Lenape (Native Americans of the Northeast Woodlands)

Lenape ltmp2010_thumb, or Leni Lenape, "Human Beings" or "Real People" in the Unami dialect, were part of a group of Algonquian speakers from North Carolina to New York. The Lenape tribes who lived around the Delaware River are more commonly known as Delaware Indians (from Baron De La Warre, governor of Virginia). This central group of northeastern Algonquian Indians was referred to as "grandfather" by other Algonquian tribes, in recognition of its position as the group from which many local Algonquian tribes diverged.

Location In the sixteenth century, the Lenape were located in the Delaware River area, both along the coast and inland. The Unami lived in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware; the Munsee lived in northern New Jersey, extreme southern New York, and southeastern Connecticut. A quasi-division known as Unalachtigo lived mainly in New Jersey.

Late-twentieth-century Lenape communities were located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Ontario, Canada.

Population There were roughly 10,000 Lenape in 1600. The present-day Lenape population is hard to determine, but it is probably around 16,000 people.

Language Munsee and Unami are Algonquian languages.

Historical Information

History According to the Walum Olum (see "Key Technology"), the Lenape may have originated to the northeast, possibly in Labrador, where they were united with the Shawnee and the Nanticoke. They may have passed through the eastern Great Lakes region and the Ohio Valley, where they met and possibly defeated Hopewell Mound Builder people. They likely encountered non-natives in the early to mid-sixteenth century.

Contact with Henry Hudson in 1609 was followed by the people’s rapid involvement in the fur trade. In short order, their dependence on items of non-native manufacture, such as metal items, guns, and cloth, fundamentally altered their economy as well as their relations with neighboring peoples. Other changes in material culture included the introduction of new foods such as pigs, chickens, and melons. In 1626, the Manhattan Band of Lenape traded the use of Manhattan Island to a Dutchman for about $24 worth of goods. This arrangement was quickly interpreted as a sale by the Dutch, who, unlike the Lenape, valued property ownership.

Growing numbers of non-natives, Indian land cessions and pressure for more, and intertribal rivalries brought on by competition over furs led to conflict with the Dutch from the 1640s until the British took possession of the colony in 1663. In 1683, the Lenape people, represented by Chief Tamanend (from whose name the designation of Tammany Hall was taken), signed a treaty of friendship with the Quaker William Penn (who gave his name to the state of Pennsylvania).

By the late seventeenth century, the Lenape population had been decimated by disease and warfare. In the early eighteenth century, the Iroquois Confederacy dominated the Lenape people, even going so far as to sell some of their land to the British. By the middle of that century, more and more Lenapes had moved into western Pennsylvania and the Ohio River Valley. A group of Lenape established farms in eastern Ohio, but hostilities with non-natives increased as the frontier moved west. About 100 Lenapes were slaughtered by Kentucky frontiersmen at a Moravian mission in 1782.

Unami speakers living in the lower Allegheny and upper Ohio Valleys in the mid-eighteenth century formed the nucleus of the emerging Lenape or Delaware tribe. These people were organized into three groups, or clans—Turkey, Turtle, and Wolf— each with a chief living in a main village. One of the chiefs acted as tribal spokesman. The Lenape fought the British in the French and Indian War and were generally divided in the Revolutionary War. In 1762, a Lenape medicine man called Delaware Prophet helped to unite the local Indians to fight in Pontiac’s rebellion. Some Lenape also participated in Little Turtle’s war (1790-1794) and in Tecumseh’s rebellion (1809-1811).

As the non-natives kept coming, groups of Lenape continued west into Missouri and even Texas, where they remained until forced into western Oklahoma in 1859. These "absentee Delaware" began hunting buffalo and assumed some aspects of Plains life.

After the Lenape remaining in Ohio were defeated, with their Indian allies, in the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, they moved to Indiana, Missouri, and Kansas. From their base in Kansas they fought with the Pawnee, who claimed their land, as well as with other Plains tribes. Many also served as scouts in the U.S. Army. After living in Kansas for a couple of generations as farmers, trappers, and guides, they were forced to relocate to Oklahoma in the 1860s. Following a court battle, these Lenape became citizens of the Cherokee Nation.

Meanwhile, groups of Munsee speakers had joined the Stockbridge Indians in Massachusetts and New York and moved with them to a reservation in Wisconsin. Others joined the Cayuga in New York and migrated with them to the Six Nations Reserve in Ontario in the late eighteenth century. Still others moved to Canada as well, one group founding a

Moravian village in 1792 along the Thames River and another group living at Munceytown. Yet another group joined the Swan Lake and Black River Chippewa near Ottawa, Kansas.

