5 Things That Would Amaze You About the Lenape Lifestyle

The Lenape Tribes have a fascinating and rich cultural history. Here are some things that you probably didn’t know about the Lenape way of life.

1) The Women Were in Charge of the Crops

The Lenape people planted crops to make sure that they had a plentiful source of food. These crops included squash, maize, sunflowers and beans. The women were in charge of the planting – the men did not work in the fields.

The Lenape did not fence off their crops, preferring instead to have an open field system. This meant that when the Europeans arrived many of the crop plantations were unseen by them as they were expecting all the crops to be fenced in. The colonists were also confused as they expected that it would be the men working in the fields, not the women.

2) Sense of Dress

Both men and women would wear clothes made out of animal skins such as deer, otter, beaver and raccoon. Women wore knee length skirts in the warmer weather, and full length tunics and cloaks to keep warm in the winter months. Lenape men wore a breech cloth in the hot weather, but changed to the more practical leggings for hunting.

Body paint was very important to the Lenape people. Face painting was often use for ceremonies, but it was also a part of everyday life, particularly for the men in the Tribe. Many of the men had tattoos of animal figures.

Women tended to use a red dye on their hair which was made out of the bloodroot plant. They would also put the die on their cheeks and their ears.

3) Marriage

The Lenape had a very equal society which recognized the rights of both men and women. Each were seen as having different roles within the Tribe, but the men and women were equal. This was in stark contrast to the European culture. Men and women did get married, but this was an entirely private matter, and there were no ceremonies created around marriage. If either party did not want to live with the other anymore then they simply agreed to separate.

4) Advanced Healing Techniques

The Lenape people were skillful healers. The herbalists in the tribe were known as Nentpikes. It was very important to the Nentpikes that the plants used should be treated in the proper way, and a ceremony was performed to appease the spirit of the plant selected. The herbalist would select a plant in the forest and dig a small hole next to it. They would then leave some tobacco as an offering to the spirits. Only after the ceremony had been performed could the plant be taken and used to cure the member of the Tribe who needed help.

5) Death and Burial

The Lenape believe in reincarnation and the circle of life. When a baby was born the elder women of the Tribe would look at the child to see if there were signs that it had lived before. They believed that specific people would be reincarnated, so the baby could be the rebirth of a passed relative.

The life expectancy of a member of the Lenape Tribe was only around 35 years old. Many children died in infancy.

When a member of the Lenape Tribe died the others would not speak his name again. The body would be buried in a sitting position, and often food and gifts would be buried with the deceased.

Where Did the Lenape Tribe Live?

A big thank you goes out to NJ Flood and Fire Restoration for repairing our flooded basement that resulted from a broken washing machine hose.  The Lenape tribe originally lived in Delaware, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, southeastern Connecticut and southern New York. They can date their history back more than 10,000 years. The area of land where they used to live was known as “Lenapehoking which translated means “Land of the Lenape”.

There were three distinct groups of Indians who lived in Lenapehoking. They were closely related, but although they spoke the same language, the dialect varied between the three groups. The Lenape who spoke Munsee, lived in the northern part of the territory. Those Lenape who lived to the south of the Delaware Water Gap spoke the Unami dialect. The third group were the Lenape who were named Unalachtigo – this is translated to mean People Who Live Near the Ocean.

The Land of the Lenape had a diverse and rich landscape which included dense forests with plentiful wildlife for hunting, and vegetation for food. They raised crops of maize, corn, beans and squash. There were many animals which lived on the land such as squirrels, deer, rabbit and turkeys. The Lenape philosophy was that they hunted when they were hungry. There were many good water sources including rivers, streams and lakes.

Their way of life changed dramatically when the Europeans arrived in the 1620s. The Lenape had lived on their land for thousands of years before the Europeans started a policy of forced migration. Many Lenape also became victims of diseases such as smallpox and measles which were brought by the European settlers.

