While the Delaware Indians were the first tribe to sign a treaty with the United States, they have just been successful in regaining federal recognition in 2002 as a separate tribe, now given the title of Delaware Tribe of Indians.
Official Tribal Name: Delaware Tribe of Indians
Oklahoma Headquarters Address: 170 NE Barbara, Bartlesville, OK 74006
Kansas Headquarters Address: 601 High Street, Caney, KS 67333
Official Website: http://delawaretribe.org/
Recognition Status: Federally Recognized
Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning: Lenapi, means The People.
Common Name: Delaware or Lenape or Lenni Lenape
Formerly known as the Cherokee Delaware.
Formerly known as the Eastern Delaware.
Lenape or Lenni Lenape
Alternate spellings / Mispellings:
Deleware, Leenapi, Lenapi
Name in other languages:
Early Swedish sources listed the Lenape as the Renappi.
Region: Eastern Woodland
State(s) Today: Oklahoma
Occupying the area between northern Delaware and New York, the Lenape were not really a single tribe in 1600 but a set of independent villages and bands. There was no central political authority, and Lenape sachems, at best, controlled only a few villages usually located along the same stream. The three traditional Lenape divisions (Munsee, Unami, and Unalactigo) were based on differences in dialect and location.
After over 40 years, the Delaware Tribe has adopted a new version of the official tribal seal. The changes to the artwork and lettering were developed in collaboration with tribal community members. It was approved by a resolution of the Tribal Council on January 7, 2013. Look for the new seal on tribal flags, stationery, official documents, and tribal vehicles.
Colors: Red and black are the main colors used by the Lenape. These are on a white background.
Mesingw Face: The Mesingw face in the center of the seal is the Keeper of the Game Animals on which the Lenape depended for food. The face was carved on the center post of the Big House Church (“Xingwekaown”), a wooden structure which held the tribe’s historic religious ceremony (though no longer practiced).
Clan Symbols: These represent the three clans of the Lenape: Turtle, Wolf and Turkey.
Fire Drill: The Fire Drill next to the Mesingw face is used to build ceremonial fires.
Prayer Sticks: These are around the outer edge of the seal and represent the twelve prayer sticks that were used in the Big House Church.
Cross: There is also a Christian cross to represent those Lenape who accepted Christianity. Some of the Lenape people had converted to Christianity as early as the 17th Century.
Population at Contact:
Registered Population Today:
Tribal Enrollment Requirements:
All Delaware members are also eligible to enroll with the Cherokee Nation.
Enrollment queries and forms sent by email should be addressed to
In pre-reservation days, the tribal council was composed of three sachems (captains), one each from the Turtle, Wolf, and Turkey clans with the “head chief” almost always being a member of the Turtle. These were hereditary positions from selected families but still required election for confirmation. War chiefs, however, were chosen on the basis of proven ability.
Name of Governing Body: Tribal Council
Number of Council members: 3 council members plus executive officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments:
Number of Executive Officers: Chief, Assistant Chief, Secretary, Treasurer
Number of fluent Speakers:
A common tradition shared by most Algonquin maintains that the Lenape, Nanticoke, Powhatan, and Shawnee were, at some point in the past, a single tribe which lived in the Lenape homeland. Linguistic evidence and migration patterns tend to support this, leaving only the question of “when.” In 1836 Constantine Rafinesque published a book in which he described the Walam Olum, a series of pictograph-etched wooden sticks which were used by the Lenape to record their history.
It begins with their departure from Siberia and follows their movement across North America until they reached the Atlantic Ocean. Rafinesque’s reputation has ranged from pioneering genius to charlatan, and the sticks have since disappeared. The question is whether an oral tradition like the Walam Olum could have survived for 14,000 (perhaps 40,000) years, and most scholars question its authenticity.
Bands, Gens, and Clans
Despite the European insistence that they were one, the Lenape were not a unified tribe until after they had moved to Ohio in the 1740s. Even then their tribal organization followed the pattern of their traditional clans.
There was, however, a common sense of being “Lenape” from a shared system of three matrilineal clans which cut across their village and band organizations. Among the Unami and Unalactigo, the Turtle clan ranked first, followed by the Wolf and Turkey. The Munsee apparently only had Wolf and Turkey.
The Delaware Tribe of Indians, sometimes called the Eastern Delaware and formerly known as the Cherokee Delaware, are based in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.A small group of separately-organized Delawares (the Absentees) called the Delaware Nation are located in Anadarko, Oklahoma on lands they jointly control with the Wichitas and Caddos. The Stockbridge Munsee Community is made up of Mohican and Munsee (Lenape) peoples. They are located in Shawano County, Wisconsin. More Lenape or Delaware people live in Canada.
