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The name DELAWARE was given to the natives who occupied the Delaware River Valley during the colonial occupation of English Governor Lord de la Warr. In their language they are LENAPE (len-ah'-pay) which means "The People" and belong to the Algonquian linguistic group. They were among the first Indians to come in contact with Europeans (Dutch, English, & Swedish) as early as 1600. They were considered a "Grandfather" tribe whose power, position, and spiritual presence served to settle disputes among rival tribes. Known also for their fierceness and tenacity as warriors they are recorded, however, as choosing a path of accommodation with the Europeans, treating William Penn for eastern Pennsylvania and signing the first Indian treaty with the United States (Sept. 17, 1778). Through war and peace the Lenape continued to give up their lands and moved westward (Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana). A small contingent of Delawares fled to Canada during a time of extreme persecution (1790) and today occupy two small reserves in Ontario province (Moraviantown and Munsee).

By 1820 they crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri and, during the next 40 years, produced 13 treaties which established a reservation in Kansas and ultimately a final move to the Indian Territory in 1866. Their 1867 agreement with the Cherokees allowed them to purchase a district to reside as Delawares within the Cherokee Nation. Since then they have primarily occupied modern-day Washington and Nowata Counties in Oklahoma and have continually maintained their cultural and governmental identity.

The Delaware lived in wigwams, one-room bark huts, originally arranged along the banks of their river and creeks. A complete picture of their culture is difficult to reconstruct, but the Delaware were probably hunters and maize farmers. Marriage was accomplished through an exchange of gifts, and it could be terminated easily by either party. A Delaware chief together with his advisers and the tribe's elders selected the new chief among those who were eligible, based on matrilineal descent. The Delaware addressed their prayers to Manito, their pantheistic god.

  • The Delaware of today number close to 10,000 and are headquartered in Bartlesville where the tribal government operates service programs. A small group of separately organized Delawares (the Absentees) are located in Anadarko, Oklahoma on lands they jointly control with the Wichitas and Caddos. There has been a recent revival in cultural programs (language, song, and social dance) which has pleased the few remaining full-blood elders who feared cultural extinction.


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