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The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania Is Fighting for Recognition

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The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania is preventing for governmental recognition — regardless of pushback from different Lenape tribes — elevating huge questions on who will get to name themselves Native and the way the state views its historical past.


lenape nation

Lenape tribal member Rick Quiet Hawk Welker, photographed at a powwow at Mauch Chunk Lake. Photograph by Kevin York

It’s a muggy mid-September Sunday, and kayakers and vacationing households are taking within the calm waters of Mauch Chunk Lake, a small reservoir within the southern Poconos. While beachgoers lounge on the sand and watch eagles cruise above the timber, one other group is gathered a number of hundred yards up the shore for an much more conventional lakeside exercise: a Native American powwow. The reverberation of drumbeats, together with the odor of burning sage and barbecue, hangs within the humid air, floating throughout the car parking zone between the powwow and the seashore.

Many of the folks dancing, chatting and celebrating on the powwow declare ancestral connections to the Lenape (leh-NAH-pay), the Indigenous folks of the Delaware Valley. Some are wearing full regalia, carrying head-to-toe beads and painted feathers, attracting stares from those that got here to Mauch Chunk Lake for swimming or a hike. They gawk, open-mouthed. Some take photos. It’s as if the very last thing they anticipated to see on their weekend journey to the Poconos was the individuals who lived right here first.

It’s a standard perception that there are not any Lenape (generally referred to as Delaware Indians, the title given to them by European colonists) in Pennsylvania. It is extensively presumed that each single Lenape individual was forcibly relocated to Oklahoma, Ontario and Wisconsin. But these affiliated with the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania (LNPA) — the nonprofit group internet hosting the powwow — keep that some Lenape by no means left.

Now, LNPA members are making a push for authorities recognition of their standing as a tribe, one thing they are saying will assist right years of erasure and make sure that each the historical past of the Lenape and the actual fact of their continued existence achieve extra prominence throughout the state. It’s a posh endeavor that raises questions on who will get to name themselves Native — made much more difficult by vigorous objections from different Lenape tribes who query the legitimacy of the LNPA.

A number of ft away from shore, Ken Macaulay displays on the trail that introduced him to the powwow, which known as “Return to Mauch Chunk.” Tanned from a summer season of working outside, wearing all black together with his skinny grey hair in a ponytail, Ken sits on a wood bench, sprucing off an elk burger and eager about his childhood in Fifties Central Jersey. He and his sister knew they’d Indigenous lineage via their mom, and so they had been taught to respect the land round their childhood farm. But their grandmother, who grew up when it was much more harmful to be Native, was all the time fast to remind the remaining of the household to maintain that heritage a secret. She would usually say to Ken, his sister and his cousins: “Tell no one you’re Native.”

That grandmother, Bessie Lattig, was born on the flip of the final century, when Pennsylvania nonetheless had an Indian residential faculty in Carlisle tasked with forcibly eradicating Indigenous youngsters from their households in an effort to switch Lenape traditions with Western values. When he was a child, Ken says, he wasn’t taught a lot about Lenape tradition, although his dad and mom emphasised spirituality and connection to the land. In 1970, at 20, he was drafted into the army and despatched to Vietnam. As a scout for Project Delta, doing recon within the jungles of Cambodia and Laos, he considered his ancestors, who would have used related monitoring expertise.

When he returned from the warfare, he was decided to reconnect to his Native roots and ultimately discovered his approach to the LNPA.

lenape nation

One of the primary dances of the day honored veterans. Photograph by Kevin York

Founded in 1998 by Chief Bill Whippoorwill Thompsan because the Eastern Lenape Nation, the LNPA is a nonprofit comprised primarily of individuals who descend from marriages between Lenape ladies and white males. It’s at the moment the one group claiming Native heritage in Pennsylvania — the remnant of what was as soon as a 20,000-strong society right here. There are formally acknowledged ancestral tribes in New Jersey and Delaware: the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape in Bridgeton, the Ramapough in Mahwah, the Powhatan Renape in Pennsauken, the Lenape Tribe of Indians in Dover. But partially as a result of Pennsylvania’s settlers and state establishments dispersed Indigenous folks extra successfully than in New Jersey and Delaware, its Lenape didn’t kind a cohesive group within the 200 years that adopted the mass compelled removals.

