Named after the river that ran through their territory, the Delaware Indians are a Native American tribe that originally resided in New Jersey, New York, Delaware and Pennsylvania. Originally known as the Lenni Lenape or "the true people," the Delaware were relocated by the United States in the 1860s to Oklahoma. The Delaware Indians were previously classified among the Cherokee Indians, but in 1990 they were officially recognized as Lenni Lenape.
The Delaware lived in small groups of 25 to 50 people and the tribe was divided into three different clans: Wolf, Turtle and Turkey. Descent or the family lineage was traced through the mother and each clan had a chief known as a sachem. Although the sachems were primarily males, the eldest woman of the lineage had authority to make appointments and dismissals. According to the Lenape Lifeways website, chiefs were chosen based on behavior, oration, honesty, wisdom and religious knowledge.
Unlike many Native Americans, the Delaware did not live in teepees; instead, they lived in round houses called wigwams that were covered with grass and bark. Longhouses were larger dwellings used to house more family members from one lineage. Each village community contained a series of longhouses; sweat lodges, which were used as stem baths to aid in treating disease; and a rectangular council house. Wigwams are not built today as a form of shelter. They are used as a way to help younger generations connect with their heritage.
The Lenape obtained their food primarily through agriculture, hunting and fishing. Corn, beans and squash were important crops that were used to make soups, breads and puddings, and were added to meat dishes. Women were primarily responsible for agricultural work. They not only farmed the land, but also gathered wild berries, roots and nuts. Men hunted large animals such as deer, elk and bears with bows and arrows and used traps to catch smaller animals such as wild ducks, geese, otters, raccoons and muskrats.
Delaware Indians Today
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, more than 16,900 Delaware descendants live today mostly in Oklahoma and Canada. Although the Delaware Indians are American citizens, they have their own government, laws, police and services. The tribal government is elected every three years and consists of a chairman, assistant chairman and three councilmen. Once considered extinct, the legacy of the Delaware or Lenape people are still present in the names of many U.S. cities such as Hackensack, Allamuchy and Manasquan, New Jersey and Manhattan, New York.