Keepers of the Way - An Event Overview

Posted on by Tracy O'Neill, DelVal Counseling Psychology Graduate Student

On Tuesday, March 26, 2024, at Delaware Valley University, I had the privilege of attending an event presented by the Graduate Psychology Speaker’s Series and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion centered around a short documentary about Pennsylvania’s Lenape Nation, “Keepers of the Way.” The evening included a screening of the “Keepers of the Way” documentary and a panel discussion and Q&A with the director, producer, and the Lenape tribal members of the film.

The event began with an introduction of the panel and their brief self-introductions and roles in the making of the film. Evan Cohen, a Bucks County native, and the director of the film has always had an interest in Native American history and culture. Elijah Reeder is a producer of the film and is also a Bucks County native. His connection with the film was his interest in his home state and its historical origins. Chuck Gentlemoon DeMund, Chief of the Lenape Turtle Clan, showed gratitude to Creator, their ancestors, and the film crew for the opportunity to be a part of the film and this event. Tribal members Ken Wolf Eyes Macaulay and John Strong Wind Martin also took part in the panel and shared their views on the importance of keeping Lenape history and culture alive.

The documentary was a film full of natural beauty and emotion. The filmmakers succeeded in capturing the history, ceremonies, and rituals of the Lenape people without any outside influence or interference. It focused on “The Prophecy of the Fourth Crow” and the Lenape’s journey of healing the land wounded by The Walking Purchase of 1737. Several tribal members were documented sharing their history, stories, and struggles. The documentary ends with the Lenape continuing to honor Creator and their ancestors by educating their children and the community of their existence and love for all living things.

Much of the panel discussion to follow was an insight into the making of the film and the oppression of the Lenape Tribe. After the Lenape lost their land, they were forced

into hiding out of fear of genocide or being separated from their families and forced into assimilation. Ellen Rolph, wife of Chief Chuck Gentlemoon DeMund, spoke to the audience about learning of her Native American heritage. It was at the age of 40, when her grandmother made a quick remark about her being “Indian”. When asking her 93-year-old grandmother for clarification she said, it was like asking about a giant secret that no one was willing to discuss openly. It is only recently that the Lenape tribe are coming out of hiding and looking for the state of Pennsylvania to recognize them and to honor their rights of self-determination set forth by the United Nations.

The evening ended with a drum circle performed by the Itchy Dog Singers. The three Lenape men sat around a large drum placed on the floor. They gave thanks to Creator and ancestors as they prayed over the drum. The sound of their voices and the beats of the drum soon filled the space of the Life Sciences Auditorium. Some of the tribal women in the audience were welcomed on stage to sing along. Each song was created by Native Americans who wanted to tell a story or honor the ancestors.

As an audience member, I was moved to tears by the film, their stories of the oppression of the Lenape people, and their fight to preserve their culture and deep roots in the land. One of the Lenape women in the audience identified herself as a keeper of beadwork. She told us the story of an 11-year-old Lenape descendent learning the art of beadwork. This young girl recently created a piece that was described by the woman as one of the most beautiful pieces of beadwork she had ever seen. The woman then described the heartache she feels knowing that this young girl could not call her piece “Native American Art” because the Lenape are not recognized in the state of Pennsylvania. It had most of us wondering what kind of message it sends to this child? The evening raised questions for many audience members, especially me.

I had never learned of the Walking Purchase or the Lenape Nation until this experience, yet I have had earlier Native American experiences of which intrigued and amazed me. I had a great-grandfather who collected arrowheads on his property and surrounding properties in NEPA. My grandmother’s dog was named Comanche. I attended

my first Pow Wow as a teenager and couldn’t wait to attend another. In short, I have felt a strong connection to indigenous people and culture for a long time, so Ellen’s story opened my eyes up to the possibility of my family hiding any Native American ancestry as well.

I decided to speak with her at the end of the event, and she was so friendly and welcoming. We had an intimate conversation about our family history, and she revealed to me that she had never shared that story at any other venue. This was the first place in a public community discussion where she felt safe and compelled to share her story. Her comment speaks volumes to the hosts and audience members there that night. It was a memorable and meaningful evening for both of us, and I am sure, many others