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.