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Native American and Indigenous Peoples Resources

Resource guide celebrating the history and culture of Native American and Indigenous Peoples.

Lenape People Introduction

The Lenape peoples who survived the devastation of European colonialism were forced to migrate west, where they renamed themselves the Delaware Nation, after the European name given to the river along which many of their ancestors originally resided. Currently, there are federally recognized Lenape nations in Oklahoma and Wisconsin, as well as First Nations in Ontario, Canada.


The Lenape people originally lived on lands that now encompass New York City, parts of Long Island and the Hudson Valley, New Jersey, northeastern Delaware, and eastern Pennsylvania prior to European contact. Despite the various names that colonizers gave them over time, they always called themselves the Lenape, which loosely translates as “the common people” or “the ancient people,” and the land they inhabited was called Lenapehoking.


The Lenape tribe comprised three grand divisions: The Unami (People Down River), the Unalachtigo (People Who Live Near the Ocean), and the Munsee (People of the Stony Country) . The Unalachtigo tribe inhabited the central and southern areas of the homeland of the Lenape and the Munsee tribe inhabited New York and the northern region.


Lenape villages consisted of dome-like dwellings built with tree bark. Their sustenance came primarily from hunting deer, fishing, and gathering wild plant foods such as fruits, berries, and nuts. They also planted crops such as corn, beans, and squash. Their clothing, dwellings, and tools were made from natural materials they gathered. They obtained what they did not make through trade, with other villages, and nearby tribes. They lived self-sufficient and sustainable lives. Unfortunately, the life and culture of the Lenape were completely upended when European settlers arrived and laid claim to their lands. The founding of modern-day America and New York City is inseparable from an agonizing history that is often concealed and erased.

Photo Gallery

Image Caption: A reimagining of “Manhattan Island in the Sixteenth Century” from the 1892 book “Memorial History of New York“ from NYPL’s Digital Collections.


Image Caption: A map of historic Lenape territory created and shared by Nikater and Ishwar on Wikimedia Commons with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


Image Caption: An imaginary representation of Lower Manhattan during the Dutch occupation with Native Americans in canoes in the foreground and European ships in the background. This engraving by Joost Hartger dates to 1651 and was first published in a book describing the lands of Virginia, the New Netherlands, and New England held in the J. Carter Brown Library.

Image Caption: Map of “New Amsterdam” or present-day Lower Manhattan based on a Dutch drawing dating to 1661 from NYPL’s Digital Collections.

Image Caption: The original map of “Indian Villages, Paths, Ponds and Places in Kings County,” is housed at the Center for Brooklyn History and was created in 1946 by the Brooklyn historian James Kelly. According to his research, major thoroughfares like Fulton Street, Flatbush Avenue, and Atlantic Avenue date back to the original trails of the Lenape people.


Image Caption: A redrawn plan of an original from 1661 from NYPL’s Digital Collections showing what is now Lower Manhattan and the start of Broadway, which follows the route of an existing Lenape path sometimes referred to as Wickquasgeck.

Image Caption: How Pearl Street in Manhattan may have appeared in the seventeenth century in an image from 1901 from NYPL’s Digital Collections. Pearl Street is located on the site of a Lenape oyster midden along the East River, where the Lenape discarded shells and pearls. The Dutch named the street Pearl Street because of the abundance of pearls and shells they used to pave it.

Image Caption:  Rock formations in Inwood Hill Park in Upper Manhattan, which the Lenape used for their seasonal encampments. This photograph was shared by the rakish fellow on Wikimedia Commons with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

European Colonization

The first Europeans to set foot on the island of Manhattan, or Mannahatta as the Lenape people call it, were explorers Giovanni da Verrazzano in 1524 and Henry Hudson in 1609. They both reported back to Europe about the abundance of beavers, whose fur was a valuable commodity and popular in European fashion. By the early 1600s, the Lenape were actively trading goods with the Europeans. 


The Dutch claimed that in 1626 they “purchased” Mannahatta island from the Lenape for 60 guilders worth of trade goods (about $24 now), but it was likely that they did not share the Dutch view of land ownership and saw it as an agreement to share the land with the newcomers. The Dutch eventually forced most of the Lenape people living in Mannahatta out of their homeland, building a settlement in Lower Manhattan with a wall to keep both the Lenape and the British out of their “territory.” This wall eventually became today’s Wall Street in lower Manhattan.

Since their first contact with the Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Lenape people suffered gravely from the diseases that colonizers brought, and by 1700 the Lenape population was reduced by 85%. The remaining people were forced to migrate long distances, driven further and further west by unjust treaties and armed settlers.


During the 17th century, the Dutch expanded their colonies to present-day Brooklyn as they killed or displaced the surviving Lenape people with their convoluted treaties. They founded five villages on this land: Brooklyn, Flatbush, Bushwick, Flatlands, and New Utrecht. The Dutch surrendered their colonies to the British in 1674.


By 1771, nearly one-third of the settler population in present-day Brooklyn consisted of people of various origins who were enslaved, and the rest were European settlers. By 1870, most of the surviving Lenape had moved from Western Pennsylvania to Ohio, then Missouri, Kansas, and finally Oklahoma, where they purchased a reservation from the Cherokee in Oklahoma and renamed themselves the Delaware Nation, the European name given to the river along which many of their ancestors originally resided.


Although the Lenape people in New York City were either killed or driven off their native lands by European colonizers, their traces remain. From the origins of streets like Broadway, which partially follows what was once an indigenous trade route, to the names of streets like Pearl Street, which was once an oyster midden covered with discarded shells and pearls, and such natural formations as the caves of Inwood Hill Park, where an archeological dig in the 1890s unearthed evidence of seasonal encampments used by the Lenape people.


The Lenape People Today

Lenape people still live in the New York area, passing on their heritage, preserving their culture, retaining their ancestors’ knowledge, and practicing ceremonies passed down through generations, aided by the efforts of such organizations as the Lenape Center. These individuals represent a fraction of the Lenape diaspora, extending to federally recognized communities of the Delaware and Munsee in Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Canada, and the Ramapough in New Jersey.


Over 110,000 Native American people are living in New York City today. As Pratt Institute seeks to remember and commemorate the original inhabitants of the land we are on and the genocide and suffering exacted by the settlers who came before us, it is equally important to support indigenous peoples of all backgrounds currently residing in New York City by learning about their struggles and uplifting the people and the organizations fighting for recognition, advocacy, and social justice.

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