Lenape Indians

The Lenape or Delaware Indians lived in the North East region of North America, including parts of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. They are a peace loving people with a very interesting religion. Men and women contribute to the tribe in their own ways.


The Lenape grew squash beans and corn. They hunted a large variety of animals. They also built small canoes that were used to fish from. They would then cook over an open fire.
Lenape lived in homes called wigwam. They would bend wooden poles to create the frame of the structure. Then the whole structure was covered in animal skins to create durable walls. A fire pit was placed in the middle of the structure and a hole was cut in the roof so the smoke could rise. Usually one whole family would live in each.


The Lenape made clothes from elk and deer hides. Men wore loincloths and women wore skirts. During the winter they would wear fur robes and during the summer they preferred to wear as little as possible. Both men and women wore belts and moccasins. They painted and tattooed images of spirits all over their bodies.
The Lenape have a very interesting creation story. It all began on the back of a giant tortoise. The tortoise was swimming in the ocean that covered the whole world. There was one tree on the back of the tortoise. The first man sprouted from the roots of this tree. When the man was lonely the tree bent over it made new roots that the first woman sprouted from. This made the man very happy.


Every time a Lenape baby is born the babys parents would place the babys afterbirth in a green sapling tree. Then the parents would pray that their baby would grow up tall and strong just like the tree.
There were two main groups of Lenape priests. These groups were healers and dream interpreters/future tellers. They buried their dead in shallow graves and even sometimes in groups. The Lenape do believe in the afterlife but not in heaven and hell.


The Lenape treasured nature and admired its beauty. They did not like war or fighting.The Lenape lived in the North East woodlands. The weather is not too harsh there at most points during the year. This is also close to water so it would be easier to fish and ride in canoes.
Their language was Algonquin. There were three dialects; Unami, Munsee and Unalactigo. People who spoke one dialect would have a hard time understanding people who spoke in another dialect. Only two dialects, Munsee and Unami are still spoken today, by a few select elders of the Lenape.
Men made tools and weapons out of wood and stone. The Lenape had a large number of uses of wood these uses include; tools, canoes, frames of houses, baskets, dolls and various religious objects.


The first European invasion was in 1524 when an Italian navigator Giovanni da Verrazano sailed near the east coast of North America. This began happening more frequently in 1609. The number of invaders kept growing until the Lenape ware surrounded. The Lenape referred to these people as Shouwunnock or Salty People. They believe that all white people were created from the foam of salt water on the European shores. Many invaders began trading goods with the Indians. They traded objects that the Indians didnt have such as glass and metal trinkets. Many Indians died from diseases that were brought over from Europe. Many Indians also began abusing alcohol which was brought by the new settlers, which greatly shortened their lives. Many Indians were forced to leave their land. The Unamis now became known as Delaware Indians because of the river that flowed through their land.
Many Munsee tribes started wars against the new settlers which lasted from 1640 to 1649. A large number of massacres of Indians took place during this time. This war became known as Governor Kiefts War.The Lenapes were greatly weakened by diseases and war by the year 1700.
The Europeans kept taking more and more land from the Lenapes but their land was the most important thing to the Lenapes. Unfortunately, the Europeans wanted all of the land and the Lenape tried to compromise and hold onto as much of their land as possible. The Lenape leaders tried to get the European purchasers to buy land belonging to other tribes whenever possible.
In 1779, George Washington ordered the army to attack and destroy the Iroquois. During this time the last of the Delaware towns was destroyed. The Delawares prepared for war together with three or four other tribes and the British supported them by supplying the Indians with guns and ammunition. In 1795, the Delawares gave up the last of their remaining land during the Treaty of Fort Greenville. Many Delawares were left poor because of warfare and the loss of their land. Not only were their towns destroyed, but many of their possessions were stolen as well. Many of the Delaware turned to alcohol because they had no hope for their future.
In the 1800s, a woman named Beate, tried to convince Delaware Indians to go back to their ancient traditions which they were beginning to forget since they were scattered in Oklahoma and Indiana now. She held ceremonies in buildings called big houses and in these ceremonies her people rejected anything to do with white people. Only about 3,000 Delawares remained by 1840 and most of them moved from Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio to Indiana to have unity. However, a few still remained in other states.
In 1907, 1900 Delawares remained in communities in Oklahoma, Kansas, Wisconsin and Ontario. As the years went on, ancient traditions began to fade. The American government passed laws that specifically applied to these tribes such as requiring all Indian children attend government-run schools. Many of these children attended schools far from home and had to live there. As a result, many children started giving up the old ways especially when teachers made fun of them. Some of the Lenape languages died off as the elders died and many of the people adopted the Christian beliefs of their neighbors. There are still some Delaware today who try to maintain their traditions and pass them on.