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Lenape Nation journeys down the Delaware: New treaty seeks partners to be caretakers of the land

Treaty of Renewed Friendship

By Samantha Stein
August 14, 2014

At the Zane Grey Museum in Lackawaxen on August 4, representatives of the Delaware Highlands Conservancy and the Wallenpaupack Historical Society signed the treaty, along with Robin Hoose (Lenape name: Good-Hearted Woman), a volunteer with the Lenape Nation for the past 12 years, who assisted with public relations for the trip and shuttling the paddlers on the journey.

Jane Simon (River Dove) and Dave Simon (Eagle Heart) are the enthusiastic leaders on this year’s trip. Chief Shelley’s son, Adam, an EMT, paddled the last canoe and “swept the river” to make sure that all the travelers reached their destination safely.

William Penn and Lenape Chief Tamanend first made friends in 1681, when Penn negotiated the purchase of the land that would become the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In a letter at that time, Penn stated “We are taught and commanded to love and help and do good to one another, and not to do harm and mischief....”

History did not fulfill Penn’s and Tamanend’s vision of brotherhood, and it is ironic that today the state of Pennsylvania does not formally recognize its indigenous people. No formal political recognition for the Lenape Nation means that they may not sell their traditional Native American crafts without a disclaimer, nor may they own eagle feathers, which are sacred to their people.

But Chief Shelley says, “It is more important to us that we have recognition from the people of Pennsylvania, who understand our ways.”

Chief Shelley, whose Lenape name is Windamakwi, or teacher, is working to build awareness of the culture, traditions and spiritual beliefs of the Lenape, and to preserve Lenape sacred sites (original village sites, walls, or cairns) along the Delaware. This year’s river journey and treaty signing are a significant part of that effort.

She feels that this is more in keeping with Lenape tradition, which has always been an oral tradition, and that people need to work together—person-to-person—as caretakers of the land they share. Native Americans firmly believe that land cannot be owned.

“People come and go, and the land is always still here,” Chief Shelley said to the group assembled at the Lackawaxen treaty signing.

The Lenape feel responsible not only for the land, but for the people and all their animal relations. This traditional worldview is central to their culture, and one that more environmental and charitable organizations are helping to support. The goal of the treaty is renewed friendship and cooperation among people: “In the spirit of Chief Tamanend and William Penn, let us restore the brotherhood.”