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They Call Us Many Things...!
By Deborah Russell   

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We Are Lenape.

They Call Us Many Things...

We Are Lenape.

Some of the old families, such as mine, are able to trace First Nation ancestry easily simply by looking through family Bibles. Everything important was kept in the family Bible: weddings, births, deaths, sicknesses, agreements, settlements, trade receipts, land purchases, plats of neighboring land, lists of dry goods, farm tools, seeds and purchases.

Most importantly, the family Bible contains the names and photographs of relatives. My great grandfather's Bible is a treasure of family history - complete with a photograph of my great-great grandmother, a Lenape/Nanticoke woman, who was called, "Golden Eagle" and adapted the Latin name, Aquila. (which translatesas Golden Eagle) There is, among family photos, a later photograph of her immediate family that included nearly thirty people.

Lenape means original people. Their history is nearly erased, drastically changed and far removed from our present day texts. The history of the Lenape (presently known as Nanticoke and other area tribal names such as Tide Water people, has been replaced by a history written from the perspective of politics and bias based on greed. The type of greed that is instilled and perpetrated by the "carrot" of  government funding and allotments; the greed that separates First Nation people, especially today.

It is my opinion that the Lenape do not have a need to register with the government for the sole purpose of being eligible for government funding. To take this allotment/money is to accept all actions made to discredit our existence, remove our history and void our natural claim to this Nation's land.

It is an offer that we refuse.

Lenape were, before the sixteenth century, under the Iroquois Confederation.Before and during this period, they were a highly developed culture with communities that included a great hall, a central building for government, agricultural and spiritual meetings.

Lenape communities included separate buildings for trade, food storage, cooking, children's education, medical purposes and a building for teaching war tactics. Lenape communities also included single-family dwellings for newly weds and elders. The central and largest building was used for gatherings to celebrate engagements, weddings, births, spring festival and annual harvest.

Although Lenape were known as a peaceful and peace seeking people, they were forced to defend themselves and their land during the uprising against Dutch settlers, in the 1600's in what is now known as Pennsylvania.

Lenape were feared for their warrior skills and known for their abilities, wisdom and spiritual strength. Lenape are called Grandfather and Great Grandfather because Lenape are believed to be the oldest and most respected tribe.

Lenape are also called Turtle people, a name of great honor because it was generally and widely accepted as the creation theory. During the Great Migration, Lenape traveled south to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware.

The Lenape built long houses.  They did not live in tents. The wigwam was used as a travel home for hunting, fishing, for spiritual purposes and celebrations and as a temporary shelter for the sick or injured. (during wars)In the center of their communities vineyards and gardens surrounded the main hall or Great building. Lenape were renamed by early Dutch and English settlers for the areas in which they lived. They were named according to words of the Lenape (Algonquin) language that meant river, mountain, stream, etc.Lenape that migrated to the southern part of Delaware and the Delmarva Peninsula were renamed, according to the area and the nearest river branch to their communities, such as:  Nanticoke, Roanoke, Pocomoke and in some cases, derivatives of other tribal languages or associations.

During the seventeenth century, on land that is now known as the Delmarva Peninsula, the Lenape came into contact with some of the early settlers. There were many marriages between Lenape women and these settlers from England, France, Italy, Belgium and Germany.

The Lenape were a peaceful people who lived close to nature, who believe in one great spirit that unites all living things of nature.

In the Lenape tribe, until the mid 1600's, women were the head of household. They owned the houses and owned the land.  They were the teachers of children and handled all legal business, including trade, treaties, household matters and signed all official documents.

The men were responsible for farming, raising children, protecting and providing for their community and families.  The men were spiritual leaders, hunters, fisherman and farmers. They raised corn, beans, tomatoes and squash, which were the staples of their diet. 

Lenape men wore long hair tied in a tail. They were clean-shaven and wore deerskin pants and shirts. Lenape women wore deerskin dresses and wore their long hair in single braids, loose or in a style of two moons (buns on each side of their head) embellishments (shells, feathers, beads) were usually reserved for events like spiritual offerings, engagements weddings, funerals or births. 

Lenape men and women wore deerskin shoes, boots and capes.  In winter months, they wore furs and fur-lined boots. Near the turn of the sixteenth century, Lenape dresses had become embellished with large collars and shawls, which were decorated with feathers and shells.

Many Lenape descendants live on the Eastern Shore. They are called the "old" families who often trace their origins to the Nanticoke or other known tribes like Chesapeake and the Tidewater people and are able to do this because of their early association with the settlers and becoming Christian, thus recording their families in their Bibles.

Lenape were feared by many settlers and mistakenly so, because they hold the belief that all living things have significant energy that communicates and connects with the human spirit. Lenape were basically feared for their natural power to utilize nature and the elements.

Eventually, throughout the mid and late 1800's the Lenape were forced to give up the old ways or be exiled from their land.

One way Lenape women maintained their land was to marry and assume proper English, French, German and Irish names. If Lenape were recognized as being original people, their children would be forced to attend classes to teach them English and Christianity.

Eventually all Lenape that wished to remain in Delaware, among their (now second, third and forth generation) families, were forced to adapt the dress, language and culture of the white settlers.

This included the difficult and strenuous process of accepting new religious practices, and letting go of the Natural Way of the Great Spirit.

- Deborah Russell © 2003

Published, Quill & Parchment

The government of these United States, does not recognize Lenape descendents presently living in the state of Delaware. They do recognize Lenape (known as Delaware Indians) that live in our Western states, which are descendents of the Lenape who were forced to move (or did not want to separate from their families) to designated reservations. This is a great form of prejudice which continues to be perpetrated throughout many Delmarva Peninsula communities. 

One obvious result /prejudice of the "registered" indigenous tribes is that they refuse to allow non registered natives  to participate in any form of buisness during Powwows. In other words,  non registered indigenous people are not recognized by their own and therefore  do  not have vending privileges, ie: paintings, weavings, pottery, jewelry etc. and are not allowed to participate in events as native Americans.

More and more, the US government is forcing our "registered" tribes to regulate and control Powwow events and activities in an "acceptable" and strict regulated form.

It seems, at present, we do not have to be registered to continue to sing Amazing Grace in our own language. Peace, wisdom and strength in all good deeds. - Deborah
  Image: Self portrait, D.Russell

(Digital manipulation/ Denver Powwow and National Powwow, DC)   

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