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A New Exhibit at Ellis Island Tells the Story of the Lenape, the People Who Were There First


This NPS photo shows some artifacts included in the Lenape exhibit now on display at the Ellis Island Museum.

A new exhibit at Ellis Island National Monument draws attention to a seldom-noted fact. When Henry Hudson discovered New York Harbor 400 years ago last September 11, Native Americans were already there. They were the Lenape, aka Lenni Lenape (“the true people”). The Lenape homeland included not only the area now occupied by New York City, but also a large territory that extended between the Delaware and lower Hudson Rivers and included all of New Jersey as well as parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware.

The Lenape (pronounced Leh-NAH-pay) fared well for a while after European contact, profiting from the fur trade, but the ensuing centuries saw their fortunes take a bad turn. Crowded out by settlers and ravaged by infectious diseases, the depredations of hostile tribes, and other calamities, the Lenape saw their numbers dwindle and their once-large territory whittled to tatters by treaties. Finally, most of the remaining Lenape were gathered up and removed to the Oklahoma Territory in the late 1860s. Today, most Lenape descendants live in Oklahoma, but there are also scattered populations in Wisconsin, Kansas, Ontario, and in the Middle Atlantic states where the traditional homeland lay.

“Lenape: Ellis Island’s First Inhabitants” is the title of the new exhibit telling the story of “the Lenape people’s experiences from their earliest known presence in the area, through their fateful encounter with Henry Hudson, past their removal from their ancestral homeland to their present-day communities in Oklahoma and Wisconsin.”

The exhibit integrates a variety of materials, including prehistoric artifacts, antique books, maps, archival photographs, traditional Lenape clothing and crafts, ceremonial objects, illustrations, paintings and dioramas, bronze sculptures, and documentary films, that create a historical narrative. These materials are combined with quotations on a wide variety of subjects by traditional Lenape.

The museum staff at Ellis Island worked tirelessly with exhibit curator David M. Oestreicher, Ph.D, using the content generated by him to design and develop the exhibit. Their contributions in this area also included the graphic design for the exhibition as well as editing of the text provided for length and accessibility and incorporating suggestions from one of the Delaware tribes, the Stockbridge-Munsee Community.

They also worked with Oestreicher and curatorial consultant Karen Frederic to reorganize the exhibition to fit within the galleries and have a coherent thematic structure. Museum staffers assisted in the selection of artifacts, developed two interactive computer kiosks that will enable visitors to access supplemental content, located additional images to illustrate text, and installed the exhibit.

“Lenape: Ellis Island’s First Inhabitants” can be viewed through January 10 in the third floor galleries of the Ellis Island Museum, which is located in the refurbished Main Building.


very interesting i stumbled on your info by searching forest finns emigrating to new jersey and their relations with the family were swedes but being short black haired something was amiss. my cousin could not tell whether her dna was native american or aboriginal european like sami of the finland sweden peninsula so your discovery of frozen pathway from greenland during the mini iceage makes perfect sense they very well may bve of the same original stock'

"Wawulamallesssil" has been translated as, "fare thee well, Ed's translation of "may you always live well" is a very good one!

I sure will, Bob...but it will be awhile. Grants, policy, diplomacy...yadda, yadda.

Bezahn (Greetings),

The Lenni-Lenape consisted of about thirty-eight tribal groups from the west coast to the east coast. We came to North America about thirty to forty-thousand years ago from the area of the Tigris-Euphrates River in what was Persia, but is now Iraq and Iran. My DNA confirms this. The "Lenape" that is referred to in New Jersey were actually the Unamis (Turtles) who got stuck with the white man word of "Delaware", after the river on which they lived which was named for Englishman Thomas West, Lord De-la-War.

The Unamis were the "grandmothers" of all Algonkin speaking tribal groups. Their language was the original and most ancient Algonkin dialect. All religious belief and ceremonies stem from the Unamis.

There was never a tribal group named "Lenape", since that simply refers to all Algonkin speakers. Maybe white settlers mistakenly hung the name "Lenape" on the Unamis,
but they are actually the "Turtles"?

"Lenapes" are not extinct, since there are many thousands of us from coast to coast today. And many still live in New Jersey. Most of us are now mixed with whites, especially in the east.
Col. George Armstrong Custer found out "the hard way" that Lenni-Lenape people were still around, since our brothers, the Shiela (Cheyenne) helped to wipe out his command in Montana, in the late 1800s. Custer picked the fight, and the various Indian tribes ended the fight!

And the ones that you whites called "Delawares" are the Unamis (Turtles), the Unalachtigos (Turkeys), and the Munsees (Wolves). Fortunately, we Shawnees and many other of our Algonkin speaking tribal groups across America never got stuck with that stupid white man name!

I am a Shawnee Wisdomkeeper, the last wisdomkeeper of my particular Shawnee group from the Pittsburgh area. I am of the Kispokotha Shawnees, one of the five groups of Shawnees, and I am of the Wolf Clan.
There are many Shawnees still in America. We haven't gone anywhere. We simply look like the average American on the street. I am a retired mechanical engineer. I worked in research and development at Dupont. We work the same occupations as everyone else!
And we don't say "ugh" and "how" as in bad Hollywood movies! And we are not all "chiefs"!

