Marjorie Dancing Wind Heacock presented her vision at the Montgomery County Annex building yesterday for a cultural, historic, and retail endeavor that could potentially employ 300 people someday and have an impact on the economy of the entire region.
Heacock outlined plans for the Tribes Hill Heritage Center which call for a multi-building facility that will initially incorporate a leather working training and production building, grounds for Native American pow wow meetings, space for hand-made craft vendors, and a two-story display building for authentic Native American arts and crafts. Later phases of the plan also include a building which could facilitate conventions, weddings and other events, a restaurant that would also serve as a culinary school, and additional buildings to facilitate the learning of other subjects such as basket weaving, geology, and ecology. The proposed site of the project is a 60 acre plot of land in Tribes Hill in the Town of Mohawk, just south of the scenic parking area on Route 5.
Heacock, who is of Native American descent and resides in Tribes Hill, said she began thinking about the project approximately a year ago. She then teamed up with co-founder Terrie Robbins of Gloversville and began putting together the plans and an organizational structure. Both Heacock and Robbins are retired school teachers. Besides teaching, Heacock has worked extensively with traditional Native American crafts and specializes in leather working. Robbins was formerly the executive director for the Montgomery County Red Cross and is a published author.
Last year, the project was successfully incorporated as a non-profit organization and a board of directors was formed. In addition to Heacock and Robbins, board members include Nicholas Heacock of Amsterdam, Austin page of Amsterdam, Thomasina Winslow of Coxsackie, Karen Heitzman-Boehlke of Fultonville, Claire Littlejohn of Schenectady, Beverly Guiffre of Fonda, Nikki Svolos of Johnstown, and Ernesto Morales of Amsterdam. Anthem Websites of Amsterdam, publisher of the Mohawk Valley Compass, was selected to build and maintain a website. The organization also worked with Steven E. Smith Engineering of Gloversville for the site plans and The Original Lincoln Logs of Chestertown for architectural illustrations.
The non-profit has been recognized by New York State as a non-profit educational, religious, and charitable organization. In regards to the charitable aspect, Heacock explained that the organization may want to provide assistance to Native Americans in need who travel to the various pow wow events. According to Heacock, Native Americans who originated in the Tribes Hill area currently reside on reservations in Canada.
In regards to the religious aspect, Heacock stressed that the purpose of the organization was not to teach religion, however she said, “I don’t know how to talk about the artifacts, the artwork, the Native American traditions, unless I [talk] about religion. I’m sorry, but it’s woven throughout everything we do.”
Although the organization is non-profit, Heacock said that sales at the grounds would be subject to sales tax. Funding for the project would initially require grants, however Heacock said she hopes the organization will be self-supporting through sales and membership
Heacock said she hopes the project will help make Montgomery County a destination rather than just a place to drive through.
“Once we have them [here], then the idea is to keep them here. We don’t ever want them to hit this place and go ‘oh we saw it all,”” said Heacock.
Heacock said she hopes visitors will stay for days at a time, utilizing local hotels and spurring the growth of bed and breakfasts and restaurants in the area.
Networking with and supporting other local historical sites is also part of the plan.
“We have connected with all the historical sites in the area, all the museums,” said Heacock. “We are planning to shuttle-bus to all the historic sites to connect them together. We plan to bring large buses in from New York City, Boston, Montreal.”
Preserving the natural beauty of the land and minimizing any negative impacts to the area are also high priorities for the organization.
“We have extreme concern for this particular piece of land,” said Heacock. “It’s gorgeous and we intend to keep it gorgeous. That means we can’t overrun the land.”
According to Heacock, the facility will be designed such that it will not deteriorate the view from the scenic parking area on Route 5. She said that the tallest structure will be the two-story display building, and that other structures, such as the those on the pow wow and vendor grounds would not be higher than eight feet.
She also addressed concerns about developing on agricultural land.
“We’re not taking away a piece of agricultural land to do something else with it,” said Heacock. “It will be more agricultural when we get done with it than it is now by quite a bit because of the number of gardens and things going in.”
Heacock also added that the facility will not open any earlier than 9am and will not close later than 6pm so that traffic would not interfere with school bus or commuter routes. The grounds will also feature a one-way exit that will direct traffic away from Tribes Hill rather than toward it.
At the end of the presentation, Heacock said that she believes the positive impact of the endeavor would “radiate out” to the surrounding villages and cities of Montgomery and Fulton Counties.
“Our commitment is to do it local. So if you please, join us on this journey,” concluded Heacock.