The Lenape people sought to deal honorably by the European people. A very important part of their history is known as The Walking Purchase of 1737 when they were tricked into giving away a signification portion of their territory to William Penn. It is thought that up until that time Penn had dealt relatively fairly with the Lenape. However, on his return to England he found that his sons and agents had sold land which belonged to the Lenape in order to pay off their own debts. Penn showed an old, unexecuted deed to the Lenape which he said dated back 50 years prior. He said that they had deeded to the Penn’s as much land as could be covered in as far as could be walked in a day and a half.

The Lenape trusted Penn and thought that this would not mean that much land was due to be deeded to him. How much land could a man walk in a day and a half? As it turned out some 12,000 acres were taken in this way. Penn hired three of the fastest runners he could find, and they covered a lot of ground in a day and a half.

The Lenape were moved many times from their lands. Each time they were told that they were being given a safe territory, but each time they were forced to move on.

There are now only about 16,000 members of the Lenape tribe remaining. The Lenape people now mostly live in New Jersey, Kansas and Oklahoma.


What Do You Need to Know About Canadian Indian Tribes?

The first thing which we need to understand is that although there are some commonalities in the history of the First Nations people the tribes were separate groups each with their own different cultures and way of life. There are very few generalities – the Canadian Indian tribes were very diverse.

The way of life of the Indian tribe was very dependent upon the region where the people lived. Canada is a very diverse land. The First Nations people lived off the land so each tribe had to find a way of living with the resources, terrain and weather of their particular homeland.

The Six Different Historical Tribal Groups

Historians now tend to group the Canadian Indian people into six different groups according to their geographical location. Each terrain and the natural resources available was very different.

The Woodland First Nations people lived in the east of Canada – this is a territory of dense forest. The Plains First Nations people lived on the prairies with grassland as their natural environment. The Pacific Coast First Nations culture was obviously based around the plentiful food supply which the ocean offered to them, and had abundant resources supplied by the red cedar forests. The Iroquoian First Nations people lived in the south of Canada so they had a culture which was based upon farming because they had easy access to farmable land. The terrain of the Plateau First Nations varied between desert in the south and dense forest in the north. The First Nations people of the Mackenzie and Yukon River Basins lived in an extremely challenging environment of forests, swamps, and land which was very difficult to farm.

As just one illustration, there was a lot of difference between how a Plains First Nations person lived and a Pacific Coast First Nations person lived. The terrain, climate and resources are just very different, and needed different tribes to adapt to a different way of life.

The Diversity of the Canadian Indian Tribes

The diet of each of the tribes depended upon the natural resources available to them. All Canadian Indian tribes had advanced hunting skills which were best suited to their local environment. They also gathered plants and berries to use for food and medicine. Some tribes were also able to grow crops on the land.

Housing needs were also very different according to which tribe and region you belonged to. Some tribes lived a nomadic life as they were always having to move to seek out food and resources.

The Haudenosaunee people relied a lot on hunting to provide them with food, but they also grew many of their own crops to eat. They understood the importance of not over farming the land and therefore tending to move every decade as the land was no longer fertile. This meant that their homes and villages were relatively permanent. This was in contrast to the tribes who lived on the Plains and moved frequently. As another illustration the Pacific Coast First Nations people had a plentiful and stable food supply. This meant that they could build permanent villages, and as they also had the advantage of a plentiful source of redwood timber, the homes were large and elaborate in structure.

The mode of transport also varied considerably between tribes according to the natural resources available and the terrain of their homeland. The Plains tribes benefitted by the introduction of horses by the Europeans and soon adopted this as their preferred means of transport. The Pacific tribes travelled mostly by canoe.

Spiritual Beliefs and Celebrations

The Spiritual Beliefs of the Canadian Indian tribes were that there was one Creator. The central belief was that people should live in harmony with the land. Within that basic belief each tribe developed their own customs and traditions that they celebrated. This is the basis for the rich culture of the First Nations people.

