The Lenni-Lenape

Land of the Lenape

The Lenni-Lenape (variously translated to mean “men of men,” “original” or “common” people) are considered the “grandfathers” or “ancient ones” by many other tribes and are viewed as the “trunk” of the Algonkian family tree. The Lenape (pronounced Le-NAH-pay) homeland ranged from southeastern New York through to northeastern Delaware and included all of New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Called the “Delaware Indians” by the British, our Lenape ancestors were the ancient diplomats who were called to settle disputes between tribes.

The Nanticoke

Nanticoke Territory

The Nanticoke (pronounced Nan-TEH-coke), called the “tidewater people,” lived in the central Delmarva Peninsula primarily along the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Our Nanticoke ancestors were known for their shell beads (called “roenoke,” similar to wampum), for constructing bridges across creeks, and for their knowledge of herbal medicines. The Nanticoke were called master traders by the British. In ancient times, the Nanticoke had emerged from the Lenape, with the territories of each tribe coming together in Delaware.

Our Ancient Way of Life

Our Lenape and Nanticoke ancestors were peace loving, and given to hospitality. We lived in harmony with the natural world around us in small communities and had wigwams and longhouses as homes. The men hunted and fished while the women grew crops.  Men were charged with protecting the village while women were charged with care for their homes. The village chief (called “sakima” in Lenape, but commonly referred to as “sachem”) led by example and personal sacrifice, and conferred with a council of respected “great ones” and elders.

Lenape "Fort" by Campanius of New Sweden

We wore clothes of animal skins, decorated with shell and bone beads and sometimes with natural pigments. We honored the Creator and his appointed guardian spirits by respecting all life and never taking more from nature than we could use. That respect for life meant that if an animal was taken for food, all of the animal should be used in some way in order to show gratitude for the sacrifice of its life to sustain ours.

Strong Medicine Speaks

Strong Medicine

A Book by Amy Hill Hearth on the Life of Marion “Strong Medicine” Gould, a tribal elder and mother of Chief Mark Gould.

Native Pride

Key Leaders during Tribal Reorganization in New Jersey

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, a new generation of tribal leaders arose that began to advocate for our tribal communities in ways that were more outspoken and public.  While the Nanticoke Community of Sussex County, Delaware, had re-established a tribal chieftaincy in the early 1900’s, the church based, family clan style governance that had prevailed for almost two centuries within the more northern communities in Kent County, Delaware, and Cumberland County, New Jersey, was supplemented with non-church based community action initiatives and then was slowly replaced with constitutionally reorganized tribal governments.   The quiet self isolation of the past began to give way to a more activist style of leadership, which began to regularly interact with the non-Native public on behalf of the tribal people.

Nanticoke-Lenape Children performing a traditional dance

By 1978, tribally controlled community benefit charities were established to provide social services to tribal citizens.  Cultural programming sought to ensure the preservation and promotion of tribal culture.  Regular meetings of the tribal citizenship moved from principally being in the churches to being conducted in community facilities.  Offices were established and staff was hired to administer tribal programs.

Annual Pow Wows, which are celebrations of American Indian Culture and are marked by drumming, dancing,  eating,  and the display and sale of crafts, were opened to the public.

In 2007, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation of New Jersey and the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware formed the intertribal union, “The Confederation of Sovereign Nentego-Lenape Tribes,” aimed at promoting tribal interests, preserving tribal culture, and protecting tribal sovereignty.