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Drew Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow: Native American Heritage Month

by Jocelyn Freeman | Staff Editor

8 mins read

November has been National Native American Heritage Month in the United States since 1990, and this year is no different. To celebrate the occasion, this week’s article will be dedicated to the Native history that relates to Drew. While this column is primarily dedicated to exploring Drew’s history, it is important to note that Native people exist outside of historical context and still live in every state across the US. Admittedly, there are very few sources that directly discuss Native culture and identity on Drew’s campus, as history has not been kind to the Indigenous communities of  the Madison area and across the Americas. Regardless, there were, and still are, a few events and activities that continue to display Indigenous excellence. These events, both past and present, will be highlighted this week. 

Photo of two native dancers from the 2004 pow-wow on Tilghman Field dressed in traditional regalia courtesy of the 2005 edition of the Drew Acorn.

Drew University is situated in the historic Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Nation of New Jersey. This nation was split on the basis of two dialects: the Munsee dialect and the Northern and Southern Unami dialect, as detailed by Rutgers’ Land Acknowledgement page. The Lenape had no formal way of writing and, in turn, no written history. But historians of the Western New Jersey Area have determined that the Lenni-Lenape were heavily dependent on hunting and farming. It is also thought that “[the] Lenape believed in a single powerful creator called Kishelemukong,” who created “Manitowoc, the spirit helpers who lived in and controlled the forces of nature, plants and animals,” as detailed by Archeologist John Kraft of New Jersey. It is important to note that generalizations cannot be applied to all members of the group. 

Dutch settlers first arrived in the mid-1600s and brought with them deadly illnesses that were easily spread to the local peoples. These illnesses, mainly derived from livestock not yet present in the Americas, were detrimental to the Lenape people. As settlers continued to arrive, land was bought, stolen and swindled out of the hands of the Indigenous people of North America. The Lenape were the first to formally enter a treaty, The Treaty of Fort Pitt, with the newly founded United States in 1778. However, they were also the first to be betrayed by the government’s words. In the years following, the Lenape that remained in Morris County were forcefully relocated down south to Brotherton, the first Native reservation in America. By the 1820s they would be relocated again, this time to Wisconsin. Some natives stayed in homesteads around the state and attempted to assimilate into the Neo-European culture. 

While it is true that the United States attempted to eradicate Native life and culture, many examples of Native perseverance can be seen on Drew’s campus in recent history. While it was difficult to find mention of Native students and Native cultural events in early Drew history, a little bit of digging helped reveal Drew’s 2004 pow-wow. A pow-wow is “a celebration that incorporates dancing, music and food, and it is not a religious ceremony,” as explained by the  Oct. 8, 2004 edition of The Acorn. This event was held on Oct. 10, 2004. The event was held on Tilghman Field and was open to Drew students and residents of the Tri-State Area. 

The organizer, Jennifer Battiest, a member of the Choctaw Nation, was a Theological School student at Drew. Battiest decided to organize the pow-wow because she “noticed when [she] came to Drew a lot of people referred to the Native Americans in past tense” and because she felt “alone and isolated” being so far from her home and culture in Oklahoma. She decided to share a part of her culture with Drew, bringing Natives from around the country to celebrate. 

Image of Jennifer Battiest in the Choctaw regalia she would wear to the pow-wow she helped plan courtesy of the 2004 edition of the Drew Acorn.

The pow-wow was held in honor of Native American Heritage Month and was supported by the Assistant of Resident Life, RHA, Equal Opportunity Scholars and The Extracurricular Activities Board. The event was well documented through photos printed in the Drew Magazine from 2005, hosted dancing, music, storytelling and a variety of Native foods for sale. The event was also large-scale and featured “dancers in colorful native dress representing 15 nations from throughout the country.” The “pow-wow is designed to be interactive,” Battiest explained. She dressed in her full traditional regalia for the event. The 2004 pow-wow would be the first ever held in Morris County in recorded history. 

Battiest stated that “Hopefully, Drew will increase its Native American cultural awareness and schedule more events.” In the years following, Battiest’s desire was not met completely. Still, in recent years documentaries about Native issues have been screened, classes dealing with Native Anthropology have been taught and students such as Garbeille Lugbauer (C ’22) have dedicated their Senior Civic Scholars Projects to working with the local Ramapough Lenape Tribe. Lugbauer’s project connected students with the Chief Mann of the Turtle Clan and provided an opportunity to understand how Native culture is still functioning in New Jersey today.

This year, as part of Native American Heritage Month, Drew Night Life and DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) will be hosting a pow-wow in the EC. The event will be from 8 p.m. to midnight on Nov. 18. Drew’s DEI will also be hosting a free trip to NYC to visit the Museum of the American Indian in the near future, so keep an eye on Drew Today for more information. 

Hopefully, Drew students take advantage of these amazing opportunities to learn about Native culture in a contemporary context. While these events are great, hosting events displaying Native excellence outside of one month of the year would bring even more of an understanding to campus and allow students to understand that Native culture is not simply Native history.

Featured photo of pow-wow drumming as musicians gather to provide the “heartbeat” of the event courtesy of the 2005 edition of the Drew Acorn.

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