Next week, for the first time, Philadelphia will officially celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, thanks to an executive order by Mayor Kenney last February that replaced Columbus Day with a celebration of Native Americans on the second Monday in October.
In some ways, it marked the end of a long fight, with Philly following the lead of cities across the country that have stopped celebrating the man who “discovered” America and started honoring the Indigenous Peoples who are still thriving right here in our city and across the country.
But to Indigenous Peoples’ Day Philly co-founder and executive director Mabel Negrete, it’s only the beginning of the work needed to properly acknowledge the first people to occupy this region—starting with recognizing the Lenape tribes in the diaspora as sovereign nations with rights to land in our state. Pennsylvania is one of about a dozen states that doesn’t recognize a single tribe.
“It’s bittersweet, that 339 years later, the local governments are actually now talking to us,” says Ben Miller, member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians.
Those conversations are starting, though. Last month, chiefs from the five federally recognized Delaware tribes (none of which live on their original homelands, or even in the state) met virtually with Governor Wolf and his cabinet for the first time.
“It’s bittersweet, that 339 years later the local governments are actually now talking to us,” says artist Ben Miller, who helped organize the virtual meeting (and is also organizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day Philly’s event this year). He’s a member of the Delaware Tribe of Indians, which has about 12,000 members and is based in Oklahoma—where many Lenape resettled after being displaced—on Cherokee lands. “We are discussing an opportunity to come back home,” Miller says. “We want to get to know each other and begin the healing process.”
As we finally start to acknowledge our Indigenous history, Negrete says she hopes non-Native Philadelphians take the opportunity to become allies in the struggle for Indigenous rights. A good place to start this week is with awareness and education—and celebration.
Below, ideas for ways to engage—those in pink are part of IPD Philly’s Week of Action, which you can check out here.
Acknowledge Lenape land
Philadelphia is part of Lenapehoking—the region that spans from eastern Pennsylvania to the west edge of Connecticut and from the Hudson Valley to the northern tip of Delaware where the Lenape lived for many thousands of years.
Learn the history of how the Delaware tribes were displaced from Philadelphia, pushed off land that is still rightfully theirs according to many treaties including the Treaty of Shackamaxon signed by William Penn and Chief Tamanend.
“We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good will. No advantage will be taken on either side. But all shall be openness and love. We are the same, as if one man’s body were divided into two parts,” Penn said.
“We will live in love with William Penn and his children as long as the creeks and rivers run and while the sun, moon and stars endure,” Tamanend said.
… so what happened?
Learn the real history
There are 67 National Historic Landmarks in Philadelphia and not a single one acknowledges an Indigenous leader or significant events related to Indigenous people. And the narratives of the places we do acknowledge tend to leave out the darker truths.
The James Logan House (also called the Stenton House) in Germantown, for example, is where final negotiations were made regarding the Walking Purchase—which swindled the Lenape out of nearly a million acres of land, much of it along the Delaware River. Logan, William Penn’s former secretary and land agent and later mayor for whom our Logan Circle is named, forged a deed claiming that that the Munsee Indians (a Lenape sub-tribe that previously occupied the territory) had promised to sell Penn land in the Lehigh Valley—as much as could be walked in a day and a half.
Logan created an inaccurate map that underestimated the land likely to be walked in a day and a half to get the Lenape chief to sign; and he and the Penn brothers arranged to have paths cleared for their “walkers” who are said to have instead run, claiming about 70 miles. Then, anticipating the protests of the Lenapes, Logan arranged a deal with the Iroquois to prevent them from joining the Lenape in disputing the land grab.
… of course that’s just one horrendous example of thousands of pieces of our lesser known history. Check out the virtual iteration of the Penn Museum’s past exhibit, Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania. (If you’re an educator, IPD Philly recommends reading Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education.)
Read Indigenous literature
Read Lenape authors including those on the list IPD Philly put together: Morgan L. Ridgway, Carla Messinger, Denise Low, Steven Newcomb and D.A. Lockhart. Get your copies at one of the country’s few Indigenous-owned bookstores.
