Delaware Indian Tribe of Oklahoma

Published on October 25, 2010 by John

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where different Lenape languages were spoken

Map depicting approximately where
different Lenape languages were spoken

The name Lenni Lenape, or Leni-Lenape, pronounced len-ee len-AH-pay, means “real people” or “people of the standard”. The tribe also is known simply as Lenape, “the people”. An alternate tribal name, common in history books, is Delaware. The latter name, given by the English, comes from the name of the river where many of the Lenape originally lived. The river itself was named after Thomas West, Lord De La Warr, the second governor of Virginia, in whose honor the state of Delaware is named.

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The Lenape, sometimes called the Delaware Confederacy, consisted of numerous Algonquian-speaking bands who maintained distinct identities. The northern bands spoke the dialects known as Munsee (or Munsi, Muncie, or Muncey); the southern bands spoke the Unami dialect. A third dialect of coastal groups later came to be called Unalachtigo. Other ALGONQUIANS, such as the NANTI COKE, called the Lenape “Grandfather” in their various dialects, because they considered Lenape territory the original homeland of all Algonquians.

The Lenape, classified as NORTHEAST INDIANS, placed their villages along river valleys. Lenape villages were dominated by one of three clans: tukwsi-t, the wolf; pukuwanku, the turtle; and pele’, the turkey. Each village was surrounded by sovereign hunting lands and fields of corn, beans, and squash. Houses were domed wigwams similar in style to IROQUOIS (HAUDENOSAUNEE) long houses.

An important ceremony of the Lenape is known as the Big House (Ga’mwi), lasting 12 days and involving a log structure symbolizing the universe, the lighting of a new sacred fire, and offerings to Misinghalikun, the legendary Guardian of the Game, for the purpose of renewal, good fortune, and tribal unity.


The Lenape were forced to cede their lands and migrate time and again on account of the increasing number of non-Indian settlers. At one time, different bands of these people held territory in what now is New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

The Dutch first entered Lenape homelands in the 1600s from the Hudson River. The Dutch were interested in fur trade with the Indians. To the south, traders from Sweden lived in Lenape country along Delaware Bay, starting in 1638. During this early period, many Lenape moved inland and settled along the Susquehanna River.In 1664, England took control of the entire region. English settlers, hungry for more and more land, pushed farther and farther westward. By the mid-1700s, Lenape were beginning to settle along the Ohio River in Ohio, then in Indiana, believing the Europeans and their Euroamerican descendants would never settle as far west as Ohio. But settlers kept coming: next the Americans, who pushed into the Old Northwest around the Great Lakes. In the late 1700s, some Lenape moved to Missouri for a time, then to Texas. By 1835, many from this group had resettled in Kansas in the northern part of the original Indian Territory. In 1867, when whites broke their promises and began to settle west of the MississippiRiver in great numbers, most of the Lenape relocated to the southern part of the Indian Territory, which is now the state of Oklahoma. In the meantime, other Lenape had chosen to live in Canada.

Early Relations with Colonists

In the course of this long and complicated story of migration, in which the Lenape lived in at least 10 different states and signed 45 different treaties with the whites, the tribe made its mark on American history. They were involved in many key events.

One famous early incident is the selling of Manhattan Island, now the central borough of New York City. First, the Canarsee band from Brooklyn tried to sell the island to the Dutch. But it was really the Manhattan band who controlled this territory. In 1626, they made the deal with Peter Minuit for 60 guilders’ (24 dollars’) worth of trade goods—that is, beads, trinkets, and tools. Some scholars believe that the Manhattan Indians were part of the Wappinger Confederacy and should be  classified as WAPPINGER rather than as Lenape. In any case, the Lenape and Wappinger both spoke the Algon quian language and were closely related. The Lenape generally lived west of the Hudson River and the Wappinger east of it. The Manhattan did not really believe that they were selling the land forever. To them no one “owned” land; it belonged to all people. Rather, they thought they were selling the right to use the land, more like a lease. Lenape have a saying about the sale of Manhattan Island: “The great white man wanted only a little, little land, on which to raise greens for his soup, just as much as a bullock’s hide would cover. Here we first might have observed his deceitful spirit”.

