A Treaty of Renewed Friendship Unites Past and Future

Bianca Robinson, for GPA -- On August 13, I had the honor of representing the Global Philadelphia Association as a signatory of the Treaty of Renewed Friendship with the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania at the Penn Museum. The Lenape people are the original inhabitants of the Delaware River region. Over the past two centuries the Lenape people have been forcefully removed from the Delaware River regions but many still remain as caretakers of their historical homeland.

The treaty signing took place on the 13th of the 17-day “Rising Nation” journey. This odyssey was a canoe trip down the Delaware River, or “Lena’pe Sipu,” and a mission to raise awareness and appreciation for the Lenape people’s culture and traditions. For the Lenape, the Delaware River is one of many nonhuman “peoples” that exist in our world. By making this journey, the Lenapes awaken the spirit of this long and winding entity in order to preserve the historical and environmental heritage of the Delaware River for the past, present and future generations.

Since 2002, the Treaty of Renewed Friendship and the passing of the wampum, traditional Eastern Woodland shell beads used to seal bonds of trust and responsibility, has taken place every four years. While not a legally binding document, it is no less official as a diplomatic message. As Shelly DePaul, Chief of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, pointed out, Indians “don’t do legal, they do heart to heart.” Those individuals and organizations who sign the treaty demonstrate their spiritual support of the Lenape people and their mission to protect their sacred homeland.

In 2010 the Penn Museum accepted the wampum as recognition for their work with the Lenape people, including the 2008 exhibition “Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania (2008-2011).” This year the wampum was passed to the Delaware River Keepers network, an organization advocating for the rights of communities on the Delaware River and its tributary system as a clean and safe water source.

The Delaware River Basin provides water for over 15 million people, nearly 5 percent of the country’s population. With the debate over whether oil and gas companies should be allowed to frack the Delaware River Basin still raging, the mission of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania to protect their homeland and the current homeland of millions of people is one of vital importance.

Photo courtesy of Bianca Robinson.