When Chuck Gentlemoon was a child, his parents and grandparents taught him to hide who he was. Fearing persecution from those outside of his culture, he concealed his language and beliefs.
“We couldn’t perform our seasonal ceremonies publically,” said Gentlemoon, who was elected to be Ceremonial Chief for the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania in 2015. “We couldn’t speak our language publically.”
Gentlemoon and his family are descendants of the Lenape Nation, a tribe of Native Americans that originated in the present-day areas of southern New York, eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
Over the past few decades, the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania has been reviving their language, history and culture, he added.
The Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania visited Temple University to re-sign the Treaty of Renewed Friendship at the Bell Tower on Aug. 16. According to a Lenape Nation press release, the Treaty of Renewed Friendship states signers of the treaty recognize the Lenape Nation as the original inhabitants of Pennsylvania and spiritual keepers of the Delaware River.
The Lenape tribe presented the treaty to Temple students and faculty members like President Richard Englert.
The treaty details the Lenape Nation’s pledge to preserve their native culture by participating in Lenape language revival projects, land preservation efforts, museum programs and other initiatives.
The event also included a drum circle and a historical reading of letters to the Lenape written by William Penn, founder of the colony of Pennsylvania.
The treaty, which was first signed in 2002, is re-signed every four years. This is the fifth time the Lenape Nation presented the treaty to communities along the Delaware River, and the first time the treaty was re-signed on Main Campus.
Adam DePaul, a teaching assistant in Temple’s English department’s Ph.D. program, organized a treaty signing event at Temple in order to educate younger generations about the culture and language of the Lenape.
The Lenape Nation is building connections with local universities like Temple, the University of Pennsylvania and Swarthmore College, as well as historical societies like the National Audubon Society in hope of saving their culture and language from near extinction.
The Lenape Nation held 12 treaty signing events from Aug. 3-19 during the Rising Nation River Journey, a canoeing journey down the Delaware River from Hancock, New York to Cape May, New Jersey. On each journey, the Lenape forge relationships with those they meet along the way to connect with educational and cultural institutions in the area.
“With each [river] journey, the word spreads more and more,” said DePaul, who is also a member of the Lenape Tribal Council. “In 2014, we had well over 70 organizations and hundreds of individuals on our treaty. I can already say that it won’t be too difficult to pass this year.”
In this way, Gentlemoon’s generation has worked hard to embrace their Lenape culture.
“My grandfather grew up believing that it was bad to be Indian,” said Gentlemoon, 58.
Gentlemoon’s grandfather was taken from his family by European colonizers and enrolled in the Carlisle Indian School, the first federally-funded boarding school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, when he was a child.
The mission of the school’s founder Captain Richard Henry Pratt was to assimilate students to the Anglo-Saxon culture of the United States in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Native American students were required to wear uniforms and speak English, instead of wearing their Native clothing and using their Native language.
Through these practices, a number of Native Americans were distanced from their culture for many years.
“We wanted to reawaken the knowledge in people that there are still Lenape in Pennsylvania,” DePaul said.
Anthropology professor Paul Garrett and 2014 anthropology alumnus Matt Reigle are collaborating with the Lenape Nation to create a documentary about the tribe’s culture and river journey to bring attention to the Lenape people.
“The documentary focuses on the Lenape’s historical relationship to the river, along with their current and ongoing efforts to revitalize their culture and language,” Garrett said. “It’s been an interesting and emotionally gripping experience viewing the formation of relationships between the Lenape, residents, and organizations.”
Initiatives like the Rising Nation River Journey and treaty signings allow the Lenape to remember their origins and educate local communities about the indigenous tribe.
“When I was a young boy, my grandmother used to say, ‘Remember who you are. Remember that you’re Lenape,’” Gentlemoon said. “We’re in that time where that if we don’t do something about our recognition… our grandchildren and their grandchildren won’t have anything to hold onto because it’ll all just be washed away.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Gentlemoon and his family are descendants of the Nanticoke-Lenni Lenape Nation. They are descendants of the Lenape Nation.