Again, the form of the festivals and celebrations was very dependent upon the geographical location of the tribes and their everyday lifestyle. For example, the tribes of the Pacific Coast would celebrate the yearly salmon migration. The Haudenosaunee had regular festivals to celebrate the cultivation of crops and their harvest.

Social Structure and Diversity

There were also some very diverse social structures across the different Canadian Indian tribes. The Woodlands First Nations people formed communities which usually had less than 400 people in their tribe. The leader would be chosen based upon the other members of the tribe’s assessment of their leadership and hunting skills.

The Pacific Nations tribes had an aristocratic system. Power was given as a result of birth into a particular family.

The difficult terrain and conditions of the territory of the Mackenzie and Yukon River Basins First Nations people dictated the way they organized their own social structure. Life was particularly tough for these Canadian Indians and they organized their social structure around family groups who would help each other. Their territory and hunting grounds were well defined. Leadership was based on who was best for a particular specific task – so the best hunter would lead the deer hunt for example.

Clothing of the Canadian Indians

Clothing was made with the local resources available to the tribes. For most this meant clothes made out of animal skins. The women of the tribe were skilled in tanning animal skin to make into material which they could sew together with sinew. Animal furs would be worn in the winter. In some regions the women wore skirts which were made of cedar bark which had been woven together to make a pliable fabric.

If is another myth that all First Nations people wore moccasins. Although many did wear this style of shoe, the Pacific tribes would mostly not have any foot wear at all.

Decorations on the clothing would vary according to the tribe. There was a great deal of individual variation, but many First Nations people were highly skilled in making dyes out of the natural resources available to them. Some of the men were heavily tattooed.

As we have seen there is little room for generalized assumptions about the Canadian Indian people. Their culture is rich with diversity.


Know Your Rights: What You Need to Know if You Are a Canadian Indian

Here is a summary of some of the rights that you may have if you are a Canadian Indian. This is not an exhaustive list and advice should always be taken about your specific circumstances.

Canadian Indian Status

The first very basic concept that you need to understand is Indian Status. If you do not get over the sometimes considerable hurdle of proving that you are entitled to Indian Status, then you will not be entitled to any of the rights associated with being a Canadian Indian.

The law regarding Indian Status can be extremely confusing. The legislation which first introduced the concept of Status was the Indian Act 1876. This has been amended many times since that date, but broadly speaking a person with First Nations heritage is only given Status if they come within the meaning of the Indian Act.

The definition can be very complex, and it excludes many First Nations people. M’tis’ and Inuit peoples and generally not entitled to Indian Status even though they have First Nations heritage.

Canadian Indian Status May Entitle You to Tax Exemptions.

It is a very common myth that Canadian Indians do not pay income tax. The Indian Act gives tax exemptions to those with Status provided certain other conditions are met – it is not the blanket exemption that many people think that it is.

The exemption from paying income tax only applies to Status Indians who are living and working on a reserve. This means that over half of all Status Indians are not entitled to any exemption from income taxes.

If you have Status and purchase goods or services on the reserve, then you are entitled to a tax exemption. Anything outside the reserve is not tax exempt.

You May Be Entitled to Funding for Education

All Canadians have the right to free education up to secondary school level. However, if you have Indian Status you may also be entitled to free higher education. $314 million was invested into post-secondary education in the years 2014-2014 for Status Indians. However, this does mean that everyone with Status is entitled to funding.

Each Status student has to prove that they are worthy of the award. They have to apply to their individual Band, and funding is limited. There may be certain recruitments including certain grade averages. Funding is usually only for one year, so even if you get it for your first year you will still have to reapply in your second.

Canadian Indians Human Rights Issues

For many years the rights of Canadian Indians were not protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act. The legislation specifically excluded any human rights violation which was committed as a result of the Indian Act 1867.

Fortunately, this exclusion has now been overturned by the amendment made to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Native peoples are now able to complain to the Canadian Human Rights Commission about any violation of the Indian Act.

