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A Visit With The Lenni Lenape

August 13, 2002


On Tuesday night, around two hundred Boy Scouts, leaders and parents met with members of the Lenape Nation for an evening of cultural education at the privately-owned Bucks County Picnics off of River Road in Upper Black Eddy.

Three troops that normally meet on Tuesdays had planned to attend in lieu of their meetings, which were being held as a group all summer anyway.  The remainder of the Scouts had heard about it or were Arrowmen, and a fair contingent was attending nearby Camp Ockanickon for the week and were not even from the area.

  The Lenape Tribe was camping overnight at the facility, a stop on their journey down the Delaware River designed to mark a renewed brotherhood between the Lenape and the people living along the river’s shores.

  The Scouts were addressed by Bob Williams of the Lenape Tribe, who began by asking who the Lenape are, and what made them different from the Europeans who came to America later.  After hearing several answers, Bob informed the crowd that Lenape is the word for “human”, and Lenni the word for “first”.  The Lenni Lenape of the region, he asserted, were just human beings who happened to be there before the others arrived.

  The difference between the Lenape and the Europeans were brought about by geography, which accounted for differences in culture, traditions, and spirituality.  Bob reminded everyone that there were many things that have nearly been lost in time, the working of the soil, using one’s hands and brains to survive rather than relying on stores to provide goods such as bowls, utensils, and food.  Being in harmony with nature and each other was demonstrated by showing how a wooden shaft, feathers, rock and sinew worked in harmony to make an arrow.  Glue made from sap, animal fat etc. holds the parts together.

  As Bob spoke to the growing crowd, he began working on a new arrowhead.  Using a hammer rock, he chipped off a piece of Jasper from a quarry in Allentown , where the tribe has obtained the rock for thousands of years.  Explaining that arrowhead artifacts and knife blade artifacts look very similar, you can tell the difference by looking at the edges.  A knife would have duller edges as a result of being used to cut things frequently, where an arrow would have sharper edges.

  Bob mentioned that the shafts were often made of Viburnm or a weed known as Arrow wood, and paused in his arrowhead making to quickly make a shaft scraper from a chip of Jasper.  Then, using deer antlers sharpened on a rock, he worked at the Jasper he’d chipped for the arrowhead.  Amongst the facts he gave the crowd was how the Lenape were part of a greater nation known as the Algonquins.

  Upon completing the arrowhead, Bob described how a piece of deerskin would be spiral cut, soaked, and stretched to make bowstring for a firestarter.  Explaining the different parts, he then moved the crowd to an area where a large campfire had been prepared in traditional manner.  Using his home-made gear, Bob started the fire, allowing a young Scout to help by blowing on the glowing coal he had created and set in the tinder.  Jim Beer, also a member of the Lenape tribe, entered the campfire circle to tell the story of Rainbow Crow, essentially the story of fire.

  Afterward, he had the crowd join hands, and explained how to do a friendship dance.  Other tribe members had set up a traditional drum, and began to drum out the beat and sing.  The crowd of nearly 200 danced around the fire for  some time, then a short ceremony followed during which  the SPLs of T123,168, &102  presented Jim Beer a day pack with some raisins and other snacks  inside to help them on their journey.

At this time, a good number of us had to leave, since the parents of our charges would be waiting for us at 9pm , and it was 8:45 .  An hour’s drive was ahead of us, but being late was well worth it.  The very informative night was not only fun but made you feel good….this comment was echoed by the boys I spoke to.

  For more information on the Treaty to be signed on August 24 and the Trek, check out the Lena’pe Culture website.


George Bruck, Jr