1. Historical information about the culture
The beginnings of the Lenni-Lenape comes from a shared history with the Stockbridge-Munsee Community of Mohican Indians. In one of their manuscripts, it states that the Mohicans and Lenni-Lenape came from the north and west, from the waters where the land almost touches. Some have theorized that this could have been the Bering Strait, but there is no evidence to support that. The Lenape are considered to be one of the oldest tribes in the Northeast, existing for over 10,000 years.
The Lenape lived in what is now New Jersey, and parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Delaware. This is why they are often now known as the Delaware Indians. They were separated into three dialectal language groups, those who spoke the Munsee language in the north, and those who spoke the Unami and Unalachtigo languages in the south. The Munsee now consider themselves separate, eventually becoming the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohicans in Wisconsin, but they share the same root people.
The Lenape had three clans: the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Turkey. These clans were matrilineal, the children traced their clan through their mother. They lived in settlements of anywhere from 25 to 300 people. These settlements were semi-permanent; after they had used up many of the resources in the area (around 10 years), they would move their group to a new place. They lived in wigwams, housing made of wooden poles curved and staked into the ground, with coverings of hide, bark, or rushes.
Their food came from two sources: hunting/fishing and planting. The men hunted for a variety of animals, including bear and deer, and fished. The women planted corn, beans, and squash - often known as the ‘Three Sisters’ for how they can be grown together. Food was an important part of their culture, the Lenape believed that food was to be shared, and nobody should go hungry. Visitors were always offered food.
While every family knew various herblore for injuries, serious issues were brought to special medical practitioners. One kind cured these issues through natural means, the other used both natural and spiritual. The latter could chase away evil spirits or right supernatural injuries. Rituals and dreams or visions were important to both; they discovered their abilities through dreams/visions, and their rituals were as important in the part of curing the ill as it was in making sure their gathered medicines were done correctly. Often the sweat lodge would be used to help cure an illness, or with other rituals.
Many of these rituals revolved around the spirits that lived all around the Lenape. There were good spirits (manetu), bad/evil spirits (manetuwak), spirit of the forest (mesingw), and the creation spirit (Kishelemukong). Different ceremonies and rituals honored the spirits during celebrations (births, marriages, hunts) and during seasonal events. These events often included dancing, music, games, and storytelling. Tobacco, flowers, rocks, or carvings could be used to honor the spirits. Tobacco was extremely important to the Lenape, not only used in rituals for the spirits, but also in burials, to cure illness, and during serious decision making.
During their transition into adulthood, Lenape youth (both boys and girls) undertook a vision quest through fasting during time alone. At this time, they had dreams or visions that could tell them their future (such as gaining the job of a medicine man) or show them their spirit guardian.
Death rituals were very important to the Lenape. Due to children often not living past the first three years of life due to illness, they were often not named until this period passed. Once someone had a name, if they died, the name died. This was in part to not upset the family, and their name was never mentioned again. The dead would be placed in a grave lined with tree bark or grass mats, and given a container of food to feed the dead soul. Those who were good would go up to the creation spirit in the highest heaven, a kind of hunting ground. Those who were not, were stuck forever outside this place.
"About Us." Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Tribal Nation. Web. 9 Mar. 2015.
2. Colonial experience of the culture
It is estimated that the Lenápe first came into contact with non-native persons starting in the early 16th century, among the first notable encounter being with Henry Hudson in 1609. This encounter had profound effects on the Lenápe lifestyle; On one hand, there was a significant increase in Lenápe involvement in animal trapping and fur trade following non-native contact, due to the high value of animal furs and pelts in the eyes of European traders. Additionally, the introduction of non-native goods, such as European agricultural and refined goods (chickens, rifles, cloth, etc.) became integral to the Lenápe lifestyle, further driving the necessity for trade relations between the Lenápe and Europeans. One of the most famous Lenápe encounters with Europeans includes the 1626 “sale” of Manhattan Island to Dutch explorers for approximately $24 worth of goods. The Lenápe did not share the European conception of land ownership, and so was a mark of troubled future relations between the Lenápe and European non-natives.
The latter end of the 17th century was not a prosperous time for the Lenápe. New and imported European diseases, alongside bouts of warfare, partially brought upon by increased participation and inter-tribal tension in the European-Native American fur trade, negatively impacted the Lenápe population. The first noted treaty of the Lenápe was signed between Chief Tamanend and William Penn in 1683, however, despite the goal of good relations between the two groups, it resulted in displacement of many Lenápe.