Other Programs for Status Indians

There are a number of other important benefits which are available to First Nations people with Status. You may be eligible for reduced travel costs.

Another very important benefit is that you may be eligible to receive special immigration services if you wish to move to the United States.

10 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, Part 2

6) The Potlach Was Outlawed

The potlach is an important part of Indian culture. A potlach is held as a celebration for important events such as births, marriages and deaths. Property and food is given away or even destroyed as a show of wealth. The Potlach Economy was always a difficult concept for the settlers to understand – giving away wealth as a system to promote goodwill and the redistribution of wealth did not sit well with their beliefs.

The potlach system was more than a way to distribute wealth. It was the recognition of a tribal system where the leader was the steward of the tribe member’s wealth, not the owner of it. The potlach was an incredibly important part of Indian culture and it was outlawed by the Indian Act. The penalty for ignoring this provision was oppressively harsh. Anyone caught in violating this term could be punished with a prison sentence of between two and six months.

The ban remained until an amendment to the Indian Act was passed in 1951.

7) The Income Tax Myth

It is a common myth that everyone who has Indian status does not pay income tax. It is true that some Indians in Canada do not pay income tax, but there are significant limitations as to who qualifies for this considerable benefit. Having Indian status does not automatically mean that you don’t pay income tax.

The income tax and other tax exemptions mostly only apply to Indians living and working on reserve. The one exception is if a Status Indian works at a registered First Nations government organization. There are even restrictions within this exception – the main purpose of the organization has to be to benefit Indians who live on reserve and their social, cultural, economic and educational development.

8) Status Indians and Other Canadian Taxes

If a person with Indian status buys goods on reserve land it is GST and HST exempt. If an Indian status owns property on reserve land it is property tax exempt.

This tax exemption does not follow the Indian person – the tax status is dependent upon where the person buys the goods. In other words, if someone with Indian Status steps off reserve land and buys anything, they are subject to Canadian tax just as any other individual would be. There are certain very specific exemptions to this, but they are limited in scope.

9) Free University Education Is Not for All

One of the other assumptions about status Indians is that everyone is entitled to free university education. There is funding available, but it is limited. Every Band gets a certain amount of money to award for Indians who have finished their secondary education. This means that the Indians who apply have to meet certain criteria. There isn’t enough money to go around, so those applying have to prove their worth with academic results. The funding only lasts for a year each time, Status Indians have to reapply and could be refused funding at any time.

10) Some Provisions Were Even More Outrageous Than Most

The Indian Act has had a number of amendments since it was first enacted in 1876. Some of them are worthy of mention simply because of their outrageous and blatantly racist nature which shows in a small way the prejudice that the First Nations people have had to face in their history.

In 1914 an amendment was enacted that meant that Indians had to get official permission to appear in “costume” at a public event.

In 1930 the Act was amended to include a provision that pool hall owners could exclude an Indian person who “by inordinate frequenting of a pool room either on or off an Indian reserve misspends or wastes his time or means to the detriment of himself, his family or household.” Non First Nations people were free to waste their time to the detriment of their family without penalty of course.

11) The Native Peoples Do Not Own Title to Reserve Land

This one is a big one. Most people assume that reserve land is owned by the First Nations people. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. We know that this can be argued as a technicality as the Queen of England is probably not going to enforce her right, which is that she owns all the land in Canada. It’s a technicality, but all freehold land in Canada is “held” but not “owned”. The Indian Act does nothing to change this and therefore all First Nations reserve land is still owned by Queen Elizabeth II.

10 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act, Part 1

The Indian Act of 1876 had far reaching consequences which still impact the First Nations peoples of Canada today. Here are some things which you may not know about this extremely important legislation.

1) The Primary Aim Was Enfranchisement and Assimilation

The original purpose of the Indian Act was to persuade the Indian people to give up their rights as Indians and join Canadian “society”. This law of forced enfranchisement existed until the Indian Act was amended in 1985. The basic idea was that the Indian people should be assimilated into Canadian society. One of the best illustrations of how this policy was meant to destroy the culture of the native peoples is in the words of Duncan Campbell Scott when he was the Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs:

“The happiest future for the Indian race is the absorption into the general population, and this is the object and policy of our government: Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department.”