Much has been written about we Lenni-Lenape (Original People), the Algonkin speakers, that is in error. The same can be said about most Native Amercan people!

The problem with most white authors and white anthropologists is that they never ask anything of us. We keep reading the same tired old misinformation that was not written by our Native American people.

Native Americans are not the "Vanishing Americans", since there is an estimated fifty-million of us full and mixed-bloods in the U.S.A. alone! Yes, that is difficult for whites to believe! However, that is not counting the millions of us in Canada and Mexico (yes, they are both part of North America). And most Mexicans aren't Spanish at all, they are Mashicas (Aztecs), and various other tribal groups. They speak Spanish for the same reason that I speak English! Europeans forced their languages on us!
Add those Native Americans in South America to those in North America, and we outnumber all ethnic groups in North and South America.

Something for "white" America to think about! We are still here, folks!

Ken Lonewolf
Shawnee (of the Lenni-Lenape "Original People", the Algonkin speakers)

Greetings islandpaddler,

We "Lenni-Lenape" people are still around. Don't count us out just yet. There are hundreds of thousands of us from coast to coast. We are not extinct! Far from it! There were about thirty-eight tribal groups of us from coast to coast! We all spoke Algonkin, but unfortunately, we all speak English now! Gee, wonder how that happened?
The ones in New Jersey were the Unamis (Turtles). They got stuck with the white man word of "Delaware", not an Indian word at all!

Ken Lonewolf
Shawnee Wisdomkeeper

Bezahn Claude Aubin,

The Lenni-Lenape people migrated from Asia via the Bering Strait, roughly forty-thousand years ago. Asia was simply an open continent then. No rea=l countries like China, etc.
We must have mixed with oriental people (possibly today's Mongolian people) on our way to North America, since our Unamis in New Jersey who I have met, have a distinct oriental appearance. We Lenni-Lenape people were probably not the first humans in North America. Some tribal groups like the Tsulagi (Cherokee) claim migration from South America. They are not our people.
We Lenni-Lenape also migrated into South America about thirty-thousand years ago. Who they are there at present, I really don't know. However, there were already other humans there when our people arrived.

Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean and Mu in the Pacific Ocean are tales that have yet to be confirmed as being real places.

Incidentally, the Lakotas, Dakotas and Nakotas (the people that the French called the "Sioux" people), share DNA with the Greeks.

Abenakis in Canada are our Lenni-Lenape Algonkin speaking people. Up until the mid-1900s, white doctors were sterilizing Abenaki women without their knowledge, in order to rid eastern Canada and New England of Abenakis. When an Abenaki woman went in for any surgery at all, and went under anesthesia, she left the hospital sterile. Sounds just like Nazi Germany, doesn't it? Only it happened here in North America!

Actually, the worst "holocaust" in recorded history happened in the western hemisphere at the hands of Europeans. We Native Amricans lost an estimated sixty-million people. The actual number of deaths is only known to God.
We lost at least ten times the numbers that the Jews lost in World War Two, only it happened over a much longer period of time. And both of our continents were stolen from under our feet by Europeans.

The Blackfeet are some of our westernmost people in North America. We migrated from west to east. The Unamis (Turtles) reached the eastern shores of what is now New Jersey.
Some of our Shawnee groups went south when reaching the Ohio River area (the actual name of the river is Spaylaywasipu). Our name "Shawnee or Shawanoe" means "The Southerners". Savannah, Georgia is named for us. Those Shawnees who went south were back in Pennsylvania in the 1730s. They joined up with our Shawnees who never went south.
Shawnee descendents are still scattered across the east in these areas from Pennsylvania and Ohio, to as far south as Georgia and Alabama.
Our people arrived in Pennsylvania just in time for British Col. George Washington and his hated Virginians to personally start the seven years long French and Indian War in 1754, (1754-1763), a war that would lead to sixty years of bloody warfare for our Lenni-Lenape tribal groups in the east; all the way into 1814.
British Col. Washington never won a battle against my Shawnee people in this war. In fact he never won a battle at all in this war. He resigned his British commission in disgust, and went home to Williamsburg, Va. My Shawnee people allowed him to live through the absolute carnage at the 1755 Braddock Battle at present day Pittsburgh. We and the French almost wiped out an entire British and British-American Army to a man! They lost almost one thousand killed, we and the French lost a total of twenty-three to twenty-nine killed!

When we Lenni-Lenape people first arrived in North America about forty-thousand years ago, we moved eastward, many tribal groups of our Lenni-Lenape remaining along the way in the west and mid-west. They are still scattered across North America. We were probably the largest linquistic group of people in North America, prior to the white European invasion of North America. We Shawnees have been in the area of western Pennsylvania-eastern Ohio, for roughly thirty-thousand years. Just a wee bit longer than the whites in present-day Pittsburgh! LOL!

Th Innuits and Eskimo people do not claim to be Native Americans. They are probably not Lenni-Lenape people. If they are, that will depend on DNA analysis to prove that possibility one way or another.

Ken Lonewolf / Shawnee-White Madoc Native American

[email protected]

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