The 18th century was not favorable for the Lenápe as well. The Iroquois Confederacy, an alliance of the Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, was formed in order for the above Native American tribes to have more power in negotiations with the European powers. However, the Iroquois Confederacy hurt non-membered tribes like the Lenápe because they occupied the similar northeast regions of the modern United States and the Iroquois Confederacy could politically dominate Lenápe negotiations with the Europeans. There were even accounts of Lenápe land being sold by the Iroquois Confederacy. The Lenápe responded to this domination, as well as European colonists' westward migration, by signing the 1758 Treaty of Easton, causing them to move into modern-day western Pennsylvania and the Ohio River Valley. This movement did not effectively avoid conflict for long.
The Lenápe engaged in much fighting in the 18th and early 19th centuries, including the French-Indian War and the American Revolution, although not all Lenápe tribes fought as one nor did those participating necessarily fight on the same side. The first treaty signed between the newly formed United States and Lenápe, the 1778 Treaty of Fort Pitt, resulted in Lenápe scouting and fighting services in exchange for foodstuffs. The war fighting was not generally helpful for Lenápe stability, as many tribes were forced to continue westward to Missouri and Texas, ultimately being forced to reservation land in Oklahoma in 1859. Other Lenápe tribes who continued to fight were later forced to Indiana, Kansas, and Missouri, partially due to the 1818 Treaty of St. Mary’s and the 1829 Treaty of James Fork. However, they too were ultimately forced to Oklahoma in the 1860’s. Other smaller Lenápe factions, especially the Munsee speakers, were forced to a reservation in Wisconsin, while other small groups were able to remain in native Lenápe lands, moved to Canada or joined Chippewa tribes in Kansas. However, the Kansas Lenápe were forced to leave once Kansas became an official United States territory. The most notable reservation lands utilized by the Lenápe in the United States that continue today are in Oklahoma (Washington and Nowata Counties), Wisconsin (Shawano County), and New Jersey (Burlington and Cumberland Counties).
3. Contemporary developments or issues
The Lenni-Lenape tribe has made significant strides towards become a more independent nation with many initiatives focused on further developing their educational, health, and infrastructure programs. These programs seek to expand the cultural identity of the Lenni-Lenape nation. A 2013 report by the Lenni-Lenape nation outlining their strategic goals in the next 5, 10, and 20 years directly shows the hopes of an old tribe to thrive in the modern world.
In hopes of encouraging economic prosperity and preserving Lenni-Lenape culture, education is a key theme throughout many of their goals for the next 20 years. While diverse in their implementation, they all seek to guide a stronger cultural identity while also encouraging individual economic development. The nation hopes to establish pre-school and afterschool programming that hopes to focus on the preservation of traditional culture and the encouragement of economic growth. Preservation of culture via language also appears to be an important issue, as the tribe hopes to establish a school with a language immersion program by 2023 to further aid in preserving traditional culture. Additionally, a significant focus has been placed on encouraging and supporting students who hope to pursue collegiate degrees. The tribe hopes to establish a scholarship fund for tribal students by 2018 and by 2033 establish a tribal college or professional training institute to both encourage higher education and allow for tribal members to be more economically successful.
Health also appears to be important for the nation, primarily through a long-term initiative to establish tribal health services or a health clinic. This initiative hopes to both make the tribe more self-sufficient, but also to integrate modern medical practice into the tribe. The more self-sufficient that the tribe is, the better they will be able to mold their land and people to best preserve their cultural history and sovereignty. Finally, the nation currently lacks senior care and visiting nurse programs, which they hope to establish by 2018. These programs should help seniors receive proper and consistent care.
Finally, the Lenni-Lenape have a multitude of infrastructure programs planned for the upcoming 20 years. The longest term plan is to establish hotels or camps to economically better the tribe, as these plans are contingent on market studies which are currently planned. Additionally, they hope to develop affordable tribal housing for citizens of the Lenni-Lenape nation in addition to a tribal bank by 2023. These hopes seek to further economic independence of tribal citizens through nation-wide programs. Finally, the tribe hopes to invest in a cultural learning center in hopes of both generating revenue and preserving the culture of the tribe through its use. Finally, they have a general goal of enabling, by 2033, the tribe to have the required government infrastructure to facilitate all the goals listed here and other goals also listed throughout their strategic planning document.