On IPD’s website (under Day 2), you can share your favorite works by Indigenous authors—and see what other Philadelphians are reading.
Break down stereotypes at the Penn Museum
The long-term exhibit Native American Voices: The People—Here and Now seeks to bust stereotypes and highlight how “today’s Native leaders are creating and maintaining religious, political, linguistic, and artistic independence.”
Learn about local tribes; sacred lands across the country and the fight to access, reclaim and/or protect them; the meaning of celebrations like Powwows; and how Native activists are changing government policies to secure their right to self-governance as sovereign nations.
Listen to Indigenous podcasts
Check out USALA Media’s new podcast, Rise and Thrive with local We Are the Seeds co-founder Tailinh Agoyo, who speaks with artists and thought leaders in the Indigenous community.
Indigenous Politics, Professor of American Studies and Anthropology at Wesleyan J. Kehaulani Kauanui’s podcast, also provides insightful interviews with native leaders across the country. The show ended in 2013, but all the episodes are archived online.
See more Native American podcasts here.
Support land defense movements
The Split Rock Sweetwater Prayer Camp in northeastern New Jersey was formed in solidarity with the Standing Rock Indian Reservation five years ago. Led by Ramapough Lenape Nation, the camp sits on a sacred site still utilized for significant family and seasonal ceremonies—for which they were just successful in securing a conservation agreement with the Rockland County Legislature to protect the site. Follow their continued efforts here.
Learn about the fight against Line 3, a proposed pipeline expansion to bring nearly a million barrels of tar sands per day from Alberta, Canada to Superior, Wisconsin.
Celebrate at Bartram’s Garden October 10th
A major highlight of the annual Indigenous People’s Day celebration at Bartram’s Garden is watching performances by two renowned Indigenous dance troupes. Native Nations Dance Theater Inc. is a Philly-based, nationally touring dance company that puts together educational productions to preserve and share Native culture.
Ollin Yoliztli Calmecac, an educational organization based in South Philly working to spread awareness about the Indigenous peoples of Anahuac (North America), especially the Mexicayotl culture that flourished in pre-Colombian Mexico. From their website:
We are screaming louder and harsher over the white supremacists lies and injustices that we are fed every day. To continue to speak softly on this would be to actively participate in our own genocide, we would not be heard over the shouts of the daily white supremacy that rules our lives and that wants to bring death to us as a race and as the owners of this continent. To be angry, as we are, because of the hidden injustices (stolen continent, holocaust, genocide, destruction of our civilizations, and other monstrous crimes) is not about hate, nor is it racist, it is about an urgent demand for a truth and justice that we are owed, a demand for the return of our honor and our full humanity. Would any other human being demand anything less? Truth can be liberating to both the oppressed and the oppressor.
In partnership with the City’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy ,the family-friendly outdoor event will also feature drummers, speakers and vendor artists.
Free and open to everyone—12-4pm at Bartram’s Garden.
Celebrate at Shackamaxon October 11
Indigenous Peoples’ Day Philly is hosting their annual celebration at the site of the signing of the Shackamaxon Treaty (also known as Penn Treaty Park). This year, performers include acclaimed Andean folk music group Inkarayu; storytelling with Tchin; Richie Olivera Flutes and the same dance troupes performing the day before at Bartram’s Garden. Special guests include the new chief of the Delaware Tribe of Indians, Brad Killscrow. Check out the full lineup of Indigenous artists and vendors here.
Suggested donation $10 (adults); $5 (kids); 11am-5pm, Penn Treaty Park, 1301 N Beach St., Philadelphia.Header: "The Magic of Storytelling with Tchin at Indigenous Peoples' Day, Philly 2019, Shackamaxon (Penn Treaty Park, Philadelphia)" | Courtesy of IPDphilly.org, Photographer: Teko Alejo