DISCLAIMER: This article was originally posted on Odyssey.
They are named the Lenape and existed for thousands of years. Not only in New Jersey proper but also Pennsylvania and New York. There is debate as to what the land of New Jersey itself would be referred to by the Lenape, but “Lenapehoking” seems to be agreed upon by even the Lenape themselves.
Prior to British colonization, the Lenape Nation dealt with the short-lived colonies of the Dutch and the Swedish. The well-known presence of the Lenape in pre-American history was when they were the nation that engaged in treaties with William Penn, who would become the governor of Pennsylvania (which is where the state received its name). In the Lenape village of Shackamaxon, Chief Tamanend granted Penn ownership of land in their treaty. The site where this happened became part of the Penn Treaty Park which can be visited today.
The Lenape were among the first Christianized Native Americans. The church essentially became the pillar of Lenape community to this very day.
However, as more whites encroached upon native lands, the Lenape were relocated to the Ohio Country. Under Chief Killbuck, along with two other Lenape leaders White Eyes and Pipe, sided with the Americans in what would become the first treaty between the United States and the Indian Nations until later in the Revolution. Afterwards, the Lenape have been relocated along with many other Native American nations to the Oklahoma Territory, which is today the State of Oklahoma, as well as Wisconsin.
Although, some of the Lenape Nation do continue to live in reservations in New Jersey, however it was only quite recently in American history that they had to reclaim their indigenous identity, since they would have been labeled as either “white,” “black,” or “mixed.” In northern New Jersey, there is the Ramapough Lenape Nation, who have struggled with the same problems that many other Native American communities have with giant corporations, which is the intrusion into their indigenous lands, specifically from the not-so-ironically named Pilgrim Pipelines who proposes a pipeline through environmentally fragile lands in northern New Jersey. In southern New Jersey, there is the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Nation.
I felt that it was important for other New Jersey residents to learn about the Lenape Nation, primarily because a lot of place-names have origins in the Lenape languages. Place-names include Cohansey Point which was named after a chief, Manasquan means “island-door,” Manalapan means “edible roots within a covered swamp,” and Hoboken means “a smoke for piping.” There are also Lenape place-names in Pennsylvania, such as Kittitanny, Catasauqua, Minisink, and Pocono.
Although there are two Lenape languages, they do have similarities. Unami was spoken in southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania and Munsee is spoken in northern New Jersey and New York. The last speaker of Unami, Edward Thompson, died in 2002 which led to endeavors to resurrect the language, while the Munsee language is spoken by a handful of speakers left along with dedicated language instructors.
I definitely think that awareness of the Lenape Nation in New Jersey itself would help this tribe to educate New Jersey residents more than I ever could.
Just as I began this article, I will end it with the Lenape translation.