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Lenape Nation is subject at Chestnuthill Historical Society

  • ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Shelley DePaul gave a presentation about the Lenape Nation.
    ELSA KERSCHNER/TIMES NEWS Shelley DePaul gave a presentation about the Lenape Nation.
Published November 16. 2011 05:01PM

Shelley DePaul, a Lenape Indian, provided the program at the Oct. 19 meeting of the Chestnuthill Historical Society.

She said the Lenape have many descendants in the area, but a person has to be able to prove the line. Ten years ago there were 50 people enrolled in the Nation and today there are 150 proven members. In order to validate a family history a lot of research is necessary. She has collected genealogical histories mostly from this area.

DePaul said she is obsessed with the Lenape language and said many local place names are in that language. She is developing a home school curriculum to teach the Lenape language. In it, a single word can be the equivalent of an English sentence and there are no little words such as "the."

Instead of gender in language, usage depends on animated and inanimated items, and some things we may consider inanimate will be animate in the language. She is teaching it at Swarthmore College beginning in spring 2012.

There is information at

William Penn had a good relationship with the indigenous people. During the Walking Purchase in this area the Indians lost a lot of land due to cheating by Penn's sons.

The Nation is against gambling and will not start casinos which she said is hurting some to the tribes that have them.

It is a matriarchal society with woman making decisions. Property passes down on the woman's side of the family and after marriage a man moves into the woman's home. Women choose the chief and can replace him if he does not do a good job. The present chief is Bob Red Hawk Ruth.

Elders are esteemed. No one eats until they have finished. Grandparents are cared for by their children, and the oldest child receives the most respect. In return the oldest is responsible for caring for younger children. At age 12 children become women and men.

The history in the area dates back 13,000 years. They were the original people and were a peaceful tribe living in small groups. A village of 100 was a rarity. There was a village in the Kunkletown area.

There is a new Cultural Education Center in Easton located in the old Bachmann Public House just off the circle at Second and Northampton streets.

DePaul and Chief Red Hawk are traveling to record the stories and the herbal wisdom of the people. Earlier it would have been passed on within the tribe. They told the University of Pennsylvania what they collected and the school set up an exhibit that was so popular it remained for three years before the removal to Easton.

She visits schools taking artifacts to show and hopes people will visit the cultural center.

A medicine man will help anyone who is ill or hurt without regard for insurance. Many natural products can be used as medicines such as willow bark as aspirin.

Members try to trade for what they need rather than to use money.

In the Lenape culture people should not have more than they need. If they acquire more they will give some away, but if it is not used, it can be taken back and given to someone else, which led to the term "Indian giver."

All creatures have a living spirit. The Indians never chop down the elder tree or shoot the biggest deer, rather taking one that is adequate for their needs. You ask with a prayer to take what is needed, and by not taking the first one, you'll never take the last, said DePaul.

The dead are buried in a fetal position. A man's grave is marked with a wooden arrow and a woman's with a wooden cross - a cross with both arms equal in length, not the typical Christian cross.

DePaul said many tribes have gotten off the spiritual path but the Lenape try to stay on it. They consider themselves caretakers of the land and are environmentally aware.

Consequently they are signing treaties with organizations and churches that also care for the land and its inhabitants. From 25 organizations in 2010, there are now 50 organizations and 150 individuals.

Those Lenape who remained in the area during the removals had to assimilate. From the beginning they got along well with the German settlers. They learned to hide in plain sight with such things as symbols that seemed to merely be decorations.

There is always a mistake made in a sewn product because only the Creator can be perfect.

Many Lenape descendants are in the Serfass, Kunkle and Dotterer families. She went into more detail about these genealogies.

In other business: With the decision to be incorporated, the society needs to apply for nonprofit status. A vote of the members approved the expenditure.

The nominating committee presented a slate of officers to be voted on in November: Harvey Burger and Nancy Christman, president; Stuart Thody, vice president; Janet Johnson, secretary; and Nancy Gehr and Lee Hoffman, treasurer.

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