The Confederation of Sovereign Nanticoke – Lenape Tribes
An Introduction and Explanation
The Confederation of Sovereign Nanticoke – Lenape Tribes is an alliance of historically and genealogically interrelated tribes of the Delaware Bay area, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribal Nation of New Jersey and the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware. The Confederation is chartered to to promote the common good of our people, govern ourselves under our own laws, protect and maintain our tribal culture and preserve the legacy of our ancestors. Member tribes benefit from collaboration and cooperation on issues of tribal governance, coordination with local, state, and federal government, ensuring representation in national and international venues, and providing a collective voice in matters concerning Indian Country. While the confederation council consists of the elected tribal councils of the member tribes, voting is restricted to the principal and secondary chiefs of each tribe, with the chairmanship rotating annually between the principal chiefs. The structure ensures that none of the member tribes may dominate the others. Confederation Council deliberations are aimed at the forming of consensus on any decision. While the Confederation supports initiatives to expand tribal economic development, member tribes have pledged to maintain a ban on profiting from vice and will not participate in casino gaming.
While tribal governance had survived through an informal family-clan style leadership structure preserved through tribal congregations for over 150 years, the twentieth century saw a movement toward a more activist governance independent from the churches and denominational influence. The tribal communities established charitable service organizations in order to better serve tribal members. Member tribes have further evolved the structure of their individual governments to better reflect the relationship between the historical tribal leadership and various operational subsidiaries. This has been done through the ratification of tribal governing documents, which formally establish powers of government, delineate the protected rights of individual tribal citizens, and define the scope of tribal authority in a manner consistent with tribal cultural traditions and values.
To better educate the public to the continuing history and culture of our tribal communities, NanticokeLenapeMuseum.org was established as an online museum and learning center to share the history of the three Confederated Tribes. The expanding museum shares and preserves our culture and history, while also speaking to some of the concerns of the Confederated Tribes.
Each member tribe maintains its own independent sovereign government together with the sovereignty of the overarching Confederation. The Confederation cannot interfere in the matters of the individual member tribes. The Confederation is an intertribal alliance for mutual support and advocacy. The Confederation acts to affirm and support its member tribes with the spiritual charge to prayerfully consider the legacy we have received from the last seven generations and the legacy we shall leave for the next seven generations of our people.
An Affirmation of History and Sovereignty
The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indian Tribe (headquartered in Bridgeton, New Jersey) and the Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware (headquartered in Cheswold, Delaware) and the Nanticoke Indian Tribe of Delaware are in an intertribal union, “The Confederation of Sovereign Nanticoke-Lenape Tribes.” The purpose of the confederation is to promote the common good of our people, to defend our right to govern ourselves under our own laws, to protect and maintain our tribal culture and preserve the legacy of our ancestors. The confederation is an expression of the sovereignty given by the Creator to our tribal communities, a sovereignty that has continued from ancient times to the present. It is also an affirmation of the shared history and common ancestry between our interrelated tribal communities, made up of Lenape and Nanticoke (originally, “Nentego”) families, which have remained in the area of their ancient homeland.
For more than 10,000 years, our tribes called the area of the Delaware River and Bay down through to the Chesapeake Bay, “Home.” Our three tribal communities are the modern Lenape and Nanticoke offspring of those 17th, 18th, and 19th Century Lenape Indian communities which history refers to by such names as the Indians of Cohansey Bridge, The Alloways, The Siconese, and The Sewapois… Unami and Unalachtigo families who remained from the Brotherton Reservation in New Jersey, also the Cheswold Indians of Delaware, and the Nanticoke Indians from the Chicone, Broad Creek and Indian River Reservations on the Delmarva Peninsula. Anthropologist and historians from the late 19th and early 20th century called us “Moors” and “Nanticokes.” Over the past several centuries, our tribal communities and tribal families have been studied and documented by Brainerd, Fisher, Babcock, Speck, Gilbert, Weslager, Porter, Kraft, The Smithsonian Institute and many others. Our core families include those of documented descent from Lenape and Nanticoke treaty and land grant signers.
Since the early days of Swedish, Dutch and English settlement, almost a half a millennia ago, our Lenape and Nanticoke ancestors intermingled and intermarried in order to survive the swift changes brought by the European incursion into our ancient homeland. While many from our tribes were forced west and north, eventually settling in the mid-western United States and Ontario Canada, the families that remained gathered into interrelated tribal communities and continued our tradition as “keepers of the land.”
For many years, our people had segregated American Indian churches, social events, and — in Delaware — separate Indian schools. From the mid 1800’s through to the mid 1900’s, it was primarily through several tribal congregations that we were able to preserve our culture and defend our people. Eventually, the tribal leadership moved to establish funded services and programming to benefit tribal citizens and to protect tribal sovereignty for future generations.
Defending and asserting tribal sovereignty is essential to American Indian Tribes. “Tribal sovereignty” refers to the right of American Indian tribes to govern themselves and determine their own future. Attributes of American Indian tribal sovereignty include control of tribal land and the inherent powers to determine their form of government, to define conditions for membership in the nation, to administer justice and enforce laws, to tax and regulate the domestic relations of its members. According to chapter seven of Felix Cohen’s Federal Indian Law, “…From the earliest years of the Republic the Indian tribes have been recognized as ‘distinct, independent, political communities’ and, as such, qualified to exercise powers of self-government, not by virtue of any delegation of powers from the Federal Government, but rather by reason of their original tribal sovereignty.” Within the United States, sovereign powers rest with: the federal government, which is sometimes called the “supreme sovereign;” the state governments, which derive their sovereignty from the federal government; and American Indian tribal governments, the sovereignty of which predates both that of the federal and state governments.
This confederation holds the member tribes to require documented descent and a mandatory one quarter blood quantum from the historical core families of the three interrelated tribes as the minimal criteria for tribal enrollment. The confederation also asserts its governing authority by rejecting the promotion of vice as an avenue for economic development. In keeping with the guidance of the almighty Creator, the admonishment of our tribal elders, the standing policies of our tribal leaders and the spiritual legacy left for future generations of our people, our charter requires that the member tribes of this confederation shall not own, manage, operate or sponsor any business which profits from the promotion of vice. This policy specifically bans casino style gambling, the operating of slot machines, the selling of cigarettes, cigars, alcohol, pornography and federally or state banned substances by the member tribes or their current or future subsidiaries. May this confederation enjoy the favor of the Almighty Creator and honor our ancestors while working to secure the future of our people and our living culture.