“If you stayed, you disowned every aspect of your Lenape heritage publicly,” says Adam Waterbear DePaul, a member of the LNPA’s tribal council and the group’s story keeper. “We couldn’t speak the language, hold ceremonies. We couldn’t dress traditionally. We dressed like colonists; we spoke like colonists.” As the nation grew, Lenape within the Delaware Valley, like so many different Indigenous folks throughout the county, had been usually mistakenly or deliberately miscategorized as different races and inspired to culturally assimilate into white society. And whereas there are established Lenape tribes in New Jersey, Delaware and the Midwest, there has by no means been a state or federally acknowledged tribe — Lenape or in any other case — in Pennsylvania.

It wasn’t till the Fifties that descendants in Pennsylvania organized and appointed an off-the-cuff chief, and nearly one other 50 years earlier than the LNPA formally fashioned. Now, there are 397 folks on the membership rolls who’ve sufficiently confirmed their Lenape lineage, utilizing no matter documentation they’d — start data, newspaper clippings, photographs, diaries. There are members scattered throughout the nation, however most are concentrated in Eastern Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia metropolitan space.

The group is working to revitalize the Lenape language, referred to as Unami, on the East Coast, internet hosting lessons led by Adam DePaul’s mom, Shelley. Leaders collaborate with Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore and Haverford faculties to supply lessons and converse on their tradition and different Indigenous points. Members view themselves as stewards of the Lenape homeland and manage environmentally centered occasions, consulting with nonprofit teams just like the Friends of the Wissahickon. The group’s most public endeavor is the Rising Nation River Journey, a once-every-four-years trek down the Delaware River that culminates within the signing of a “treaty of renewed brotherhood” between the LNPA and such organizations because the Friends of the Wissahickon, the Northeast Pennsylvania Audubon Society, the City of Easton and the Penn Museum. In the time between river journeys, the tribe hosts festivals and annual powwows like September’s Return to Mauch Chunk.

Recognition, says Morgan Ridgway, might “act as a political and legal tool to combat the pervasive idea that there are no Indians left in Pennsylvania.”

Despite its self-proclaimed heritage and nationhood, the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania has no official tribal recognition. In 2019, the LNPA’s tribal council started working to vary that. Currently, 574 tribes have been acknowledged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as sovereign nations, a designation the federal authorities gave to some tribes as early because the 18th century. These nations can create their very own legal guidelines and set taxes and are eligible for funding and grants, which then assist social and financial improvement, medical care, instructional alternatives, and cultural and historic preservation. The authorities may also put reservation lands in a belief to guard them from improvement.

The requirements for federal acknowledgment are stringent. Groups should be capable to show their continued existence as tribal entities since not less than 1900 and display that they’ve had political affect over their members for that lengthy. Even those who may meet these standards — the rigidity and equity of that are at the moment being debated amongst Indigenous activists nationwide — ­face the steep monetary price of years of lawyer charges and documentation efforts. When they don’t match the factors or lack the assets to have interaction in a prolonged federal recognition battle, tribes typically work to turn out to be acknowledged­ by a state as a substitute.

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Drummers performed nearly continually all through the two-day occasion. Photograph by Kevin York

lenape nation

Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania clan mom Cinnamon Alwin on the powwow. Photograph by Kevin York

State-recognized tribes aren’t thought of sovereign nations however do get pleasure from some assets and privileges. In New Jersey, acknowledged tribes have fashioned a relationship with the state authorities, are permitted to promote conventional arts and crafts labeled “American Indian-made,” and are eligible for some federal and state funding.

