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Life as a Lenape

  • LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Shelley DePaul, assistant chief of the Lenape Nation, demonstrates how the Lenape's used a skin of a beaver as a headcovering at the Eldred Township Historical Society meeting.
    LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS Shelley DePaul, assistant chief of the Lenape Nation, demonstrates how the Lenape's used a skin of a beaver as a headcovering at the Eldred Township Historical Society meeting.
Published November 13. 2009 05:00PM

Shelley DePaul of Gilbert is the Assistant Chief of the Lenape (Len-ah-pay) Nation in Pennsylvania and she has made it her mission to help keep the Lenape Nation alive and to revive the Lenape language.

"My family is from here in this area. I began looking into my geneaology and learned that many of our ancestors married a Lenape native," says Shelley.

She learned that one of the first settlers to the area, Johannes Kunkle, married a Lenape, as did other settlers. She traced her own Lenape heritage to her grandfather, Robert Seipler.

A graduate of Pocono Mountain High School, Shelley earned her BS in English/Secondary Education and her Masters in History from East Stroudsburg University. She gives private music lessons in piano, guitar and Native American flute and does Lenape cultural programs.

She was invited by the University of Pennsylvania to tell the Lenape story. A yearlong program was featured at the Penn Museum titled "Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania."

In addition to the programs she teaches about the Lenapes, she also developed a Lenape language curriculum for use in the community. She is working with the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College on Lenape language preservation and revitalization. She teaches a Lenape language class at Swarthmore College, the first class ever offered on the collegiate level on Pennsylvania's indigenous language. She has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to continue her work on the language.

Addressing the Eldred Township Historical Society, she said, "You're living in a sacred area of the Lenape Nation. It's original people goes back to living here over 10,000 years ago. They were a very gentle and sweet people and lived in extended family environments."

She talked a little about how they lived when they were residents in the Kunkletown/Smith Gap area. There is a stone marker along Chestnut Ridge that indicates where a village once was located.

"The women decided everything and were treated with great respect. They lived in lodges made of 12 saplings that were then covered with animal skins. When they learned how to cultivate, they stayed in one place and built long houses. It was the grandparents who took on the responsibility of educating the grandchildren and passed on their knowledge and wisdom to them.

The Lenapes' colors are red and black.

The deer were the most important animals to the Lenapes.

"They did not choose the biggest deer with the biggest rack. They wouldn't choose the elder because they respected the elders of every living thing, whether person, animal, rock or tree. A ceremony would be held before they brought a deer home for all the sustenance that it provided. And when they wore a deer skin, it showed the respect they had for it."

She brought along several Lenape artifacts she has collected over the years from animal skins to drums to flutes. She played the flutes for the audience.

Shelley says the Lenapes explain their history as the flight of the four crows. The flight of the first crow was the time before European contact. A group of stone tools, a hoe blade, fishing net weights, and triangular arrowheads represent how the Lenape made a living before the introduction of gunpowder. The flights of the second and third crows relate to the period of persecution and exile, when most of them moved to scattered settlements in places as far away as Oklahoma and Canada.

The flight of the fourth crow is the time when Lenape culture will be restored, a process that began in the late 1960s with the American Indian Movement.

"Our Chief feels we're coming into the flight of the fourth crow," says Shelley.

The Chief of the Lenape Nation, Chief Bob Red Hawk Ruth, originally from Bucks County, now lives in Wisconsin.

As an Assistant Chief, Shelley is doing all she can to help fulfill that prophecy of the fourth crow.

(Shelley DePaul is looking for anyone who has Lenape blood lines in their genealogy and asks if you could please contact her at

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