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Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania seeking state recognition... for 30 years

Dave Simon Eagle Hart and his wife Jane Simon River Dove of the Lenape Nation perform a cleansing ceremony.
Matt Rourke
Dave Simon Eagle Hart and his wife Jane Simon River Dove of the Lenape Nation perform a cleansing ceremony during an event to promote healing of the land and community in the aftermath of destruction caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ida, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021, at Temple University's campus in Ambler, Pa.

The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania has been circulating a petition to urge state lawmakers to recognize their existence formally. It is the only state in Lenapehoking that has never recognized its indigenous people.

Adam Waterbear DePaul — the tribal story keeper, director of education, and one of four chiefs of the Lenape Nation — says the Lenape tribe deserves to be known.

“The main things that are important to us are matters that affect our ability to educate the public and matters that we are very involved with: caretaking — with environmental stewardship. And state recognition will help us with those things,” DePaul said. “We work tirelessly to do all those things, and we have many wonderful projects and programs, but not being recognized is a constant barrier to how effective we could be in those things.”

The Lenape Nation has been engaged in partnerships with over 130 organizations, including environmental organizations, colleges, faith-based organizations, historical societies, and members of the public. DePaul says there’s no reason why Pennsylvania shouldn’t recognize the Lenape tribe.

“There is unequivocally an incredible amount of hurt that the state has not recognized this yet,” DePaul said. “There’s no excuse for it, our people feel offended, our people feel dehumanized for the hoops that we’ve been jumping through only to have nothing happen.”

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Maria Wheeler-Dubas, the science education outreach manager at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, is one of the community members who supports the request for official state recognition.

“I think it’s important for history that they’re recognized, and in the sense of fairness, justice, and equity, it’s important that they’re recognized because we’re all people, and they’re people that deserve the same kinds of rights to exist as all the rest of us,” Wheeler-Dubas said.

Although she’s not Lenape herself, Wheeler-Dubas recognizes the struggle for recognition that the Lenape nation has been through.

“I really feel like the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, they’ve put in so much work to become recognized and keep their culture surviving this long that I would just love to see them recognized for their efforts,” Wheeler-Dubas said.

According to the Lenape Nation, their people have been a part of the area now known as Pennsylvania for over 10,000 years, surviving displacement and upheaval. They’ve been seeking recognition from the state for over 30 years.

In a conversation on WESA’s The Confluence, DePaul said despite what he keeps finding in public school history books, his people were not all killed or removed.  

“Many of our people never left and kept the Lenape culture alive here all these years.”

Isabella is a rising senior at Duquesne University majoring in multiplatform journalism and communications and is a division one rower on their women's rowing team. She's had many articles published as the Features Editor for Duquesne's student-run newspaper, The Duquesne Duke. In her free time, she enjoys running, watching new shows and reading.