Religion Like many Algonquins, the Lenape believed in a great spirit (manitou) as well as the presence of other spirits in all living things. Personal guardian spirits were acquired in adolescence and were said to be connected with future success.

The fortnight-long bear sacrifice, held in midwinter, was the most important of at least five annual religious festivals. Others revolved around foods, such as maple sugar (early spring), corn (late spring and late summer), and strawberries (early summer), as well as curing. Many festivals were held in a long wooden structure that had 12 ceremonial masks carved on its posts. The festivals included singing and dancing as well as drumming on deerskin drums and shaking turtleshell rattles.

After death, spirits were said to travel to an afterlife. Names were given with the benefit of a personal vision by the name giver, which enhanced his or her status. Chiefs often served as religious as well as political leaders of the village. Shamans of both sexes were responsible for holding the curing ceremonies.

Government Each of the three autonomous divisions maintained its own territory; there was never any political unity. Each village group of several hundred people had its own hereditary chief (sachem or sagamore). The chief had no coercive powers, instead acting as mediator, adviser, and hunt leader. With the chief, other lineage leaders and elders formed a council.

Village groups were autonomous, but they often acted in concert for purposes of hunting drives and defense. There were also specific rules governing shared resource use areas and social contacts.

Customs There were traditionally three matrilineal clans. Women grew and prepared foods, took care of children, gathered firewood, and prepared skins. Men hunted, fished, traded, fought, cured, made houses and most tools, and served as chiefs. People from the coast tended to visit the interior in the spring, when they moved to fishing and hunting camps, whereas people from the interior visited the coast in summer. Murder was generally expiated by a payment.

Infants were kept on a cradle board, which mothers wore on their backs supported with tumplines, for most of the first year. Girls were secluded and observed strict behavioral taboos during their periods. Premarital sexual relations were condoned, but adultery was not, except where consent was given, such as in wife lending on the part of a polygynous chief. There was a yearlong betrothal period. Intermarriage was frequent between the village groups. Divorce was easily and frequently obtained. Corpses were buried in a sitting position with some possessions. Mourners blackened their faces and visited the grave annually. Widowers could marry again after making a payment to the former wife’s family.

Dwellings Each of 30-40 villages, located on river and tributary meadows, was surrounded by fields and hunting grounds. Houses were circular, domed wigwams or 30- to 60-foot (but up to 100 foot) multifamily, grass or bark-covered, single doorway longhouses with both pitched and arched roofs. Both dwellings contained smoke holes. Interior longhouses may have been palisaded in times of war. Bark partitions did not meet the opposite wall, leaving room for a structure-long corridor. Multilevel wall platforms served as seats, beds, and storage areas. Woven reed mats were placed on floors and hung on walls for added insulation. Crops were strung on the ceiling to dry. Most interior people left the villages in winter, when they retired to the woods to live generally in small dwellings.

Diet From at least circa 1300, inland groups depended mostly on corn; beans and squash were also important. Corn was prepared to make soup, bread, dumplings, and many other dishes. Game hunted in seasonal trips included deer, elk, bear, raccoons, rabbit, wolves, squirrel, and fowl. Fire surrounds were used as part of a general practice of burning the undergrowth of certain lands. Men also trapped various small mammals, turkeys, and other birds. Fresh meat and fish were boiled or fire roasted. Coastal people depended mainly on fish and shellfish (generally dried and preserved), seaweed, birds, berries, and meat and oil from stranded whales. Women gathered various roots, greens, wild fruits, and nuts as well as maple sap. Tobacco was also grown.

Key Technology The Walum Olum ("red score") was a pictographic history, painted or engraved on wood or bark, of the people’s legends and early migrations. A later manuscript, the only one that survives in any form, interpreted the pictographs in the Lenape language.

Fishing equipment included various types of nets as well as spears, traps, bow and arrow, and weirs. Women made rush (coast) and corn-husk (interior) baskets. Along the coast, people used fish bones as needles and sharp mollusk shell edges as blades; sharp rocks served as blades in the interior. Old people generally made pottery, fishnets, and other items. Men hunted using bows and arrows, traps, fire surrounds, and drives.

