Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania leads a healing ceremony for Ambler campus

Ambler students and faculty gathered outside the Learning Center for a healing ceremony as the recovery process continues for the campus

The Itchy Dog Singers of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania preform songs on the tribal drum outside the Ambler Learning Center on Oct. 21. | AMBER RITSON / TEMPLE NEWS

Frankie Napoli felt physically disoriented when Temple University’s Ambler Campus reopened on Sept. 15, two weeks after a tornado damaged more than 175 of the campus’ trees. 

“Campus has radically changed.” said Napoli, a sophomore horticulture major, “It’s very difficult to figure out where you are. It was like, we would use trees to sort of landmark.”

As the Ambler Campus continues to recover from the devastating effects of the tornado, the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania led a healing ceremony at the Learning Center quad followed by a group tree planting on Thursday, which allowed the community to process the loss of their trees while encouraging them to remain hopeful for the campus’ future. 

The healing ceremony included a prayer led by Chief of Ceremonies Chuck GentleMoon Demund, a tribal drum performance from the Itchy Dog Singers, a group within the Lenape Nation. The event also featured a friendship dance circle involving all of the attendees and storytelling from Adam Waterbear DePaul, which reflected upon the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania’s connection to nature.

Kathleen Salisbury, the director of the Ambler Arboretum and a landscape architecture and horticulture professor, opened the ceremony by explaining how the campus views trees as textbooks beyond their role in sustaining life.

As Salisbury provided opening statements, Dave Eagleheart Simon, an enrolled member of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, offered a sage cleansing for attendees that wanted it, which removes bad energy, Simon said.

Demund then led the group through an opening prayer in the Lenape-Unami dialect as a way to thank the community for coming together. While photography was permitted throughout the ceremony, Demund asked attendees to pause recording in order for the message of the prayer to truly be heard.

DePaul, an English instructor at Temple and a tribal council member of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, shared stories passed down from tribal elders, mainly pertaining to nature and its unpredictability. The stories don’t contain morals, but instead help the Lenape people remember their relationships, he said.

Similarly, while many of the trees are gone, their remains, like the insects and tree rings, still contain stories that can explain their histories, DePaul said.

Salisbury and DePaul were planning programming about plants prior to the tornado, and hosted the ceremony to honor the campus’ connection to the trees. They scheduled it on a weekday so students and faculty could easily participate, Salisbury said.

The aftermath of the tornado has been especially difficult for students, Napoli said.

“A lot of our classes are, like, walking around, engaging with all of the trees, engaging with all the wildlife — to have that, and then immediately have it disappear was a total bummer,” he added.

On Sept. 1, a tornado touched down on the Ambler Arboretum, broke off the roof of West Hall and damaged the learning center, forcing the campus to return to remote learning for weeks, The Temple News reported. 

There were only two buildings that didn’t sustain serious damage, The Temple News reported.

The Ambler Campus has researched sustainability practices for more than a century, and offers multiple horticulture courses about caring for and identifying trees and native plants, according to the Temple 2021-22 bulletin

Because Ambler students spend so much time studying trees, they form deep connections with them, Napoli said. 

“After we were allowed back on campus, people were asking like, ‘Oh, what’s your favorite tree? Is your favorite tree still around?’ So it was just sad because everything changed very suddenly,” he said.

As the Ambler Arboretum prepares to reopen, Salisbury is placing future generations at the forefront of the reconstruction process.

“As we do plant for the next two generations from now, we’re thinking much more carefully about what our climate and our world is going to look like then,” Salisbury said, “And trying to plant plants that will make it to then, you know, through the climate change, and what we’re expecting will happen through climate change so that so that we build this climate resilient landscape.”

Though the campus was beautiful before the tornado hit, Napoli is confident it will regain that beauty once again.

“I feel very touched to be a part of it,” Napoli added.  “And I think we’ve, we’ve really great people helping us forward.”

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