This is the trail the LNPA hopes to observe. Its members insist they don’t need a huge federal payout, just a few official recognition from Pennsylvania. They say such recognition will make it simpler for them to proceed their outreach and schooling (some faculties, for occasion, choose to work as a substitute with the federally acknowledged Lenape in Oklahoma), proceed the stewardship of the land that they see as their responsibility, safeguard a way of id for their youngsters, and achieve just a little extra public recognition for the Lenape folks throughout the nation.

“If we get state recognition, it’s going to bring more attention to what we do,” says Ken Macaulay, now 71 and the group’s cultural chief. “We don’t want casinos or anything like that,” he says. “We just want people to realize there are people here who are Native American descendants who do their best to try to take care of the homelands.”

Advocates for state recognition say the designation can be a small step towards resolving centuries of abuse and exploitation. Morgan Ridgway, a PhD candidate learning the Indigenous folks in our area — and a member of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape tribe — means that for the LNPA, recognition might “act as a political and legal tool to combat the pervasive idea that there are no Indians left in Pennsylvania.”

In the years earlier than European colonists arrived, varied bands of Lenape (it means “original person” in Unami) lived in an space they referred to as Lenapehoking, which was composed of present-day Manhattan and southern New York, jap Pennsylvania, New Jersey and northern Delaware. At the time Europeans surveyed the realm, the Lenape fashioned a free confederation of cities stretching from present-day Trenton and jap Pennsylvania to southern New Jersey and Wilmington. They traded amongst themselves, grew corn and different crops, hunted, fished, crafted stone instruments and baskets, and worshipped a single deity, the Great Spirit. Egalitarian and democratic, Lenape society had a matrilineal construction by which ladies held equal standing with males.

When Dutch and Swedish settlers arrived in southern New Jersey within the early half of the seventeenth century, the combined society they fashioned was cooperative and cordial, Lehigh University historian Jean R. Soderlund writes in her guide Lenape Country: Delaware Valley Society Before William Penn. After William Penn arrived in 1682, he engaged in treaty agreements and land gross sales with the Lenape; the end result was that the Lenape left land that in the present day makes up Philadelphia — the cities of Shackamaxon and Passyunk. At the start of the 18th century, the final Lenape land holding in what had by then been dubbed “Pennsylvania” stretched from central Bucks County­ to the Poconos.

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Native regalia consists of goose feathers painted to appear to be these of a hawk or an eagle. Photograph by Kevin York

After Penn died in 1718, colonists continued to flood into the area, usually settling illegally on Lenape land. Penn’s sons claimed they’d discovered a drafted deed between their father and the Lenape from 1686 that hadn’t but been executed — a deed the Lenape insisted they’d by no means seen.

It indicated that the Penns would obtain land that stretched from Wrightstown­ to “as far as a Man could walk in a day and half” — a standard unit of measurement. The Penn brothers employed educated velocity walkers who made it 64 miles to present-day Jim Thorpe — double what the Lenape possible imagined once they agreed to the deal now referred to as the Walking Purchase. In 1741, the Iroquois, engaged on behalf of the English, drove them out, pushing the Lenape west to land alongside the Susquehanna River and within the Ohio River basin.

Eventually the Lenape would be a part of the French to take up arms in opposition to the English within the French and Indian War, however it might be too late. Divided geographically and politically, Lenape factions in central and western Pennsylvania fought on each side in some of the bloodiest conflicts of the Revolutionary War, whereas the violence pushed them west into Indiana and north into Canada. About 1,000 Lenape arrived in Oklahoma within the 1860s, and in the present day, the state is house to 2 federally acknowledged Lenape nations, the Delaware Nation in Anadarko and the Delaware Tribe of Indians in Bartlesville. Wisconsin is host to the Stockbridge-Munsee,­ and two extra federally acknowledged Lenape nations reside in Ontario.

