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The Lenape


(pronounced Lehn-AH-pay, NOT LEHN-uh-pee)

Naming and Language: 

Lenape is the most accurate term to refer to the Indigenous peoples whose ancestral lands encompassed eastern PA, DE, NJ, and parts of NY. Lenape is also the name of their language, which is part of the broader Algonquian language family. Their name stems from two root words: "Lenni" meaning "original" or "common," and "Ape" meaning “the people." They are often referred to as the Lenni Lenape, a popular mistranslation, which would redundantly be translated as the "original original people." 


Delaware is now used interchangeably with Lenape, and is even used by multiple federally recognized Lenape tribes today in their own official titles, such as "Delaware Nation" with whom the museum is affiliated. The Lenape were collectively referred to as the Delawares by European colonists because of their proximity to the Delaware River, which colonists had named after the first governor of the Province of Virginia: Thomas West, third Baron De La Warr.

Historically, there was no singular or unified "Lenape Nation," and there still is not today. There were multiple different communities in the region which shared Lenape culture, and at least three different dialects of the language (Munsee, Unalachtigo, and Unami).

A Brief History:

The Lenape are one of multiple Indigenous cultures whose ancestral homelands included what is now Pennsylvania. But Lenape homelands, or Lenapehoking, also encompassed New Jersey, Delaware, and parts of New York. This region was home to multiple related Lenape communities which shared much of their culture, but had at least three different clans (Wolf, Turkey, and Turtle), and different sachems or sakima (chiefs). The Lenape interacted with various other Indigenous cultures in the surrounding region, such as the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations), Shawnee, and Susquehannock.


With the arrival of European colonists in the 15th and 16th centuries, Native American life and survival took on a different meaning.


The Forced March:  

Initially the Lenape had fairly equitable dealings with William Penn, the English Quaker who founded the colony of Pennsylvania. After Penn’s death, his sons concocted a plan to swindle the Lenape out of land, now known as the infamous Walking Purchase of 1737. After this event, the situation only grew worse for the Lenape. In the 1730s an English bounty of 30-50 British pounds was offered for any Lenape, dead or alive. The final blow came during a Conference in 1758 in Easton, Pennsylvania when the Lenape were further forced from their Pennsylvania and New Jersey ancestral homelands. Different groups of Lenape were repeatedly moved further and further away from their homelands until they eventually settled in parts of Canada, Wisconsin, and Oklahoma. 


The Lenape Today:

The only two Lenape tribes in the United States federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. are the Delaware Tribe of Indians (Bartlesville, Oklahoma) and Delaware Nation (Anadarko, Oklahoma). The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians (Wisconsin) are also federally recognized, and related to the Lenape. In the United States the Lenape do not live on reservations, but they are sovereign nations. There are also three Lenape related First Nations in Canada: Delaware of Six Nations (part of the Six Nations of the Grand River), Delaware Nation at Moraviantown, and Munsee Delaware Nation.

For more information, visit the museum today and view our multiple exhibits on the Lenape!

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