The Lenape have been described as a warm and hospitable people. Their natural instinct was to be accommodating and peaceful, but this masked a temper which, if provoked, could react with terrible violence.
Ceremonies / Dances:
Modern Day Events & Tourism:
Legends / Oral Stories:
According to an American legend, the Lenape chief Tammany sold Manhattan to the Dutch in 1626 for twenty-five dollars in trade goods – an event commemorated in the name of a New York City political machine noted mainly for its corruption.
There are a few things wrong with this story: his name was Tammanend, not Tammany; and he sold Philadelphia to the English in 1682, not Manhattan to the Dutch in 1626!
Art & Crafts:
Clothing was made from deerskins, and decorated with shell beads or porcupine quills, feather mantels, and other ornaments.
The Lenape used a lot of copper which they obtained from the western Great Lakes through trade. Hammered into ornaments, it was also fashioned into pipes and arrowheads.
By 1750 the Lenape had become very stylish in their dress, favoring silver nose rings and clothing decorated with bright cloth purchased from European traders.
Men removed all facial hair and the women often colored their faces with red ocre. Tattooing was common to both sexes.
Older men wore their hair long, but warriors usually had a scalp lock greased to stand erect. Although t
This hairstyle is often called a “Mohawk,” and it was common to most of the eastern tribes.
Lenape sachems wore only a single eagle feather and there was nothing that resembled the Sioux war bonnet.
Unami and Unalactigo villages were generally not fortified, but because of their proximity to the Mohawk, the Munsee towns were. Villages were occupied during summer with populations of several hundred.
Three types of wigwams were used: round with dome roof, oblong with arched roof, and oblong with a ridge pole.
There was no concept of individual land ownership, but Lenape separated to defined family hunting territories (sometimes community owned) in the winter.
Men did the hunting and fishing, but most of the Lenape’s diet came from farming which was solely the responsibility of the women. Corn, squash, beans, sweet potatoes, and tobacco were grown, and fields often covered more than 200 acres.
Dugout canoes were used rather than the familiar birchbark variety from the Great Lakes.
Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:
Religious ceremonies were centered around a dedicated “big house.” Dreams were considered very significant, so Lenape priests were divided into two classes: those who interpreted dreams and divined the future; and those dedicated to healing.
The Lenape believed in a afterlife, but without the Christian concept of heaven and hell – a source of considerable frustration for Moravian missionaries.
The Lenape were reluctant to tell their real name, and the use of nicknames was very common.
The dead were buried in shallow graves, but method varied considerably, as did the position of the body, which could be flexed, extended, individually, and sometimes in groups.
There was no formal marriage ceremony, but the Lenape were usually monogamous.
Education and Media:
The name DELAWARE was given to the people who lived along the Delaware River, and the river in turn was named after Lord de la Warr, the governor of the Jamestown colony. The name Delaware later came to be applied to almost all Lenape people.
In the Lenape language, which belongs to the Algonquian language family, they call themselves LENAPE (len-NAH-pay) which means something like “The People.”
Their ancestors were among the first Indians to come in contact with the Europeans (Dutch, English, & Swedish) in the early 1600s.
The Delaware were called the “Grandfather” tribe because they were respected by other tribes as peacemakers since they often served to settle disputes among rival tribes. The Delaware were also known for their fierceness and tenacity as warriors when they had to fight, however, they preferred to choose a path of peace with the Europeans and other tribes.
Many of the early treaties and land sales signed by the Delaware people with the Europeans were in their minds more like leases. The early Delaware had no idea that land was something that could be sold. The land belonged to the Creator, and the Lenape people were only using it to shelter and feed their people.
When the poor, bedraggled people got off their ships after the long voyage and needed a place to live, the Delaware shared the land with them. The newcomers gave them a few token gifts for their people’s kindness, but in the mind of the Europeans these gifts were actually the purchase price for the land.
The Delaware people signed the first Indian treaty with the newly formed United States Government on September 17, 1778. Nevertheless, through war and peace, their ancestors had to continue to give up their lands and move westward (first to Ohio, then to Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, and finally, Indian Territory, now Oklahoma). One small band of Delawares left our group in the late 1700s and through different migrations are today located at Anadarko, Oklahoma.
Small contingents of Delawares fled to Canada during a time of extreme persecution and today occupy two reserves in Ontario (The Delaware Nation at Moraviantown and The Munsee-Delaware Nation).
In the News: