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The Lenape - Here Before Us

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

This past Monday celebrated Indigenous People’s Day, a day that honors and remembers Native American peoples and their culture. According to the World Population Review, there are 574 Native American tribes that are federally recognized. Within this number exists the Lenape tribe, a tribe that inhabited the area that is now Philadelphia, as well as, other parts of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and also northern Delaware. The University of Delaware is located within this range, and as the majority of us at UP Cycle Design hail from UD, I wanted to dedicate this blog post to our terrestrial ancestors.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the Lenape inhabited their land for centuries before European settlers arrived. They were a nomadic group that settled alongside rivers and lakes, and survived on hunting and growing crops. Due to their heavy usage of the land, the soils became depleted of nutrients, and the Lenape would have to relocate, hence their nomadic nature. They lived in single door huts called wigwams (ironically, something that I built during my freshman year) and used the natural resources surrounding them to build tools, clothes, and other structures. The Lenape were part of the Algonquian language family, and were split into three sub-tribes, all speaking a different dialect of the Algonquian language.

The Lenape had set up trade deals with Dutch and Swedish settlers around the early 1600s, and they made first contact with European settlers in 1677, when Quaker William Warner settled on the west side of the Delaware River. It’s said that Warner negotiated with the Lenape and purchased land from them. 5 years later, William Penn (founder of the city of Philadelphia) arrived and established more trade deals and treaties with the Lenape based on friendship and good will. Unfortunately, this ended in the early 1700’s after Penn’s death and his son, Thomas Penn, had no intention of keeping relationships with the Lenape friendly and peaceful. Disguised as a new agreement, Thomas Penn enacted a plot that tricked the Lenape into selling about 1 million acres of their land.

The next few centuries were rough (an understatement) on the Lenape, as was the case for several other tribes. Many Lenape moved west to settle new lands, and some stayed and assimilated into New World culture and lived in Philadelphia, while maintaining their cultural roots.

Map detailing the Lenape's range

Today, the Lenape are still present in society. Communities can be found in Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Missouri, and even Ontario. Unfortunately, and very ironically, there is no recognition or any sort of reservation of the Lenape in Pennsylvania. Bridgeton, New Jersey has been recognized as the home of the Nanticoke Lenape Tribe. Although this might be a sad thing to think about, there are efforts in place to return the Lenape to Pennsylvania. Curtis Zunigha, cultural director of the Delaware Tribe of Indians, is working with several different institutions (within and outside of PA) to help return the Lenape to their original homeland and have them recognized as members of the community.



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