From the Director’s Notebook: Commemorating the Wissahickon’s Original Stewards

News // October 11, 2023

By Ruffian Tittmann, FOW’s Executive Director

This Monday, Friends of the Wissahickon commemorated Indigenous People’s Day.

This day of celebration is an opportunity to commemorate the great contributions of Indigenous people, share aspects of their heritage, and recognize both their history and their continued connection to this land.

On this day and every day, it’s important not just for our members and park visitors but everyone, wherever they live, to recognize that there is a deep history in the lands that we call home, the places we visit, and the ones we hold dear to our hearts.

Philadelphia, including the Wissahickon, is the traditional territory of the Lenape, the Lenapehoking (Lenape Homelands). The Lenape were the original stewards, protecting and nourishing the land.

The Lenape lived across present-day New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware, with rich cultures and traditions that are carried on by their ancestors today all across the United States and Canada.

According to the New York Times, South Dakota is believed to be the first adopter of the holiday in 1990, and many more are following suit. President Biden was the first US president to formally commemorate Indigenous People’s Day two years ago.

Locally, Indigenous Peoples’ Day Philly, Inc. presented their 7th Annual Indigenous Peoples Day Cultural Festival. The event featured many Native singers, dancers, and artwork and was a vibrant display of a diverse range of tribal traditions and cultures.

In the months leading up to the big day, this highly esteemed organization acts as an informational hub on Indigenous issues and brings important topics like Indigenous sovereignty, immigration, and environmental justice to the forefront.

There are plenty of ways you can honor Indigenous people in the days leading up to Native American Heritage Month in November and all throughout the year:

Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania has its Cultural Center & Trading Post in Easton, Pennsylvania, displaying artifacts, educational materials, and their UPenn-hosted exhibit Fulfilling a Prophecy: The Past and Present of the Lenape in Pennsylvania.

Visit the Museum of Indian Culture in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for their new exhibit on Native American Beadwork! The museum has a focus on Lenape history but maintains and displays a wide variety of items, including stone tool collections, ceramics, carvings, photographs, weapons, beadwork, and basketry from Native peoples throughout the Western hemisphere.

Check out The Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape’s Facebook for a range of events that highlight Indigenous issues and causes for celebration. Short films, lectures, and ceremonies are regularly shared here.

*These are some great resources from groups local to Philadelphia. We know there are more videos, literature, artwork, lectures, and music that provide great insight into the history and culture of Indigenous peoples. Please feel free to contact Claire Brennan at brennan@fow.org with more helpful resources.

Photo courtesy of Charles Ragucci