Other important historical events involving the Lenape were the treaties of friendship signed in 1682–83 with William Penn, the Quaker founder of Pennsylvania, the first treaties Native Americans ever signed with Europeans. Of the early colonial leaders, William Penn was among the most fair in his dealings with Native Americans, protecting their rights to land as well as their freedom of religion. A famous Lenape chief at these meetings was Tamanend. Because he was so effective in his dealings with non-Indians, in 1786 his name was taken, in the form of Tammany, as the name of a political club important in New York history. Penn’s example and the respect whites held for Tamanend did not prevent others from massacring a band of Moravian Christian Lenape at Gnadenhutten, Ohio, in 1782, because of a stolen plate. The Lenape are also famous as the first tribe to sign a treaty with the U.S. government—at Fort Pitt in 1778 during the American Revolution.Wars Involving the Lenni Lenape Some Lenape warriors first rebelled against the Dutch in 1641, when settlers’ livestock destroyed some cornfields of the Raritan Indians, a band living on Staten Island at the mouth of the Hudson River. Willem Kieft, governor general of New Netherland at the time, placed a bounty on Raritan heads and scalps, making it profitable for Dutch settlers to kill local Indians.

An incident called the Pavonia Massacre occurred two years later: Dutch soldiers tortured and murdered a band of Wappinger who sought protection among the Dutch from the MOHAWK. After the incident, many Algonquians of the region, Lenape and Wappinger alike, began raiding outlying settlements. By attacking and burning Indian villages, Kieft’s armies crushed the uprising in a year. The Lenape and Wappinger also battled the Dutch under Peter Stuyvesant, the next governor-general, in the so-called Peach Wars, starting in 1655, when an Indian woman was killed by a farmer for picking peaches from his orchard. After warriors had taken revenge against the farmer, Stuyvesant not only raided Lenape and Wappinger villages and burned their homes and crops, but also took children hostages, threatening to kill them so that their fathers would not fight. In later conflicts, the western Lenape sided with the French in the French and Indian wars of 1689–1763.

They again fought the British in Pontiac’s Rebellion of 1763–64. A shaman known as Delaware Prophet played an important role in the conflict. In 1762, he began preaching to the Indians of the Old Northwest, urging them to make peace among themselves, to give up alcohol, and to live pure lives according to traditional Indian ways. His message helped inspire and unite the tribes who fought together against the British under the OTTAWA Pontiac the following year. Some Lenape later sided with the British in the American Revolution of 1775–83. They also supported the MIAMI and SHAWNEE in Little Turtle’s War of 1790–94 and Tecumseh’s Rebellion of 1809–11.

Walam Olum

There is a traditional history of the Lenni Lenape in the form of pictographs (picture writing) supposedly engraved on reeds, called the Walam Olum, or “Red Score,” which speaks of legends and early migrations. As the Walam Olum says, “Long ago the fathers of the Lenape were in the land of spruce pines . . . A great land and a wide land was the east land. A land without snakes, a rich land, a pleasant land”. (Some scholars have questioned the authenticity of the Walam Olum because the originals did not survive beyond the 19th century for verification.)

Contemporary Lenni Lenape

The Delaware Tribe of Western Oklahoma presently holds trust lands in southeastern Oklahoma. The Lenni Lenape (or Eastern Delaware) live in northeastern Oklahoma. Munsee descendants share the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation near Bowler, Wisconsin; others make up the Munsee Delaware Indian Tribe in Ohio; others live in Ontario as part of the Moravian of the Thames and Muncey of the Thames bands and among the Iroquois of the Six Nations Reserve. In New Jersey, two bands, the Native Delaware Indians and the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Indians (with the Nanticoke), maintain tribal identity. A group known as the Delaware-Muncie Tribe are centered in Pomono, Kansas. The Delaware of Idaho operate out of Boise. Lenni Lenape descendants also live in the Allentown, Pennsylvania, region, the location of the Lenni Lenape Historical Society and Museum of Indian Culture. The museum holds an annual Roasting Ears of Corn Festival in late August that involves traditional foods, music, dancing, and arts and crafts. In 1992, the Delaware Nation Grand Council of North America was incorporated in Ohio to foster unity among all Lenni Lenape. In 2002, the Grand Council and tribal groups negotiated with the National Park Service for the repatriation of human remains found on the bank of the Delaware River in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, as granted to tribes in the Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990.

Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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