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Who are the Lenape Indians?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Lenape Indians — also known as the Lennapi, Lenni Lenape and the Delaware Indians — once lived in the mid-Atlantic region of North America, in what would become New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Part of the Algonquin Nation, the Lenape Indians were respected as peacemakers, often called upon to negotiate between rival tribes. Despite peace treaties with the United States government, the Lenape repeatedly were relocated, with most eventually settling in Oklahoma.

Early Lenape Indians were hunters and foragers, but they also engaged in agriculture. Men typically were responsible for hunting and fishing, and the women looked after the children while minding the crops. As a farming culture, the Lenape lived in settled communities rather than engaging in the nomadic lifestyle of some other Native American tribes.

The Lenape built small villages of small round houses called wigwams or built longhouses similar to those made by the Iroquois. Villages usually included a lodge and a council house, and many villages were protected by palisades of timber. Lenape Indians did not build teepees such as those used in the plains of the Midwest.

In the early 17th century, when European colonists were first settling the mid-Atlantic region, the Lenape Indians were eager to supply beaver pelts to the Dutch in exchange for European goods. Unfortunately for the Lenape, they overhunted the beaver population, and the Dutch turned elsewhere for pelts. This early interaction with Europeans also exposed the Lenape to diseases such as smallpox and measles, which frequently were fatal.

Native Americans and Europeans had widely dissimilar ideas of property and ownership, leading to confusion regarding land. The Lenape viewed treaties with Europeans as leases or agreements to share, rather than the purchase agreements envisioned by the Dutch and English. Over the course of the 17th century, the Lenape lost territory while European settlement of the land strained its remaining resources.

Resettlement began for the Lenape with the Treaty of Easton in 1758. American colonists forced the Lenape to leave New Jersey and New York. The Lenape Indians were sent into Pennsylvania, Ohio or even further into the wilderness of the West.

Relations soured with the American colonists. During the French and Indian War, the Lenape fought on the side of the French. Despite negotiations with the English, colonials continued to attack and kill Lenape even after the war ended. Even so, the Lenape Indians were the first Native American tribe to sign a treaty with the new U.S. government during the American Revolution.

In the 1860s, the Lenape were once again relocated, this time to Oklahoma. Both the Deleware Nation and the Delaware Tribe of Indians were founded in Oklahoma at this time. In the early 21st century, most Lenape live in Oklahoma. A small group of Lenape fled to Canada, where the Delaware Nation at Moraviantown and the Munsee-Delaware Nation were founded.

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Discussion Comments

By anon163703 — On Mar 28, 2011

Were the lenni lenape important to our country?

By alex94 — On Nov 07, 2010

@carrotisland: All of the Lenape Indians today speak English. However, there are a few Lenape elders that still speak their native Lenape language, also known as Unami. A couple of examples of their language are:

“he” (pronounced “hey”) is considered a friendly greeting and “wanishi” means “thank you”.

By CarrotIsland — On Nov 07, 2010

What language do they speak?

By christym — On Nov 07, 2010

@waterhopper: There are still some Lenape tribes in Oklahoma. There are also some smaller Lenne Lenape communities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It is said that there are approximately 16,000 Lenape Indians still around.

By WaterHopper — On Nov 07, 2010

Are there any Lenape tribes still around today?

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