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Long Journey Home: The Delawares of Indiana

The Lenape (Delaware Indians) occupy a special place in American history. Known as a "Grandfather People," the Delawares occupied the Atlantic seaboard and eastern woodlands. They were among the first to make contact, and co-exist, with European explorers and white settlers. Despite an important relationship with George Washington and the Continental Congress as mediators between them and other Indian nations, the Lenape fell prey to a series of forced migrations from thier original homelands that now are New York and New Jersey, into Pennsylvania, from there to Ohio, then Indiana, Missouri and Kansas, until Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

The documentary, narrated by descendants of the Indiana White River Delawares, shares the family gathering at the annual pow wow in 2002, and the subsequent return to the White River area in Indiana. Family members present their own opinions about what constitutes tradition and how much willingness there is to forgive and forget what happened when 400 years of treaties were broken. The documentary was produced and aired, April 2003, by WFYI-public television, Indianapolis.

The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust provided the funding. Conceived and co-written and co-produced by Rita Kohn, who also received an Independent Artist Fellowship from the Indiana Arts Commission/National Endowment for the Arts, it is part of a larger project. A book of oral histories includes first and second hand accounts from the Delaware's sojourn in Kansas and their subsequent move to Indian Territory. More recent accounts add another century of insights and stories that are as relevant to mainstream America as they are to the Delawares and other American Indians.

Long Journey Home:the Delawares of Indiana is available from WFYI-public television at 317-636-2020 or $25.00.
Producers: Michael Atwood and Rita Kohn. Executive producer: Clayton Taylor. Videographer: Tony Williams. Photos: James W. Brown

From a letter written by Annette Ketchum to Rita Kohn, April 19, 2003.

We thank you for honoring the Delaware people and our family with the video, which is such a marker and acclaim to the world and future generations that we lived, grew, flourished in this era on the earth. I think this was your vision to capture what you were perceiving about not only Delawares, but other tribes in the Indiana experience. Not only am I thankful you have captured it forever, but that the future will be even more thankful for this stake you have put down. Even though we know each viewer of the video will learn or absorb something different, one thing you and Mike [Atwood] have done is make an entertaining, insightful, humorous and moving documentary.

No one has done anything like it. I guess it's educational material that gives life and excitement. The Griggs [Delawares in Oklahoma] watched it and they were speechless. I guess I am finding my voice to let you know how I am impacted by your work.

From an interview at the Eiteljorg Museum of the American Indian and Western Art, Indianapolis, by W. Richard West, Jr., Director of the National Museum of the American Indian-Smithsonian, Fall, 2002:

One of the things native peoples have feared the most is that they would be viewed going into the future as mere relics of history, as people who have marched across the stage of history but come up one side and the other side, and were gone from history. Sometimes at the hands of the Iroquois, but mostly by non-natives who wanted the land upon which they sat in eastern parts of the United States, the Lenape were forced elsewhere. Of course, there is a cultural toll that comes from that. Yet, because our culture was oral, Indians were able to preserve many, many things simply because traditions could not be destroyed if the memory was intact.

One of the things that is most significant for contemporary native communities is the importance of individual people in the maintenance of a culture. The loss of a single individual often can represent the loss of a tremendous piece of one's cultural past. That is why we need to value those who hold this information. Leonard Thompson, among the Delaware, took it upon himself to be sure that knowledge he held was communicated to another generation.

What is most significant about contemporary native culture is our willingness to learn as much as we can about from whence we came as the basis for determining where we go.

Leonard Thompson passed away at age 98 during the Fall of 2002.