Lenape who lived east of the Delaware River retained a level of autonomy in comparison with these in Pennsylvania. Eventually most had been pushed west, however some assimilated with the New Jersey colonists and bought land and different holdings. Many transformed to Christianity. Though the bulk would ultimately transfer to distant areas, the rest sought one another out and merged with different tribal communities. By the early 1700s, Lenape had gathered close to present-day Cheswold, Delaware, and fashioned communities all through southern New Jersey together with the Nanticoke folks of Maryland.

The LNPA hopes official recognition will probably be a approach to deal with the fractured and fraught historical past of the Lenape in Pennsylvania and reestablish a Native presence in our state. But that very same historical past is why different already-recognized tribes — tribes with a transparent via line to the unique Lenape inhabitants — are so cautious about any plans to raise the standing of the LNPA.

Indigenous teams put vital emphasis on the historical past of tribal id. As half of its mission to protect the “inherent tribal sovereignty” of its affiliated members, the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes — of which two state-recognized Lenape tribes, in New Jersey and Delaware, are an element — launched steering in 2013 for state governments on establishing recognition standards. Among the record of necessities is {that a} tribe has “maintained tribal identity in some manner that can be documented to have continued from at least the 19th century or earlier.” But 200 years handed between the departure of the primary physique of the Lenape folks to the west within the late 18th century and the founding of the LNPA in 1998. Whether or not Lenape folks continued to reside covertly in Pennsylvania, it’s undisputed that there was no steady tribal entity within the area. In the eyes of another Indigenous folks — and in keeping with the established standards — this makes the LNPA a fabricated tribe.

Though scant, there’s some proof that Lenape had been residing within the state after elimination efforts. A 1901 article within the Inquirer,­ for instance, describes a petition to the U.S. Indian Affairs Commission claiming that the Walking Purchase was fraudulent. The petitioners stated they had been descendants of members of a smaller tribe of Lenape that was by no means transported west.

But the Delaware Tribe of Indians holds that no Lenape folks exist outdoors its membership and that of the 4 different federally acknowledged nations. In 2015, their tribal council handed a decision opposing “fabricated Delaware ‘tribes,’ ‘groups,’ and ‘Indians.’”

Jeremy Johnson is a member of the nation’s tribal council. He says the tribe “truly believes that because of the way our societies were set up, we left no relatives behind. Anyone who was ‘left behind’ of Lenape descent was absorbed and adopted into other legitimate tribes.”

By that logic, the Delaware Tribe considers each state-recognized tribes and organizations just like the LNPA to be inauthentic and denounces their existence on the grounds that they jeopardize the “sovereignty and reputation of the Delaware Tribe of Indians and the general public.” These teams, they declare, are being allotted private and non-private funds in “epidemic proportions,” but are unqualified to characterize the Lenape folks or converse publicly about Lenape heritage.

The Delaware say they’re the true keepers of the Lenape id, and it’s they who ought to be consulted if native Pennsylvanians wish to study extra in regards to the state’s unique inhabitants. Even although they’re now situated in Oklahoma, the tribe’s members really feel as linked as ever to Lenapehoking. “We’re still dealing with the vestiges of colonialism,” says Curtis Zunigha, the Delaware Tribe of Indians’ cultural director. “I’m sitting out here in Oklahoma when I should be sitting at the same table as you and the mayor and the governor.” If Pennsylvania’s state authorities goes to resume a reference to a Lenape group, he says, it ought to be with the federally acknowledged nations, not a corporation just like the LNPA.

The Delaware Nation in Anadarko holds an analogous opinion. In February, it appointed a consultant to fight what it refers to as “Corporations Posing as Indigenous Nations.” Hereditary chief Daniel StrongWalker Thomas stated in a press release that “the forced removal of the Lenape people from Lenapehoking, combined with continued exclusion from contemporary events and happenings,” has resulted in an growing quantity of “pretendians.” Those claiming membership in tribes or organizations apart from the 5 federally acknowledged nations are masking their theft “within a robe of cultural preservation and unproven Indigenous lineage.”