People carved dishes and bowls from wood or simply used gourds. Hollowed stumps served as mortars, with wood or stone pestles. Plant fibers or the inner bark from particular trees supplied cordage material. Corn was stored in mat-lined pits. Most cutting tools were made of stone. Men affixed stone, bone, horn, or tooth arrowheads with fish glue or resin.

Trade The Lenape traded in, among other items, rounded-bottom pots; grass mats, bags, and baskets; wampum (polished shell); and bark and skin containers. Summer was the main trade season.

Notable Arts Woven items, such as baskets, were decorated with painted spruce roots or porcupine quills.

Transportation Men made dugout and bark canoes.

Dress Women made clothing of deerskins and furs. People generally wore few clothes, such as breechclouts for men and skin kilts for women, in warm weather. Both added leggings, deerskin moccasins, and robes of bear or other skins in winter (women sometimes wore feather robes). Other items of clothing included turkey feather cloaks, leather belts, and temporary cornhusk footwear. Men also wore snakeskin or feather headbands.

Some clothing was painted or tasseled and fringed. People dressed their hair and bodies with bear or raccoon grease mixed with onion, in part as a protection against the sun and insects. Women tended to wear braids, whereas men roached their hair. Various personal adornments included earrings and necklaces, tattoos, and body paint.

War and Weapons There was some fighting between Lenape villages. Most Lenape warfare was limited in nature. Warriors painted their faces, wore special attire, and used a special jargon. Weapons included the bow and arrow, wooden helmet, wooden war club, and large wooden or moose-hide shield. Captives were generally adopted or tortured and killed. Special war dances were associated with wars and raids. Intertribal confederacies were occasionally formed in times of major wars.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations The Delaware Tribe of Indians, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Delaware Counties, Oklahoma, is governed by the Delaware Tribal Business Committee. Tribal population was about 10,000 in the early 1990s.

The Delaware Tribe of Western Oklahoma, established in 1866, is located near Anadarko, Oklahoma. Their land area is roughly 63,600 acres, held with the Wichita and Caddo tribes. Fewer than 3,000 acres are tribally owned. Tribal enrollment was around 1,000 in 1990.

A small number of Citizen Delaware (Munsee and Ojibwa) live near Ottawa, Kansas.

The Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation, Shawano County, Wisconsin (established in 1856), consists of approximately 46,000 acres of land, roughly one-third of which is held in trust by the federal government. The 1990 Indian population was 447, with about an additional 1,000 people also enrolled. The tribe is governed by a seven-member elected tribal council.

Other U.S. communities include the Ramapough Mountain Indians in New Jersey (about 2,500 people), the Powhatan-Renape Nation at Rancocas, New Jersey (about 600 people), the Brotherton Indians (Wisconsin), and the Eastern Lenape Nation (Pennsylvania).

The Six Nations Reserve, Ontario, was home to roughly 350 mixed Lenape in the early 1990s. Delaware Indians also live on the following three Ontario reserves: Delaware of Grand River, Moravians of the Thames, and Muncey of the Thames.

The Moravians of the Thames Reserve, Kent County, Ontario, consists of roughly 1,200 hectares and is home to roughly 500 mixed Lenape.

Roughly 200 Muncee Indians live on the Muncey of the Thames Reserve near London, Ontario, on about 2,700 acres.

Economy In Oklahoma, most Lenape are integrated with the non-native population. Tribal enterprises include bingo and tobacco sales. The Oklahoma Delawares received a land claims settlement of about $15 million in the late 1970s.

Legal Status The Delaware Tribe of Indians, the Delaware Tribe of Western Oklahoma (Absentee), and the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians of Wisconsin are federally recognized tribal entities.

Other tribal organizations include the Native Delaware Indians (New Jersey), the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians (New Jersey), the Delaware-Munsee (Kansas), the Powhatan-Renape Nation (New Jersey), the Munsee Thames River Delaware Tribal Council (Colorado), the Eastern Lenape Nation (Pennsylvania), and the Nanticoke Indian Association (Delaware). The Ramapough Mountain Indians (New Jersey) have been denied federal recognition (1997).

Daily Life Most Lenape are Christians, and some belong to the Native American Church, especially in Oklahoma. Each Oklahoma community hosts a powwow in summer. Some communities still hold "secular" naming ceremonies. The native language remains alive but not in common use, and there are programs in Oklahoma devoted to maintaining and building an awareness of some traditional culture. The Delaware Nation Grand Council of North America, incorporated in 1992, coordinates ongoing relations between the scattered groups of Lenape.

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