General Historical & Cultural Information
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 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 elders who feared cultural extinction.
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