DELAWARE RIVER — “We are now in the time of the fourth crow,” said Chief Chuck Gentlemoon of the Lenape Nation during a September 6 Zoom interview. “That is when we emerge …
DELAWARE RIVER — “We are now in the time of the fourth crow,” said Chief Chuck Gentlemoon of the Lenape Nation during a September 6 Zoom interview. “That is when we emerge from the shadows to counsel and aid those in authority, so that the natural balance of nature may be restored and we may once again live in harmony with the Creator.”
Gentlemoon was referring to the Four Crows Prophecy, an ancient foretelling of four epochs in the history of the Lenape Nation. The time of the first crow is a period of innocence lived in harmony with the Creator. The time of the second crow is when a trickster, European colonization, is loosed upon the Lenape people, and many Lenape people perish at the hands of their captors. The time of the third crow is one in which the Lenape Nation survives by hiding from its captors. But, in the time of the fourth crow, the Lenape will rise as a nation once again to lead its captors back to the balance of nature and life in harmony with the Creator.
Gentlemoon followed this explanation of the Four Crows Prophecy with a crash course in the history of Lenape Nation relations with European colonizers. The Lenape people are the original inhabitants of Delaware, New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania and Southern New York. For more than 10,000 years, they have been stewards of these lands and of the River of Human Beings, the Delaware River.
At first, the indigenous people who inhabited the lands between the Delaware and Hudson Rivers enjoyed a cordial relationship with those who came from Europe, notably William Penn, who treated the Lenape people as peers. Lenape trust and respect for Penn accrued to his heirs, John and Thomas Penn, who did not reciprocate it.
The younger Penns deceived the trusting Lenapes with a fraudulent treaty known as the Walking Purchase of 1737 that effectively swindled the Lenape out of 1,200,932 acres (about the size of Rhode Island) in what are today the Pennsylvania counties of Pike, Monroe, Carbon, Schuylkill, Northampton, Lehigh and Bucks. Although the Lenape continued to appeal the validity of the treaty all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2006, that court refused to hear the case.
The loss of much of their native land meant displacement and dispersion of the Lenape, some of whom went to Pittsburgh and Ohio, others south into lands controlled, at the time, by France. No longer trusting the Pennsylvania government to represent the interests of the Lenape Nation, the Lenapes began to assimilate into what would soon became the new American nation.
Gentlemoon talks about the assimilation, some of it accomplished in the most time-honored way: marriage. “The Pennsylvania Dutch so admired the farming skills of Lenape women that they took them as wives.”
Lenape women brought with them not only superb sustainable farming practices, including crop rotation and selective harvesting techniques but also an encyclopedic knowledge of botanical medicine. “We never mow our lawn in the summer,” said Gentlemoon. “My wife gathers medicinal herbs from it, among them are plantain and self-heal (Prunella vulgaris).” Plantain (not the banana-like fruit) is widely used to treat bronchitis and other lung conditions, as well as inflammatory disorders of all kinds. Self-heal is recognized by indigenous people worldwide as a sort of plant panacea, useful for treating injury and disease alike.
In some respects, assimilation was organic. Democracy was not the invention of America’s founding fathers. It was “borrowed” from Native Americans who had been practicing it since the 15th century when the Iroquois Great law of Peace was adopted as a constitution by the six Iroquois-speaking nations. The resulting confederacy, still in existence today, formed the basis for the American federalist system of centralized power while allowing individual states to govern themselves.
In the Lenape democracy, all people (men and women) were considered of equal status, although women were recognized by men as the stronger sex. (That was in deference to their childbearing experience, witnessed by Lenape men as a sacrifice to be honored.) Leaders were selected not by birthright or succession, as in Europe, but by persuasion and election. Candidates for leadership roles had to convince their peers that they were right for the job.
But other aspects of the assimilation were painful. The Lenape suffered many of the adverse effects endured by all marginalized people. Poverty, substandard living conditions, and restricted access to health care made them more vulnerable to disease than their European neighbors. Smallpox, typhoid, measles and Spanish flu almost eradicated the Lenape population. “And now, there is a new disease threat: coronavirus,” said Gentlemoon, who acknowledges that the virus has inordinately affected Native Americans living on reservations and disrupted Lenape cultural activities. “We still hold our ceremonies, but we observe all prescribed precautions and limitations.”
Asked what the Lenape are doing in the time of the fourth crow, Gentlemoon says, “We are working to increase ecological awareness and advocacy.” Practitioners of the science long before it became a household word, the Lenape have joined with civic and fraternal groups, as well as historical societies, outdoor recreation groups and scouting organizations, to focus attention on the environment, and especially on the Delaware River.
“No matter how much human abuse has been heaped on our beautiful river, particularly on the lower portions of it, the Delaware has this remarkable ability to rise above it,” said Gentlemoon. “We want everyone to appreciate it as we do, so every four years, since 2002, we hold the Rising Nation River Sojourn, a three-week paddle trip that starts in Hancock, NY and culminates in Cape May, NJ. The last was held in 2018, and the next will be in 2022.”
Everyone is welcome to participate. Some go the entire distance, but most people choose to do just one or two segments. Along the way, the Lenape Nation signs and/or renews a friendship treaty with many organizations that pledge to recognize and support Lenape culture.
According to the Lenape Nation’s official website www.lenape-nation.org), “The sojourn is meant to promote the awareness that the Lenape people living in Pennsylvania are carrying on their ancestral traditions, culture and spiritual beliefs, and that they are engaged in numerous projects to provide practical ways for all citizens to respect and protect our homeland and the health, welfare and future of the next seven generations of our children. Our aim is to promote the awareness that the state of Pennsylvania is one of only a few states in this country that does not recognize its indigenous people, and to invite citizens and political representatives to sign this treaty, so that we may fulfill the dream envisioned by our founding fathers, William Penn and Chief Tamanend. Finally, we desire to put the fear, pain and humility of the past behind us, once and for all, and to walk together into the future.”
Asked for his final thoughts, Gentlemoon said, “We’re still here.”
As told by ROBERT RED HAWK RUTH, translated by SHELLEY DEPAUL
Long ago, it was said that a fox will be loosened on the earth.
Also it was said four crows will come.
The first crow flew the way of harmony with Creator.
The second crow tried to clean the world, but he became sick and he died.
The third crow saw his dead brother and he hid.
The fourth crow flew the way of harmony again with Creator.
Caretakers: They will live together on the earth.