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Our Undying Past

‘Rising Nation River Journey’

The upper Delaware River grows thick with pleasure craft at this time of year—but the fun-lovers are about to be joined by an unusual, historic flotilla with a solemn purpose.

On Saturday, Aug. 2, American Indians representing the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania will set off downriver carrying a document they call the Treaty of Renewed Friendship. The delegation will stop along the way for a succession of public ceremonies at which various environmental groups, churches, historical societies and individuals will sign the treaty “to support the Lenape and to partner as caretakers of the traditional Lenape homeland and each other.”

It should be quite a journey—330 miles long, all the way from sylvan Hancock, N.Y., to the sandy flatlands of Cape May, N.J., where it will end on Sunday, Aug. 17.

The treaty-signing ceremonies are scheduled daily at 1 p.m. Each stop will also feature children’s activities and a powwow. We’re all invited to witness any of it, so if you’re in the region and up for a rare opportunity, check out the schedule at http://www.lenapenation.org. You could even join the flotilla or the campouts, but be sure to read about the arrangements.

This will be a spiritually-laden trip for the Lenape travelers since the Delaware River—which they call Lena’pe Sipu--traverses their historic homeland. About half of the route will pass territory their forebears lost in the 1737 land swindle known as the Walking Purchase. One of the true-life characters in my new historical novel Visions of Teaoga (Sunbury Press) is the famous Delaware leader Teedyuscung, who spent years protesting the infamous Walking Purchase, to no avail.

The Lenape organizers hope their river procession raises public awareness that, even though Pennsylvania doesn’t officially recognize them or any other native group, “the Lenape people living in Pennsylvania are carrying on their traditions, culture and spiritual beliefs.” The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, based in Easton, is a serious group with a long track record of helping people of native heritage emerge with pride from their longtime low profile. In that vein, it’s termed the August event the “2014 Rising Nation River Journey.”

The organization has held a round of friendship-treaty signings every four years since 2002, with this one focusing specifically on supporters along the Delaware River. The signers are being asked to follow up with concrete actions such as holding Lenape-related educational events and exhibits; advocating for better school curricula; helping to protect sacred sites and to revive the Lenape language; and safeguarding the riverine environment.

A special honoree this year is the Delaware Riverkeeper, Maya van Rossum. She is to take part in the treaty signing Aug. 12 in Lambertville, and the next day will join in the ceremony at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. Every four years the Lenape Nation lends its wampum to a significant “caretaker,” and van Rossum will receive the wampum from Penn, which has held it since 2010.

The text of the Treaty of Renewed Friendship, and its signers to date, are posted on http://www.lenapenation.org. The website also has a way you can sign the treaty yourself if you’re so moved.
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