thank them for their continued work in caring for the coast. While the Cohanzick Nature Reserve is not open to the public yet, it is expected to be in the near future. When it does open, the Littoral Society plans to host educational events there as we continue to learn with and from the Lenape people in South Jersey.
"We see establishing the reserve as not just important to our mission, but also crucial for that area of New Jersey and for the Lenape people,” says Lucia Osborne, Director of the Littoral Soceity’s Delaware Bayshore Office. "In addition to empowering tribe members living in the area, it will also have a big impact on the bayshore environment, while offering an amazing place to teach other people the importance of preserving nature and how that will affect their lives."
From an ecological perspective, the land itself is pristine and has never been clear cut for farming. Its incredibly dense system of tree roots and undisturbed microbiome in the soil is perfect for filtering out pollutants, helping to recharge the Kirkwood Cohansey Aquifer, South Jersey’s main source of drinking water, with clean fresh water.
The area also has unique flora and fauna, with Ty pointing out mushrooms that can be used as natural dye and native carnivorous plants. The old growth forest also serves as a home for bald eagles, barred owls, and red-headed woodpeckers.
The property also features a 9,000 square foot building that was used as a church. The building will continue to be used as a place for spiritual gatherings, serving as a longhouse for Native people in South Jersey. In addition, it will be an educational hub for promoting climate resiliency, where people will be taught sustainable land stewardship as well as how to retrofit homes to make them more energy efficient.
Additionally, the acquisition and future plans for the reserve are an important source of empowerment. In last year’s interview, one of the things Ty mentioned was her distaste for Native American Heritage Month, because people tend to speak about Native Americansand their cultural heritage as being a part of the past. It’s an unfortunately common thing that many non-native people have done and continue to do, and it takes away from the power of native people.
American Indian Boarding Schools, which existed in the United States until the early 1900s, were based on concepts of coercive assimilation, which involved taking Native American children from their families and teaching them to be ashamed of their culture. Such ideas were carried into more modern times through common depictions of Indigenous people in movies and television; which have often shown them as primitive and disconnected from today’s society.
Nevertheless, Native American heritage has persisted through all of this, and is more deeply integrated into conservation than many people realize. Over 12,000 Lenape people are still in the Delaware Bay region and purchase of the Cohanzick Nature Reserve is part of their ongoing effort to foster pride in their ancestry while also teaching others how to live in harmony with our planet.
The NAAC believes that education is the key to change for everyone. Once complete, the Cohanzick Nature Reserve will serve as a nature and outdoor education center, while also expanding NAAC’s capacity to deliver energy, soil, water, and air conservation training programs to surrounding communities.
As an organization whose mission is to care for the coast and empower others to do the same, there is so much the Littoral Society can learn from Indigenous people.