Lenape Tribe Recognition at West Chester University
Lenape Tribe Recognition at West Chester University
The Lenape (Leh-NAH-pay) Indians were the first known settlers of the area that we all know as Philadelphia. Lenape Indians occupied the Philadelphia area almost 10,000 years before Europeans came to the region. Those settlers renamed the tribe, calling them the Delaware Indians because they had trouble pronouncing Lenape. Before the "Delawares" were forced off the land, they inhabited the region that is now New Jersey, as well as the area along the Delaware River in Pennsylvania and the Hudson Valley and New York Harbor, in New York (Brooks). The three clans or phratries are known as the Wolf, Turtle, and Turkey clan. Many Americans seem to imagine Native American Indians as only existing in a mid-western regional context, thanks in large part to the “trail of tears,” and the forcible relocation of many indigenous groups to the Midwest and southwest. Needless to say, this is not the case. In fact, eastern tribal interactions with European colonists happened far before the formation of the United States by about 250 years (Norwood 6), yet there is such lack of knowledge, recognition, and understanding of their presence and many other tribes as well. Native Americans of all tribes are still here and it is time we learn their history and recognize their place in this country and society.
The lack of awareness we see surrounding not only the Lenape but several other Native tribes is not a coincidence. I see this often within my own life. This unfortunately frequent occurrence results in the oppression, mislabeling, and isolation of our Native communities. There is a persistent push to resist the ongoing existence of these peoples. Such opposition is sometimes for political and economic reasons; but, often it is because of racial bias and institutional arrogance based upon ignorance (Norwood 5). In order to finally see some recognition, we must push back and demand what shouldn’t even need to be demanded, which are basic rights, or even the simple recognition of our Native people as legitimate.
West Chester University sits on Lenape land. I only recently found this out from a land acknowledgment placed in all of my Women’s and Gender Studies syllabi. So I thought, let’s expand on this. If my major can provide some recognition, let’s really look into the connection WCU as a whole has to this tribe and see what they do to represent, acknowledge, and/or to thank them. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a real connection between the Lenape and WCU, aside from a picture on the main website when you search “Lenape”, with only a brief description, and a blessing during the Kente graduation ceremonies that I have only heard about by word of mouth. I was shocked. I was even more shocked to find out that “Pennsylvania is one of a handful of US states that neither contains a reservation nor officially recognizes any native group within its borders. Pennsylvania appears to be the only state without a university-level Native American studies program or cultural center” (Licht, et al.). To think something so minor as basic recognition, legitimacy, and Indigenous literacy programs in state schools is nonexistent in Pennsylvania is puzzling to me.
I am here to gain attention from you, West Chester University students, to understand and recognize that this sacred land that we learn on would not be available to us without the Lenape. A tribe that IS STILL HERE. Land recognition is more than just accountability and adherence to forms and legal jargon, it is remembering those who worked hard to provide us places to learn and work. It is about valuing the work put in to give us the resources they didn’t have. I feel West Chester University can and should do the same, and has an opportunity to set a thoughtful and concerted standard here in Pennsylvania. By signing this petition, you too will recognize that the Lenape are still here and that West Chester University should more formally acknowledge and be conscious of the land that this university operates on. WCU can and should make a change to better recognize the Lenape, and integrate this rich cultural tradition into the story of our institution. In this petition, I simply present the idea that the land acknowledgment that was in my syllabi, or something similar to it, be present on the WCU main website. With this, people who go onto the website and see the location of WCU, will also see that we, at the most fundamental level, respect and are thankful for those who were able to provide them this land that we all know and love as our university. This petition, however, is more than just a symbolic gesture of recognition. I would like this petition to begin the process of recognizing and valuing oral history as a primary way of understanding and legitimizing Indigenous history and culture.
- Kelsey Rose Kahsonnanowro Diabo
Brooks, Chet. “Lenape Indians, The Original Philadelphians.” NPR, NPR, 25 July 2008, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92914200
Licht, Walter, et al. The Original People and Their Land: The Lenape, Pre-History to the 18th Century Part of West Philadelphia Before the 20th Century Social and Economic Trends. collaborativehistory.gse.upenn.edu/stories/original-people-and-their-land-lenape-pre-history-18th-century.
Norwood, John R. We Are Still Here! the Tribal Saga of New Jersey's Nanticoke and Lenape Indians. Native New Jersey Publications, 2007.