Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania

A New Exhibition Opening 13 September 2008 at the Penn Museum Tells the Long-Unspoken Story of the Region’s Local Native Americans

A Lenape fan made of beads, deerskin and feathers rests in the hands of Shelley DePaul, Director of the Language Program for the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania and a co-curator of the new exhibition Fulfilling a Prophecy: the Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania. Photo by Lauren Hansen-Flaschen.01 AUGUST 2008, PHILADELPHIA, PA—Conventional histories of Pennsylvania declare that all but a few elderly Lenape people left the state by the opening of the 19th century. Many Lenape were indeed driven westward, and ultimately established communities in Oklahoma, Kansas, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and in other parts of the United States and Canada. Yet, many remained here in secret. Children of the little known Lenape-European marriages of the 1700s stayed on the Lenape homelands (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, northern Delaware and southern New York) and continued to practice their traditions covertly. Hiding their Lenape heritage, they avoided discovery by both the government and their neighbors for more than two hundred years. Now, the descendants of these people have come forward to tell their story.

Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania, a new exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, opens with an afternoon public celebration on 13 September 2008. The exhibition tells this long-hidden story—one of courage, commitment, and cultural continuity in the face of long oppression. Curated by Chief Robert Red Hawk Ruth and Shelley DePaul, both of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, and by University of Pennsylvania anthropology student Abigail Seldin, the exhibition relates the history of the state’s secret Lenape in their own words. The exhibition draws upon oral histories documented by Chief Red Hawk, Ms. DePaul, and other members of the Lenape Nation as part of their ongoing Family History Project and upon anthropological research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania.

A collaboration between the Penn Museum and the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, the exhibition showcases never-before displayed objects and photographs from the private collections of Lenape people in Pennsylvania together with archaeological objects from the collections of the Penn Museum. Ancient masks, corn husk dolls, jewelry, a traditional “wedding stick,” a beaded umbilical cord bag, beaded moccasins, a large ceremonial drum and other traditional arts are displayed in Fulfilling a Prophecy, as well as a number of once-secret family heirlooms rich with hidden Lenape symbolism, dating from the early 19th century. Activities and aspirations of the Lenape of Pennsylvania today are also addressed, and traditional stories are shared via audio stations throughout the exhibition.

The curatorial team recounts this history through “The Prophecy of the Fourth Crow,” a traditional story of the Lenape. Handed down over countless generations, the story speaks of time passing through the flights of four different crows. Chief Red Hawk summarizes the current interpretation of the Prophecy in the following way: “We now know that the First Crow was the Lenape before the coming of the Europeans. The Second Crow symbolized the death and destruction of our culture. The Third Crow was our people going underground and hiding. The Fourth Crow was the Lenape becoming caretakers again and working with everybody to restore this land.” A short video produced by Amit Das and Kristin Searle of Penn’s Graduate School of Education introduces visitors to “The Prophecy of the Fourth Crow” in the welcoming chamber of the exhibition.

Netami ahas kenthu li guttitehewagan wichi Kishelemukonk.
The first crow he flew the way of harmony with Creator.
Nisheneit ahas kwechi pilito entalelemukonk, shek palsu ok ankela.
The second crow he tried to clean it the world, but he became sick and he died.
Nexeneit ahas weneyoo ankelek xansa ok koshiphuwe,.
The third crow he saw him dead his brother and he hid.
Neweneit ahas kenthu li guttitehewagan lapi wichi Kishelemukonk.
The fourth crow he flew the way of harmony again with Creator.
--from “The Prophecy of the Fourth Crow”

Like nearly half of all Native American groups in the United States, the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania is not recognized by either federal or state authorities. Today, some Lenape communities in Wisconsin and Oklahoma have federal and state recognition, as their histories were well-documented when hostile conditions in 18th century Pennsylvania pushed them westward. Though the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania has recently reevaluated their decision to remain silent about their history, this emergence from secrecy has not yet led to formal recognition. While there are many privileges to be gained through recognition, such as the ability to sell traditional crafts or to petition for the repatriation of human remains, the process of gaining recognition remains both complex and expensive for many Native Americans groups. Currently, the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania lacks the resources to pursue formal recognition. For now, the tribal council has decided to focus its energies on education and land conservation in the Lenape homelands, and the Lenape Nation remains a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

“We believe the time has come for our people and our neighbors to share and celebrate the rich and unique history and culture of the Lenape community of Pennsylvania,” said Chief Red Hawk.

The public opening celebration runs from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, 13 September 2008, and is free with Museum admission donation. The curators will speak, and members of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania will share and demonstrate some of the music, dance, stories, arts, crafts, and spiritual practices that have sustained them as a people. Activities will be available for both children and adult participation.

Fulfilling a Prophecy is made possible by Diane vS. and Robert Levy, University Scholars at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, the Penn Center for Native American Studies, the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates “Native Voices” program, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, and by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities' We the People initiative on American History.

The exhibition runs for one year, through 13 September 2009, in the Museum’s newly renovated second floor Jacqueline W. and John C. Hover II Gallery. Also on Penn Museum’s second floor are three other galleries with long-term exhibitions about native peoples of the Americas: Raven’s Journey: The World of Alaska’s Native People, Living in Balance: The Universe of the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo and Apache, and the Mesoamerican gallery, featuring materials from ancient cultures of Mexico and Central America.

Photo: A Lenape fan made of beads, deerskin and feathers rests in the hands of Shelley DePaul, Director of the Language Program for the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania and a co-curator of the new exhibition Fulfilling a Prophecy: the Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania. Photo by Lauren Hansen-Flaschen.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, located at 3260 South Streets on the Penn campus in Philadelphia, is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, the Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind's collective heritage. For general information, visitors may call (215) 898-4000, or visit the Museum’s award-winning website at http://www.penn.museum.


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