Every four years since 2002, the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania (LNPA) has undertaken the Rising Nation River Journey, a three-week canoe journey in which members carry a Treaty of Renewed Friendship down the Lenape Sipu (or Delaware River) and stop for signings on the way. The treaty acknowledges the Lenape as the original inhabitants of the region (Southeastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and parts of New York and Delaware) and as the Indigenous stewards of its land. It also commits signatories to supporting Lenape people in different ways, including by hosting cultural or educational programs, assisting in Lenape language revival projects, and partnering as environmental caretakers of the land.
This year, for the first time, one of the Journey’s 14 treaty signings was hosted at Haverford. On Aug. 16—the 18th day for the paddlers—staff, faculty, students, neighbors, and people from other local nonprofits all welcomed members of the LNPA to campus, where many signed the Treaty. The afternoon’s event began with a smudging—burning cedar and sage in a clamshell bowl—and was followed by an offering, drumming, and a song that, according to Chief of Education and Language Shelley DePaul, “honor[s] our ancestors, the ancestors of this land, and to honor anyone who has passed.”
The treaty-signing was preceded by a ceremony to pass the wampum, a belt of sacred beads made from shells from local waters, to seal the bond of trust. DePaul and her son Adam Waterbear DePaul passed the wampum to Haverford College, which will act as its custodian until the next river journey in four years time. The College, in turn, selected rising seniors Alex Rodriguez-Gomez and Lily Sweeney to accept the wampum at the event on its behalf. Rodreiguez-Gomez and Sweeney spent the summer collaborating with the LNPA on a forthcoming Lutnick Library exhibit and digital companion about contemporary art and artists of the Nation with support from the Library and the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. (That exhibit, which will open in January, revives and enhances a previous exhibit co-created by Penn and Temple.)
The three-weeks of events between Hancock, NY, and West Cape May, NJ, that comprise the Rising Nation River Journey aims to raise awareness for the LNPA and their environmental stewardship of the land, as well as share their culture, traditions, and spiritual beliefs.
In his remarks at Haverford, Adam Waterbear DePaul, academic liaison and storykeeper of the Nation who worked with the students on the upcoming exhibit, reminded attendees of the diaspora of the Lenape people, many of whom were forcibly removed from their land, noting the LNPA are descendants of those “left behind” who, instead, faced forced assimilation. “We are thankful,” he said, “that due to the suffering and fortitude of our ancestors, we were able to stay here,” in Lenapehoking (or the homelands of the Lenape), when “there are many in our diaspora who have never seen their homeland or the Delaware River.”