Two Native American tribes in Delaware receive help to redeem their ancestral lands

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Two Delaware Native American tribes – with help from an environmental group, a private donor, and the state – are buying back land that was once part of their ancestral lands.

The Nanticoke Indian Tribe acquired 30 acres off the John J. Williams Highway near Rosedale Beach in Millsboro this fall, and the Lenape Indian Tribe is expected to strike an 11-acre deal near the reserve early next year. Natural Fork Branch in Dover. The land deals are partnerships between individual tribes, the nonprofit Environmental Conservation Fund, the state, and a private conservation group called the Mt. Cuba Center near Wilmington.

The land will be held under conservation easements with the state so it cannot be turned into housing, according to Conservation Fund officials.

“It’s not just about buying a property,” said Blaine Phillips, senior vice president of the Conservation Fund which helped close the deals. “It’s about restoring culture. It’s about honoring their ancestral rights.”

For the tribes, transactions are important as the land was once part of their ancestral lands and the plots are close to properties of historical significance. Each of the tribes once had small schools for tribal members on land near the newly acquired properties. Nanticokes and Lenapes executives said they had tried for years to buy the plots, but either failed to secure the deal or did not have enough money. Tribal chiefs said they were grateful for being able to secure the properties, which have long been private property.

Natosha Carmine – chief of the Nanticoke Indian tribe, which has around 400 registered members – said that obtaining the land was important because it “allows the Nanticokes to have a place to come together as a community and to build a stronger community “.

Known as the “People of the Tide Water,” the Nanticokes had their traditional lands in the Chesapeake Bay area and Delaware, and traded beaver pelts with the English. The tribe said they had “first contact” with Captain John Smith in 1608.

The story of the tribe tells how they “watched Smith’s ship cautiously from shore, climbing trees to get a better view. When Smith approached shore in a boat, the Nanticoke responded with arrows.”

At the end of the 17th century, the Nanticoke were one of the few tribes still along the east coast of Maryland. At one point, some 3,000 acres were set aside for the Nanticoke in the Broad Creek area of ​​Somerset County in Maryland, but their land was eventually sold, according to Sterling Street, the coordinator of the Nanticoke Indian Museum.

Some Nanticokes left the region for Pennsylvania, New York and Canada. Others who remained in Delaware took jobs in the late 1700s working for settlers as sailors on fishing boats, or as sharecroppers and hunters. Street said some Nanticokes took European surnames because “no one knew how to translate” their native names.

The land the Nanticokes recently acquired is near a former one-room school for Native American children that opened in the 1920s and closed in the 1960s.

Carmine said plans for the land could include a walking path, a pavilion or fields for lacrosse games. She said the tribe could also hold their fall powwow there instead of renting land elsewhere.

Street said it was “heartwarming” to see his tribe buy back their land.

“The younger generation doesn’t know how we got the earth in the first place,” Sterling said. “Now they will find out, and getting it back is really exciting. “

Ann Rose, chairman of the board of the Mt. Cuba Center, which provided financial assistance for land deals, said the group was brought in to help because the project “works in harmony with our mission.” Mt. Cuba Center, a botanical garden specializing in the conservation of native plants, is the former home and family estate of Lammot du Pont Copeland and his wife, Pamela. Copeland was chairman and chairman of DuPont, one of the world’s largest chemical companies, in the 1960s.

Rose said it was a chance to strike a deal with “people who are already Earth-friendly” and want to “manage the land”, in addition to “giving tribes land for cultural practices.”

Conservation Fund executives said that since its inception in 1985, the fund has worked with dozens of Native American tribes across the country to help them purchase land or restore environmental areas.

Phillips, of the Conservation Fund, said the Nanticoke Tribe land was up for sale for around $ 1 million. He said he could not disclose the final sale prices for the two properties due to confidentiality agreements.

Securing the land, Phillips said, is also crucial to preserving part of the “fragile coastal zone” from the intense development that surrounds it.

“The prices are high and the market is hot,” Phillips said, so the tribes “never thought they would have the resources to do it, but we joined forces and got the funding.”

For Dennis “White Otter” Coker – the main chief of the Lenape Indian tribe of Delaware which has approximately 225 registered members – obtaining the property was important because it is his tribe’s ancestral homeland and the plot is near an old tribal school, a cemetery and a church. .

“We Indians had free rein in the state of Delaware before contact with the Europeans,” Coker said. “All this land was ours.” But he said he was slowly taken or sold to private owners.

The Lenapes property includes a stream, meadows and some woods.

Coker said he had ideas for turning part of the land into an “edible forest garden” that would include berry-producing plants, as well as shad and spice bushes that were once used by Indian Indians. America and who are from the region.

“We want to turn it into a green property. We want to show that we are good stewards of the land,” Coker said. “For us there is a meaning and a relationship between all plants, animals and humans… We want to honor this and honor our land.”

In the 1600s, Coker said, the Lenape tribe numbered between 4,000 and 5,000 people, and they could be found as far as southeastern New York and New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. But after contact with Europeans, disease, war and the takeover of their land, their population fell by 90 percent, according to Coker. Gradually, Coker said, many Lenapes left the East Coast because of “colonizer pressure” and settled in Oklahoma, Michigan and Canada.

Yet many Lenape “never left” Delaware, and redeeming their ancestral homeland gives them a sense of the “native spirituality that emanates from where we lived,” Coker said. “The Delmarva Peninsula was indigenous land until it was transformed by colonization.”

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