2) The Indian Roll

All people who qualify for Indian Status have to be registered on the Roll. This is administered by the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. If you are not on the list, then you cannot have any of the limited rights which are given with Indian Status.

3) It Forced People to Change Their Name

There are few things which strike at the heart of individual and cultural identity as closely as the name of a person. The Indian Act did nothing to preserve the right of the First Nation people to keep their own name. Indian agents recording their name often did not want to take the time to record their Indian name and so would simply give them a Christian based first name and surname.

4) Women Lost Their Status

The Indian Act discriminated against women in a number of ways. It used to be that if Indian women married a man who did not have Indian status, they would automatically lose their status. The discrimination was more far reaching. The children of non-status women could not have status through their status father, so this created many generations of people with First Nations heritage who were excluded from the benefits of status.

Men who married non-Indian women retained their status. It was not until Bill C-31 was passed in 1985 that Indian women got to keep their status regardless of whom they married.

5) The Right to Vote Was Restricted

The Indian Act prohibited all Status Indians from voting in Canadian Federal elections. If Indians wanted to vote prior to that date they had to give up their Indian Status.

It was not until 1960 that Aboriginal women were given the right to vote in Canadian Federal elections. They were only awarded this right by default as the status was given to First Nations people and women were not expressly excluded.


3 Unique Things About Canadian Indian Food

Canada has a rich cultural food history which combines the influences of Canadian Indians with the English, Scottish and French settlers who first arrive in the early 1600’s. The Canadian Indians had a diet rich in protein in the form of meat and fish. They also foraged for berries and used these for food and medicine. They also had a rich heritage of agriculture with many tribes cultivating crops including corn, squash and hemp. Here are 5 unique and interesting things about Canadian First Nations food.

Maple Syrup

There are few things which are more associated with modern day Canada than maple syrup.

The First Nations people discovered the sweet taste of maple syrup thousands of years before the European settlers arrived. They called it “inzibuckbud”. The literal translation of this is “drawn from wood”.

They would harvest the sap from the trees by making a cut in the tree with their tomahawks. They would then place reeds in the cut so that the sap could drain into birch bark buckets. They would then boil the sap to make a more concentrated, very sweet, liquid. When the European settlers arrived they showed them this technique.

They Used Many Different Ways to Prepare and Store Meat

One of the staples of the Canadian Indian diet was meat. Many different animals were hunted and consumed including deer, bison, rabbits and squirrels. The First Nations people had many different ways of preparing the meat. Traditional methods included roasting on a spit over a fire, boiling meat in a skin bag, and drying it to make jerky which could be stored and eaten later. It was particularly important that no part of the animal was wasted. The organs of the animal, including the liver and kidneys were often eaten fresh.

They also made the traditional food Pemmican This was prepared by combining dried meat, berries (usually Saskatoon berries) and melted fat. The Pemmican mixture would be stored in a sealed pouch. It would keep for months and could be a source of food in the cold winter months.

Saskatoon Berries Were a Staple Food

Saskatoon berries were used in many different ways. These vitamin rich berries were abundant in many areas where the Canadian Indians lived. The berries were also highly valued for their medicinal properties. They were eaten in many different ways, including fresh of the bush. They were also steamed then made into cakes which could be dried and stored to be eaten later. They were often added to soups and stews for flavor and for their high nutritional value.

The Saskatoon wasn’t just useful as a nutritious food for the Canadian Indians. They always believed in using the whole animal or plant if they could. The wood from the Saskatoon bush was used in many different ways. It is strong, but pliable, so is particularly useful for making baskets, arrows and other tools. Nothing was wasted on the Saskatoon plant – the Canadian Indians made use of as much of the plant as they possibly could.