At the guts of this dispute is the truth that there are restricted assets out there to assist Native communities, and meaning tribes must be fiercely protecting of their standing. With a historical past of occupation, theft and homicide by the U.S. authorities and its residents, and with so many individuals in the present day hoping to money in on their lore and legacy, tribal gatekeeping is one of the few mechanisms of management left for the acknowledged tribes.

There’s additionally a stark paradox constructed into the American Indian recognition course of. In impact, the U.S. authorities, a colonial energy,­ retains the authority to grant authenticity to the very individuals who lived on this soil first. This isn’t misplaced on Indigenous folks, which is why they emphasize that although federal and state governments have the flexibility to acknowledge a tribal nation’s authorities, Indigenous folks retain what they name “inherent sovereignty.” Native folks predate the existence of the United States and thus possess unalienable powers equivalent to the flexibility to create their very own membership necessities, legal guidelines and customs.

Donna Fann-Boyle, a Pennsylvania-based activist of Cherokee descent, accepts the LNPA’s declare that there are folks within the state descended from the Lenape who stayed within the area. But as a result of the group didn’t retain a tribal id or act as a steady political entity within the years following the displacement of the remaining of the Lenape, it shouldn’t get the identical recognition because the tribes which have endured for centuries, she says.

The proven fact that the LNPA, performing as a tribal group, has written treaties with native universities and organizations is “disrespectful, and it’s not the way that Native people behave,” says Fann-Boyle, who leads the Coalition of Natives & Allies (CNA), a Pennsylvania-based group dedicated to eliminating racist Native mascots and imagery throughout the state. She says that solely acknowledged tribes who’ve gone via the arduous course of of proving their historical past have the proper to make treaties (and achieve this sparingly and as wanted, not each 4 years, just like the LNPA), the authority to discuss their tradition at faculties and universities, and the flexibility to current themselves as a tribal nation. Of the LNPA, Fann-Boyle says: “They’re breaking traditions.”

“It shouldn’t be just a feel-good moment,” says Donna Fann-Boyle. “Like all of a sudden, we’re going to do something right to make up for the wrong. Because if they do that, then they’re just making the wrong worse.”

But with regards to Pennsylvania, tribal custom is difficult to outline. Because there are not any established tribes within the state, and since the state authorities doesn’t have an workplace or division devoted to Indigenous affairs, there is no actual course of for Pennsylvania’s Native teams to turn out to be acknowledged.

And that will give the LNPA a gap. The state’s General Assembly might compose and move a invoice outlining such a course of, an inventory of necessities that tribal teams should meet, and what assets and privileges a tribe would obtain. The LNPA has acquired some optimistic suggestions from state legislators, and it’s backed by some native faculties and municipalities.

This new push for state recognition — an analogous effort failed in 2004 — is happening in opposition to a political panorama that has forged new consideration on points of racial and financial injustice. The present deal with racial fairness has given the LNPA some hope that politicians will probably be extra receptive to its efforts. And certainly, state leaders have now begun to point out some curiosity in recognizing the Lenape residing in Pennsylvania. In July, a spokesperson for Governor Tom Wolf informed WHYY that ought to a invoice making a course of for state recognition attain his desk, he would give it “serious consideration.”

The federal Lenape tribes and Indigenous activists who see the LNPA as attempting to drive its manner into state recognition fear that the nice headlines politicians might seize with a recognition invoice will maintain extra weight than centuries of established concepts as to what constitutes tribal authenticity. Recognizing the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania would create, critics say, a brand new, fashionable tribe — one that may make a mockery of the long-standing persecution of tribal teams throughout the nation and the centuries of work they’ve put into establishing their authority and identities. “It shouldn’t be just a feel-good moment,” says Fann-Boyle. “Like all of a sudden, we’re going to do something right to make up for the wrong. Because if they do that, then they’re just making the wrong worse.”

