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Recognizing Our New Jersey Native American Neighbors

National American Indian Heritage Month began in the early 1900s as American Indian Day. Dr. Arthur C Parker, a Seneca Indian and Director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, New York, persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans.” In 1915 the annual Congress of American Indian Association formally approved a proclamation to call upon the country to observe an American Indian Day, the first appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens. Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, rode horseback from state to state seeking approval for a day to honor Indians. On December 14, 1915 he presented the endorsements of 24 state governments to the White House, but there is no record of such a national day being proclaimed. American Indians finally became citizens in 1924 in honor of the many who enlisted in World War I.

Over the years several states sporadically dedicated a day to honor Native American Indians. At one point the day after Thanksgiving was used, as was Columbus Day. In 1990 President George H.W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as National American Indian Month. Similar proclamations occurred annually until 2021, when it was officially designated a nationally recognized month.

Haddonfield is located on land that is part of the traditional territory of the Lenni-Lenape. The Lenape People lived in harmony with one another upon this territory for thousands of years. During the colonial era and early federal period, many were removed west and north, but some remained. Three thousand current New Jersey citizens belong to the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Tribe.

There is a plaque at the corner of Kings Highway and Chews Landing Road stating “King’s Road laid out in 1681 over a portion of the trail of the Lenni-Lenape Indians running from Perth Amboy to Salem. Chews Landing Road used by the early New Jersey Colonists. This stone commemorates the spirit of humanity and kindness existing between the colonists of New Jersey and the Unalachtigo Lenape Tribe, the original owners of this land.” Chief Shawuskukhkung stated in a memorial to the New Jersey Legislature, “Not a drop of our blood have you spilled in battle; not one acre of our land have you taken but by our consent.”

Lenni means “genuine, pure, real, original.” Lenape means “real person” or “original person.” The ELCA New Jersey Synod “acknowledges the Lenni-Lenape as the original people of this land and their continuing relationship with their territory. In our acknowledgment of the continued presence of Lenape people in their homeland, we affirm the aspiration of the great Lenape chief Tamanend, that there be harmony between the indigenous people of this land and the descendants of the immigrants to the land as long as the rivers and creeks flow, and the sun, moon and starts shine.”

-Lynn Block