Lenape host Native Languages in Crisis conference

by Christine Graef
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (NFIC) 6-08

Chief Bob Red Hawk Ruth took the strings of wampum in his hand and presented one to each of the leaders gathered in the University of Pennsylvania’s Native American Studies language conference in early May

It was a statement of the sincerity of a welcome that renewed friendship in a Lenape (Delaware) Nation that had not come together on homeland since the pounding of 18th century colonialism splintered them into several separate tribes.

“It’s been a long time,” said Red Hawk. “We’ve been hoping for unity for a long time.”

Red Hawk, Chief of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania and founder of the Red Hawk Singers, was asked by the university to host Native American Languages in Crisis: Exploring the Interface between Academia, Technology and Smaller Native Language Communities.

The three day conference brought together smaller language communities for a wide range of discussion that will be published and sent to nations across North America, the Pennsylvania’s governor’s office, Philadelphia’s mayor and Penn alumni.

“These are the contexts facing the highest threats of language loss and they are the contexts most often with the fewest resources at their disposal,” said conference organizer Dr. Richard Grounds, Director of the Euchee Language Project and a presenter at the recent Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the United Nations.

Grounds said that 89 percent of 175 Native languages in North America are in imminent danger of falling silent. In Oklahoma, only four of the remaining 23 languages are being learned by children.

Language workers from the Miccosukke, Chichti Pueblo, Lakota, Miami, Sac and Fox, Apache/Chicana, Yuchi, Euchee, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Snqwiiqwo Salish, Maliseet, Shawnee, Kashaya, Navajo, Munda, Kallawaya, Maori, Sami, Hnahno, Turkic and Lenape/Delaware languages came together to talk of the urgency of revitalization, best practices, new technologies and recognizing the roles of linguists and non-Native educators.

Language workers from the Miccosukke, Chichti Pueblo, Lakota, Miami, Sac and Fox, Apache/Chicana, Yuchi, Euchee, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Snqwiiqwo Salish, Maliseet, Shawnee, Kashaya, Navajo, Munda, Kallawaya, Maori, Sami, Hnahno, Turkic and Lenape/Delaware languages came together to talk of the urgency of revitalization, best practices, new technologies and recognizing the roles of linguists and non-Native educators.

“Language is something everyone can come together about,” and Bruce Stonefish, member of the Moravian Band Delaware Nation in Ontario and Service Manager at the Indigenous Education Coalition.

Stonefish’s doctoral at Harvard University is focusing on curriculum, policy, resource and cultural development in Native communities. He and Glen Jacobs, member of the Delaware Nation in Ontario, co-created the Lunaape Language Immersion Curricula and a camp that promotes opportunity to learn introductory levels of the Algonquian Lenape language. The two men have spent more than a decade re-gathering their language to pass it to others.

Stonefish for years has woven threads to connect the various Lenape/Delaware groups, a hurdle that grafts those with federal recognition to those without it.

We have to work together, he said.

The Lenape’s homeland spanned thousands of acres across New Jersey and Pennsylvania for more than 10,000 years. They were pushed from their homelands to Wisconsin and Kansas, southwest to Oklahoma and northward to Canada.

The English called them Delaware, likely because the people centered around the Lenape Sipu which became called the Delaware River. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, about 16,000 people across America say they are descendants of the Lenape.

Today the restoration of language returns to the people the heart of their identity and traditions.

“Elders talk about boarding school experiences and this younger generation talks about how important it is to them to regain their language,” said Ann Dapice, Lenape/Cherokee from Oklahoma and member of the Pennsylvania Lenape Nation.

People of the Lenape came from the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma, the Moravian Band Delaware Nation in Ontario, the Delaware Nation in Thamesville, Ontario, the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans in Wisconsin and the Delaware Tribe of Indians in Anadarko, Oklahoma.

The Lenape Language Workshop was held on the last day of the conference. Organizer Dapice served on the Elders Council for the American Indian Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Board of Directors of Mental Health Association in Tulsa and the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry/Domestic Violence Intervention Services Committee. She is founder and chair of the Penn Association of Native Alumni.

“We shared a variety of experiences and information,” said Dapice. “We reached new understandings about the need for a deeper understanding of the specific challenges, political realities and emotional and physical health that need to be addressed.”

If members are facing hardships and not certain of life tomorrow, learning a language is more difficult, she said. Incorporating unique Native humor into lessons that can be tedious with conjugations was also found to be important.

The Lenape presenters are discussing how to provide Lenape language curriculum to schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Pennsylvania member Shelley DePaul, a state certified teacher, serves as Director of the Lenape Language Program for the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania. DePaul has been teaching Lenape language classes and workshops for the past 10 years. She’s worked on developing Lenape language curricula since 1994.

She said that a 1990s census in Pennsylvania found fewer than 1 percent of the population could speak Lenape fluently.

She said that a 1990s census in Pennsylvania found fewer than 1 percent of the population could speak Lenape fluently. She said one reason is the lack of communication between speakers in a dispersed society. She also said that current courses take an Anglican approach to grammar and structure. To counter this with a wholistic cultural program, DePaul uses games, stories, music and drumming in her language classes. Three years ago she initiated an online forum that provides daily language instruction.

“Separation from place, the combinations of tribes, mixed heritages and the separations from seeing each other visually has had a lot of impact on language and relearning it,” said Dapice.

Facilitating at the event, Robert W. Preucel Director of the Penn Center for Native American Studies and Professor of Anthropology said the conference is leading to talk of other events that all the Lenape/Delaware people can join together and how Penn and other universities in Philadelphia can work together as a consortium to facilitate ongoing communications between Lenape tribes in the U.S. and Canada and provide for annual meetings in Lenapehoking (homeland) to discuss issues of importance to the Lenape people.

“It really does have a way of its own,” said Red Hawk. “We were asked to host the language conference and weren’t sure what would happen. We sent out invitations to all the people.”

The Lenape’s Fourth Crow prophecy talks of the times in history when the people first lived in harmony on the continent, the time of contact with Europeans, the time of going underground to preserve culture because of the bounties on their lives, and the time when people would emerge to work together in respect and seek indigenous knowledge.

An exhibit called “Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania” will open at the Penn Museum on Sept. 13, 2008 co-curated with DePaul, Red Hawk and Anthropology undergraduate Abby Seldin with her advisor, Preucel, who is Gregory Annenberg Weingarten Curator of North America at the Penn Museum.

Many history books say that there were no Lenape in Pennsylvania after the 1800’s, but many had intermarried, many had passed as another race in order to survive. Ceremonies and traditions continued in basements and garages away from society’s eyes.

In recent decades, Lenape people in the region emerged for public education lectures on history and culture at schools, churches, historical societies, youth groups and environmental groups.

Red Hawk said they went to all the people and asked them to look through their possessions for articles pertaining to pre-contact, contact and post-contact to loan to the museum for the exhibition.

“I think in Indian Country, things are changing,” said Red Hawk. “We’re moving back toward doing things in a traditional way and moving away from the things that take up our time and divide us from each other.”

 

 

 

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