Skip to main content

House Candidate would Support Lenape Recognition

POTTSTOWN, Pa. - Democratic candidate Dan Weand will carry the issue of
tribal recognition to Harrisburg if elected state representative in
November. Along his campaign trail, he has initiated discussion with
Pennsylvania's Indians to form a state Commission on Indian Affairs.

Weand, D-146, would represent about 66,000 residents.

"I have little information yet," Weand said. "To put this proposal
together, we first need a definition of what recognition is. What is it
being sought. Let's begin with that."

Weand said the office needs to be permanent and established by legislation.

"It doesn't have to be located in Harrisburg," he said. "It could be here
in Montgomery County. This was original lands of original people."

The original people of eastern Pennsylvania are the Lenape whose efforts to
gain state recognition began more than five decades ago. Doris RiverBird
Woman, a Lenape Turtle Clan Mother representing the Eastern Lenape Nation
of Pennsylvania, the Traditional United Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania and
the Turtle Island Chautauqua, said there are two main reasons why American
Indians in Pennsylvania want recognition from the Commonwealth.

"To make reclamation of the bones of our ancestors easier and to show that
the history of Pennsylvania is a great one for all people," RiverBird said.
"We teach our children about our history and to be proud of our culture,
then they go to school and are taught that there are no Indians in
Pennsylvania. This is a fallacy."

There are an estimated 20 groups in Pennsylvania who use the name Lenape.

"A few are authentic," said Jim Beer, spokesperson for Lenape Nation Inc.
"They're carrying their lifestyle in a way that helps their people, not
just attending a pow wow once a year."

Beer said meeting with Weand is "an effort to address things we all face.
There are basics we need as a people and state recognition is necessary to
have that because they've made it that way."

Lenape in Pennsylvania, for instance, cannot perform legally-recognized
marriages. They cannot reclaim the remains of their ancestors. They cannot
sell Indian arts and crafts as Native. They have little recourse in
protecting sacred sites.

Federally recognized tribes can apply for and run their own federal
programs. They can acquire gambling rights through the federal Gaming
Regulatory Act. States may independently define their own relationship with
tribes on issues such as repatriation but ceremonies that include certain
items such as wolf pelts are freedoms given only to federal tribes. In a
state where the first treaty with Europeans was signed, Natives are asking
that they be acknowledged.

"It took us 300 years to go from being a predominant, easily recognizable
people to being totally invisible," said Ed Bocchinfuso, Lenape descendant.
"Now we're becoming visible. All we're asking is to stop denying our

Weand is also looking into the viability of creating a Commission of Indian
Affairs comprised of Natives from the various groups.

The Governor's Interstate Indian Council, an organization including a
membership representing 21 states, working to promote relations between
tribes and states, reports that there are currently 32 states that have
offices of Indian Affairs.

"Some states, like Wyoming, eliminated their office," said Forrest C. Cuch,
executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs. Utah has five
federally recognized and no state recognized tribes.

"We've had a few requests from western Cherokees for state recognition, but
the state's attitude is that if you're not federally recognized, you won't
get state recognition," he said.

Cuch said Utah follows the national trend with most of its 30,000 Natives
living in urban areas. Utah's Indian Affairs was established in 1953 as a
division of the Department of Community and Economic Development. Other
states include it in Human Services, Health, Employment or, as in
Connecticut, in the Environmental division.

"It's all arbitrary," said Joe Dey, GIIC president and executive director
of the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council. At a personal level Dey said he
finds the need to ask states to recognize the people an insulting one.

"It's about economics," he said. "By opening that box, I think from their
perspective, they think it could lead to litigation."

Minnesota, whose Council of Indian Affairs was established in 1963, has no
state recognition process. States that are trying to establish a protocol,
such as Louisiana and North Carolina, are few and far between, Dey said.

In South Carolina, Catawba Indian Nation executive member Dewey Adams said,
"Every time a tribe comes up for recognition, the state has to come up with
more money. All the money comes from the federal pot and states must
allocate a percentage for minorities. It seems a lot of states don't do

Efforts to create state commissions for Indian Affairs began in the early
1900s, after the Termination Act when many tribes were left as communities
and were unable to apply for funding for their people. Most commissions in
the east began establishing in the 1950s when governments were saying there
were no Indians in the east any longer. Tribes there found themselves
living in mainstream America.

"Does that make them any more or less Indian, just because they don't have
government recognition," asked Adams.

State recognized tribes are eligible for funding for things like housing,
roads and health care. Some state recognized tribes have created their own
court systems, necessitating funding for staff and creation of ordinances.

"Every four to six years, when there's another election, we have to
re-educate politicians to the facts and issues," said Adams. "If these
governments would follow what presidents Clinton and Reagan both suggested,
and sit down face-to-face to discuss each side, we'd all have better

Weand, running against opponent Tom Quigley, said he is progaming to allow
limited slots at the racetracks. He also promotes environmental issues and
sees American Indians as a key partner in this effort. Through his
association with Reading resident Jon Skipper, Lenape, he is considering
ways to make tourism viable to both Natives and the state. Weand said his
connection to the Lenape is felt through his experience as a Boy Scout when
his scout master showed the group his collection of arrowheads, taught the
folklore of the Lenape, showed the boys how do make crafts and leave the
land in the same way they found it.