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  20th Century Groups in the Lenape Homeland          

Today, most of the Lenape/Delaware are living in Oklahoma and Canada.  In Oklahoma, there are two communities; one around Anandarko and another near the Bartlesville area.  

(Excerpt from The Lenape/Delaware Indian Heritage - 10,000 BC to AD 2000
 by Herbert C. Kraft)

In their traditional eastern homeland, where few Lenape presently reside, the cultural revival has also taken hold.  The late James "Lone Bear" Revey, descendant of the Sand Hill Delaware, presided for decades over the New Jersey Indian Office in Orange, which housed the records and genealogies of his people.  The foremost Lenape spokesman, craftsman, and educator in the East, Revey strove to keep alive the Lenape heritage.  In Additional to James Revey's group of Delaware and Cherokee descendants, there are also several other groups claiming Amerindian ancestry that have been recognized by the State of New Jersey.  Some of these however, have origins shrouded in controversy.

The "Powhatan-Renape Nation" is one such group.  On its website the Nation states that the tribe's "forefathers were mostly Rappahan-nocks from Virginia and Nanticokes from Delaware" descended from members of Powhatan's ancient confederacy (Johnson, "Powhatan History" 1995-2000.)  Although obviously descended also from various non-Indian ethnic groups, members of the tribe regard themselves solely as Indians.

While the Powhatan and Nanticoke are members of the Algonquian Language family, as are the Lenape, the Powhatan and Nanticoke are not Lenape, did not speak languages mutually intelligible with Lenape and were not native to New Jersey.  The migration of some Nanticoke into New Jersey during the 19th century is known; however, the migration of the "Powhatan-Renape Nation" into the region has not been documented.

In April, 1996 the Powhatan-Renape Nation filed a letter of intent to petition for federal recognition as an Indian Tribe with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  Recognition, however, would ultimately be denied.

A group whose origins are documented more fully is the "Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape" (Kraft 1986a: 242-243; Weslager 1983: 250-260).  The Nanticoke originally lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and some later moved into Delaware.  Around the time of the Civil War, they entered New Jersey.  Life was often precarious for the Indians during the slavery period because some Euro-Americans considered them to be "colored" and hence, they were sometimes in danger of enslavement.  To escape these problems and to find more promising opportunities for education and work, many Nanticoke Indians began moving to New Jersey.  Around the turn of the 20th century, a disastrous blight known as the "peach yellows" struck in Delaware and the Indians usually hired to raise, pick, and ship peaches found their livelihood imperiled.  Many more Nanticokes moved into New Jersey as a result, settling principally in Salem and Cumberland counties where they worked as farm hands, sharecroppers, and tenant farmers.  They tended to marry among themselves or with other local people, thereby maintaining a sense of identity.

Like most other Indian groups in New Jersey, the Nanticokes have lost or forgotten most of their lore because of acculturation, migration, intermarriage with non-Indians, and the deaths of knowledgeable elders with the passage of time.  Their language is no longer spoken but there is a strong connection with Indian origins.  In 1974 a group with Nanticoke and Delaware backgrounds resolved to rekindle an interest in their Native American heritage, and on August 7, 1978, they incorporated as the Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Indians of New Jersey.  In December, 1982, this organization was recognized as a tribe in a resolution passed by the New Jersey legislature.

In January, 1992, the Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape filed with the BIA a letter of intent to petition for federal recognition as an Indian Tribe.  The matter is still awaiting resolution.

A poignant story in the quest for cultural identity and recognition is that of the Ramapo Mountain People.  Straddling the New York/New Jersey border in the region encompassing the towns of Suffern, Mahwah, Ringwood, and Hillburn, this group has been characterized by anthropologists as "triracial isolates", a "marginal group", and mestizos; folk tradition has presented them as the mixed-blood descendants of Hessian Soldiers, freed blacks, white prostitutes, and any number of possible Indian ancestors including Tuscarora, Creek, Lenape (generically) and more specifically, Munsee, Minisink and Hackensack (Berry 1978: 290-291; BAR 1996a29, Cohen 1974: 1-24).  Many scholars, journalists and other observers have long argued that the Ramapo Mountain People have some Indian ancestry, as some members of the group appeared to have Amerindian physical characteristics - that is, coppery colored skin and high cheek bones.

It should be noted, however, that not all the Ramapo people are members of the Ramapough Mountain Indians, Inc., identify with the Lenape, or even regard themselves as Indians (BAR 1996a: 10; Cohen 1974: 111-113).  Those who do were gratified in 1980 when the States of New Jersey and New York recognized the Ramapo Mountain People as the Ramapough Mountain Indians.  Aside from a sense of tribal identity, this recognition entitled them to certain state government benefits, including federal monies for Indian education (Title IV).

The quest for federal recognition, however, proved far more difficult.  It its final determination, issued January 8, 1996, and in a subsequent confirmation of that decision, which became effective January 7, 1998, the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Branch of Acknowledgement and Research (BAR) denied recognition to the Ramapo on the grounds that they had not resented sufficient evidence to prove that the members as a group were descendants of an historical American Indian tribe, genealogically, socially, and politically (BAR 1996b: 1).  The Ramapos, however, continue to press their claims, and only the future will determine how the issue will be resolved.

The Lenape Enthusiasts

It is not only the Lenape themselves, or persons or groups with possible Delaware ancestry, who have been attempting to reclaim Lenape heritage.  Coinciding with the public's increasing interest in Indians has been the appearance of numerous individuals whom the late traditionalist Nora Thompson Dean referred to as "Instant Indians" - individuals typically of Euro-American or African-American descent now claiming the mantle of the Lenape and other tribes.  A host of such dubious groups has arisen throughout the region, buttressed by a proliferation of related websites, literature and paraphernalia.

To be sure, at least a few individuals may actually have had a Lenape ancestor or ancestors at some point in the past.  However it is questionable whether having, say, a great-great-grandfather of Lenape background is in itself tantamount to being Lenape, or that one can simply discard the overwhelming preponderance of his or her non-Indian ancestry.  Moreover, many individuals making these claims have no documentation whatsoever to support them, nor have they demonstrated knowledge of Lenape culture other than what they have read in books or learned from lectures (often delivered by other non-Indians.  From their own testimony, many such persons frequently claim to be Lenape because they "feel" in their hearts that they are indeed so, or because they have been "adopted" by other individuals who regard themselves as Lenape (but who themselves are of questionable background.)

Armed with Lenape words and phrases derived from various published and unpublished but available language sources, with makeshift ghost dances, home-made "adoption" ceremonies, "sacred" pictographs of the fraudulent Walam-Olum, traditional stories published by Nora Thompson Dean and other sources, these self-styled "Lenape" have at times apparently fooled not only themselves but the government, and frequently lecture for schools and other organization throughout the traditional homeland of the Delaware.



  (For additional information see The Lenape or Delaware Indians, or The Indians of Lenapehoking.)


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