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Lenape Nation paddles again, for past and present

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The Delaware River has become home to many over the years, but for some, it is tied to the origins of their ancestry. The Lenape Nation has had roots in and around the Delaware River from its headwaters to its mouth since before the advent of European colonists. Known to them as the Lenape Sipu, the Delaware River is an iconic resource that has remained even while other parts of their culture have passed from the records of history.

The Lenape Nation recognizes nature as an enduring force of creation that stands the test of time and outlives us all. In the interest of conserving this resource, they once had a treaty with none other than William Penn, the founding proprietor of what is now Pennsylvania. A letter from Penn to the Lenape dated October 18, 1681, says in part, “Now this great God hath been pleased to make me concerned in your parts of the World, and the king of the Countrey where I live, hath given unto me a great Province therein, but I desire to enjoy it with your Love and Consent, that we may always live together as Neighbours and freinds, else what would the great God say to us, who hath made us not to devoure and destroy one an other but live Soberly and kindly together in the world.” [Original spelling and grammar.]

It is thus poetically apt that, in 2002, representatives of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania met with various neighbors and friends at Pennsbury Manor, the former Morrisville estate of William Penn in Bucks County, PA, to sign a new treaty, a treaty of renewed brotherhood. Various groups and organizations have since signed this treaty with the Lenape as sincere stewards of the river that unites their interests. The document, which has been renewed every four years since 2002, serves as a reminder and a bridge among all who have signed it to serve as caretakers of the Delaware River. This year it will be signed again.

Along with the treaty signing, members and friends of the Lenape Nation embark on a three-week trek down the Delaware River beginning at Hancock, NY and ending all the way downriver in Cape May, NJ, where the river and Delaware Bay empty into the Atlantic. Along the way, they stop and camp as well as stop at certain locations to collect signatures from groups that have pledged their stewardship to the Lenape and the river. Some of these stops include the Zane Grey Museum in Lackawaxen, PA, the Sigal Museum in Easton, PA and at Temple University in Philadelphia. At the conclusion of their journey, they will host a cultural festival where they will celebrate the renewal of the treaty.

This year, the journey is being coordinated by Adam DePaul of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania Tribal Council. DePaul says this year’s journey is highly anticipated because members of the Lenape Nation who have moved from out of area as far as Ohio have been invited to return and participate. Last time, there were about 30 paddlers, and this year they hope to increase that number further. There will also be a professor of anthropology joining the flotilla for the duration of the journey to video and document everything along the way.

DePaul says that the Lenape have worked to establish new partners, not only to sign the treaty but also to support their culture and how they educate others about their rich history. This year they welcome Temple University and the Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) in Pike county to their list of partners.

But there’s more to the trip than just signing papers or even building relationships. DePaul says, “The mayor of Lower Township is not only joining us for our paddle, but [he] is a musician and will be performing at our finale.” That finale is the culmination of the trip, when the paddlers reach West Cape May. It will be a “pow-wow”-like celebration, DePaul says, at which there will be drummers, speakers, dancing and other entertainment. This year the festivities will include the musical stylings of the Lenape Nation’s own Jim Beer Family Band.

For those unable to join the paddle, there is a cultural center in Easton, PA, with an exhibit of the history and future of the Lenape Nation, including artifacts, crafts and a trading post. The center is located in the Bachmann Publick house at 169 Northampton St.

If you wish to be a part of the river journey, the Lenape Nation will be setting up camp at Fireman’s Field in Hancock, NY on August 3. The following day they will hold an opening ceremony around 9 a.m. before launching and paddling to Equinunk, PA. While there, the Equinunk Historical Society will host tours of their museum and host an environmental program before the paddlers make their way to Long Eddy, where they will camp for the first night of many to come. A full schedule of the journey can be found by contacting Adam DePaul, the Rising Nation coordinator, at 570/817-2188, or emailing him at info@lenape-nation.org. To see more photos and learn more about the Lenape Nation river journey, visit lenape-nation.org. For copies of the William Penn letter and the modern-day treaty, visit www.riverreporter.com.

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