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Three generations of Macaulays — Ken (left), his son Cory, and Cory’s daughter, Chloe — attended the powwow for the weekend, staying at a close-by campsite. Photograph by Kevin York

Leaders of the Delaware Tribe of Indians plan to carry their issues to Pennsylvania state officers ought to the LNPA’s recognition efforts transfer ahead. “The legislature, as we’ve discovered firsthand through a visit, is naive and very uneducated,” says Arla Patch, a non-Native activist with CNA. The CNA desires lawmakers to contemplate the factors different state tribes within the U.S. have needed to meet earlier than they begin eager about any laws — standards that may successfully bar the LNPA from recognition.

To the LNPA and its supporters, these standards ignore how tough it was for Natives residing in Pennsylvania to say any id. “Of course we’re a tribe,” says the LNPA’s Adam DePaul. “If you take a dish and you smash it on the floor and then you glue it back together, you can’t say it’s never been a dish. You can try to say it’s not a dish anymore, but if you do that, you have to admit you’re the catalyst for that.”

For DePaul, recognition implies that households like Macaulay’s will not be caught between cultures. “A large part of that can be feeling that they’re not legitimate and feeling that because the state or the federal government hasn’t told them that they’re Lenape, they’re not,” says DePaul, who says that was his perspective when he was rising up within the Poconos. “State government approval does go far in helping the youth in our community feel confident and feel less hesitant about celebrating our heritage.”

But at some stage, the LNPA has already performed that. Ken Macaulay’s son Cory joined him on the Mauch Chunk powwow, as he has for most of his life. Thanks to his father’s involvement with the LNPA, Cory was born right into a household and tradition that celebrated, somewhat than shamed, his Native heritage; even his child bathe included Native components. He considers the LNPA his prolonged household.

The eldest of Ken’s two sons, Cory is a lot like his father that folks usually name him a clone. Like Ken, he’s a veteran; he was within the army police in Iraq. Now 42, he labored for a time within the National Park Service, educating guests about Indigenous historical past at southeastern Pennsylvania’s Fort Necessity National Battlefield — the positioning of the opening act of the French and Indian War. He’s a development employee now, too: “Like my father, but union.”

Of all that’s been handed from father to son, ardour for their heritage appears to be probably the most salient. Cory, who additionally favors all black and ties his skinny hair — brown, not grey — in a ponytail, is elevating his three teenage daughters to have satisfaction of their Native roots, roots he feels are as authentic as any others. “For the people to say, ‘We marched every Native American out of the state’ is pompous and preposterous,” he says. “I want recognition for my daughters and someday my grandchildren.”

What neither Cory nor Ken mentions is the truth that regardless of whether or not some Lenape have remained within the area, out in Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Ontario, there are roughly 15,000 Lenape folks whose ancestors had been compelled westward. They, too, have handed down historical past, traditions and language in an unbroken line, regardless of all obstacles, for centuries — however haven’t been in a position to return to their ancestral land for the reason that 1700s.

Despite the contested standing of its host, the powwow attracted attendees of a range of Indigenous nationalities. People of Lenape, Cherokee, Apache, Muscogee and Lakota descent joined in intertribal dances, exhibited solo performances, and bought handmade jewellery and crafts. Even non-Native friends had been invited to bop and to partake in youngsters’s video games and reward giveaways.

Before any of this might occur, although, Ken and Cory, different members of the LNPA, and representatives of varied tribes took half in a gap flag ceremony. Some wore historic regalia from their respective tribes, and others donned regalia in brighter, extra fashionable colours. Many wore t-shirts and denims. They all marched solemnly in a circle to the beat of the drums, every holding a flag aloft — for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation, for the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, for the armed forces, for the United States. There was none, although, for the Delaware Nation.

Published as “The First Philadelphians” within the November 2021 situation of Philadelphia journal.

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