World Ocean Day

Chief Bob Red Hawk, of Pennsylvania, thanks all the participants of the paddle event on World Ocean Day, June 8, 2012, in Lower Township.

LOWER TOWNSHIP — Some guests are coming to town later this month. That is, if you can call a people here for thousands of years guests.

“Our people have been here, it’s been proven, for 13,000 years,” said Chief Shelly DePaul, of Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania.

The Lenape, whose Indian name means “the original people,” are coming for a celebration to be held Aug. 17 on the grounds of the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal in North Cape May.

The Lenape will arrive Aug. 16 at Sunset Beach at the end of a 150-mile canoe trip on the Delaware River called the Rising Nation River Journey.

On Aug. 17 at the ferry, a schedule of events include signing The Treaty of Renewed Friendship, a powwow with Native American drummers and dancers, music and storytelling, Lenape children’s games, spear throwing, shuttlecocks, demonstrations on flint knapping and bead handiwork and Lenape teachings on the importance of animals to their culture. All events are free and open to the public.

The township is helping sponsor the event. Mayor Mike Beck kayaked with the Lenape tribal members off Sunset Beach in 2012 to celebrate World Oceans Day and said he became good friends with them. He pushed for the township sponsorship.

“This goes back to the very foundation of the people who were here before we were,” Beck said.

The Lenape are indigenous to New Jersey, Delaware, southern New York and eastern Pennsylvania. The Delaware River and Delaware Bay are sacred waters to them.

Part of the event is to raise awareness about pollution on the waterway, said Chief Bob Red Feather, a Lenape from New Jersey. The group has opposed such practices as fracking for natural gas and seismic testing in the ocean.

“We’re at the time now of an earth change. We notice the air, river and bay are not as clean. We people are the ancient people of the land, and we’re here to provide helpful information to get things back to synchronization,” Red Feather said.

DePaul, reached by phone Thursday, was getting into a kayak in Hancock, New York, Friday morning at the headwaters of the Delaware River. That begins a journey the Lenape take every four years with a treaty they get historical organizations, environmental groups, churches and individuals to sign.

The treaty, which is not legally binding, simply recognizes the Lenape as the indigenous caretakers of the lands along the Delaware and makes the signers spiritual partners in caring for the river called the Lenape Sipu by the tribe.

The first treaty signed between Europeans and Indians was between Philadelphia founder William Penn and Lenape Chief Tamanend.

Many Lenape went west to Ohio, but DePaul said the tribe has about 320 members who have proven Lenape ancestry, often mixed with European blood, in the region.

DePaul said their history has been passed down orally. It always has been known as the most peaceful tribe, one that often settled disputes between other tribes.

Cape May County history books place the Lenape here when the first European settlers arrived in the 17th century.

“That was our turkey clan. We called them the ocean people,” DePaul said.

In 2002 when the treaty signing began, DePaul said, 19 organizations signed on. In 2010, for an event that happens every four years, 30 organizations and about 100 individuals signed it.

DePaul said her group also pushes to save the culture, language and history of the tribe. It helps update school textbooks on the Lenape and tries to save sacred sites that are being destroyed. It is also about mending fences.

“It brings things full circle in leaving behind past animosity between Native Americans and whites and focuses on working together,” she said.

Contact Richard Degener:


Copy Editor

Five years as Ocean County bureau chief, 12 years as regional news editor (not continuous), 10 years as copy editor (also not continuous), all at The Press of Atlantic City.

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