Chadds Ford Historical Society

Revisiting History

A Brief Look at Lenape Culture and Settlement

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In this post, I will talk a little bit about the period of European settlement and its effect on the Lenni Lenape over time. An example of this would be the reservation system imposed on Native peoples throughout the United States over an extended period of years. Did you know that there were once reservations in both New Jersey and in Delaware? We will find out a little bit about that shortly. First, let’s take brief step back to a previous post about the Native definitions for the three dialect clans that made up the Lenni Lenape people.

The Munsee – “People of the Stony Country

The Unami – “The People Down River

The Unalachtigo – “The People Who Live Near the Ocean

brotherton

The Lenape people were considered “grandfathers” or “ancient ones” by many tribes and were to be among the oldest of Northeastern Nations who lived in the area. This tribe was known to be more peaceful and less interested in warring with other tribes. They were also considered a mediator between those tribes who were having disputes and often very hospitable toward European settlers upon their arrival in the 1650s.

But in 1698 the government of Maryland set aside the Chicacoan/Chicone/Chiconi reservation and in 1711 the Broad Creek and Indian River Reservations were established by colonial British authorities. There was also a reservation in New Jersey called the Brotherton Reservation located in Burlington County between the years of 1758-1802. Some of these places were intended to be protectorate locations for Native people, yet in fact became burdensome to the tribal people inhabiting the area. Once the reservations were closed, it left Native populations to fend for themselves in terms of land settlement. Land was already being encroached upon before the reservations were set in place. Then as the Native people were displaced to areas and forced to live in a sedentary manner not typical of their culture, their release from this land left them in the hands of the government which allowed settlement for the colonial population in areas previously lived in by the Lenape and Nanticoke tribes.

A migration of the Nanticoke people from the E. Maryland shore to S.E. Delaware in the 1600s would eventually lead them to unite with the Lenni Lenape people in the New Jersey region. Some Lenape people tried to adapt or assimilate themselves into the general population after the Revolution in order to survive and without having to migrate to other locations. Some lived as farmers and others as tradesmen. It is unfortunate however, that the Lenape people were not considered “persons within the meaning of the law” until 1879, due to a U.S. Federal Court law. In 1924, Native people in general were finally considered “citizens” of the United States. According to the Nanticoke and Lenni Lenape Indians of New Jersey, their website states that:

With the protections of the “American Indian Religious Freedom Act” emboldening our people to be far more assertive on behalf of our tribe, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe established a tribally governed 501(c)3 non-profit community benefit agency, “The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians of New Jersey,” which is chartered exclusively for educational, social, and cultural purposes, to promote the welfare of Native Americans who reside in the Delaware Valley; to extend charity in all forms to those Native Americans in need, giving priority to Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indians residing in the Delaware Valley; to establish cultural and instructional facilities; to improve health and welfare, housing, human rights, and economic security; to acquire and preserve land and water areas in a natural scenic or open condition consistent with the heritage of the Native Americans who reside in the Delaware Valley“.

In 1978, Congress signed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, allowing Native people from all tribes the right to practice their religious beliefs in the ways they sought fit under the current law.

Native people have struggled to reclaim their rights over an extended period of 400 years. Their struggle for the rights and ability to maintain their culture is still threatened in many areas of the country, even today. It is not something that most of us will witness in the local or even national news, but it is still something that needs to be worked recognized and addressed. It is important to note that they have brought themselves from some of the most incredibly trying of situations into a new chapter in American history. They are still trying to educate the public in many ways about their culture (as individual nations, tribes, bands, and clans) and the relevance it has to our own history as citizens of this country. Only time will allow a more welcoming and empathetic spirit from non-Natives toward all Native people residing in our area and throughout the country. It is clearly noted, however, that we have already come a long way, but progress in any area of historical study and the understanding of cultures will be ongoing into perpetuity.
Published by: Sarah Krykew
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