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Lenape sign new 'friendship treaty'

The Lenape tribe left its imprint everywhere in the Delaware Valley - bestowing names on places such as Conshohocken and Shackamaxon and signing the famous treaty with William Penn.

The Lenape tribe left its imprint everywhere in the Delaware Valley - bestowing names on places such as Conshohocken and Shackamaxon and signing the famous treaty with William Penn.

But until recently, tribe members here hid their native heritage, fearing it would only incur bad treatment from white people.

In the last decade, however, they have again begun embracing their heritage publicly, believing it is now safe to do so.

On Saturday, tribe members and others signed a "treaty of renewed friendship" at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which is featuring an exhibit on Lenape history.

After three women beat a large ceremonial drum, Shelley DePaul, assistant chief of the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, led the group in a prayer.

"Watch over all of us, Creator. Watch over all nations, the winged ones, the creepy crawlers, the sea creatures," DePaul said.

She wore a black shirt and red skirt, traditional Lenape colors. On her necklace hung an image of Meesing, a spirit the tribe believes protects the woods and ensures plentiful food.

"Meesing says, 'I'll see that you have meat to eat,' " explained Ann Dapice, a Penn alumna who lives in Oklahoma and who is Lenape and Italian.

Dapice fanned herself with an eagle feather to beat the heat, and, unprompted, pulled out the federal permit that allows her to carry it. Lenape people often carry feathers of birds that have personal meaning; with federal permission, they can possess plumage of protected species.

Constance Wahupa Scott White Eagle and her friend Cyenh, who said she did not have a last name, both of Bensalem, adorned their hair with feathers. They often attend such events to perform native dances.

They paraded in a circle Saturday during the ceremony, doing a sort of two-step known as the Crow Hop.

Scott White Eagle, who is part Cherokee, said that when she was a young girl, her mother told her not to tell people of her native heritage.

"My mother said, 'You pass for white,' " she said. "We always hid."

She tried to talk about it anyway, but teachers silenced her, she said.

Lenape legend predicted that one day tribe members would be able to share their identities again. The Penn exhibit, "Fulfilling the Prophecy," refers to the tribe's Prophecy of the Fourth Crow.

It goes, in part, like this:

The first crow flew the way of harmony with the Creator.

The second crow tried to clean the world, but he became sick and died.

The third crow saw his dead brother and hid.

The fourth crow flew the way of harmony again with the Creator.

The Lenape believe the first crow represents the tribe before Europeans arrived. The second symbolizes the death and destruction of their culture, a time when, Dapice said, government officials offered cash rewards for American Indian body parts.

The third crow represents when the Lenape went into hiding. The fourth is the Lenape "becoming caretakers again and working with everybody to restore this land," according to tribal chief Robert Red Hawk Ruth.

The museum's American section curator, Robert Preucel, said the history was "a very complicated story, and it involves disease, warfare, colonialism."

The fourth crow, he said, represents the time "when indigenous people are to share their knowledge with the Western world."

DePaul said her tribe focused on improving the environment, including cleaning up the Delaware River. English settlers called the Lenape people the Delaware.

"We're just really excited that we have so many partners that work with us in reviving the river and our culture," DePaul said.

About 100 people attended the event, many of whom had worked with DePaul on environmental projects.

DePaul and Preucel exchanged wampum, sacred beads symbolizing bonds of trust and responsibility.

"If life is like a loom, these beads are the strand that holds everything together," DePaul said during the wampum ceremony.

Preucel responded: "Wanishi."

In the Lenape language, it means "thank you."