Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions: Preserving a Dying Way of Life

The Native Americans once inhabited almost every area of the United States, from the cold shores of Maine to the vast dry desert of Arizona. Indiana was no exception; in fact, the Hoosier State’s name derives from the huge amount of Native American tribes that called the state home. Eventually, over decades of explosive American expansion, the Native Americans were rapidly pushed out of their homelands, away from the woods and hills they lived on for thousands of years, onward to the brink of extinction. One such tribe was the Lenape, known to white settlers as the Delaware Indians. Originally located on the east coast, the tribe was forced to move west over the years like so many other Native American populations. By the time William Conner, the pioneer who first explored much of Central Indiana, came into contact with the Lenape, they were living in Indiana with vastly reduced numbers.

Today, only a few Lenape remain, mostly in Oklahoma and Ontario, and their cultural legacy has been diluted and trampled upon. With so few Lenape left, it will become increasingly difficult to find examples of traditional Lenape culture as the years go by. In the struggle to keep authentic Native American traditions alive, dance is often a powerful ally, replicating traditions that have lasted hundreds of years in the face of lies, discrimination, forced marches, and genocide. Indianapolis residents will get a chance to observe and even take a part in one of the last vestiges of original Lenape culture when Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions comes to the Conner Prairie Living History Museum in Fishers, Indiana on Saturday, October 9, 2010.

Video of an intertribal music group performing a traditional Lenape dance; you might see a dance like this at Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions at Conner Prairie near Indianapolis

Conner Prairie already has a monument to Lenape culture with the replica Lenape Camp located on the Indianapolis museum‘s grounds. The Lenape Camp shows guests what life might have been like in a typical Lenape settlement at the time of William Conner, and can certainly be an eye opening experience. However, the Lenape Camp doesn’t have anything on the authentic dances represented by Lenape tribesmen and women at Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions. The Indianapolis event takes place once a year and is a great way to observe one aspect of Lenape culture. Members of the the Lenape tribe from Bartlesville, Oklahoma will make the trek back to the now tamed wilds of Central Indiana to participate in social and ceremonial dances in this traditional Lenape Pow-Wow type event.

Video of a traditional Lenni-Lenape Butterfly Dance; various types of Lenape dance will be performed at Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions at Conner Prairie near Indianapolis


Many different dances will be represented at Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions, most of which you won’t see on the dance floor at an Indianapolis nightlife venue. Dances like the Round Dance, Straight Dance, the Women’s Shawl Dance, and the Men’s Traditional Dance will be showcased along with traditional tribal instruments, most notably a whole mess of drums. Guests at the event are allowed to participate in some of the dances, but others are restricted for Lenape tribe members only. An interesting note about the visiting Lenape tribe members: some of them are direct descendants of William Conner and his Lenape wife, Mekinges, a living link to the Lenape’s time in Indiana.

Video of a Lenape Straight Dance contest in Oklahoma; the Straight Dance is one of several dances to be performed at Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions near Indianapolis

Along with the traditional Lenape dancing, there will also be food and drink available at Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions. It’s not the type of filling fare you’ll find at an Indianapolis restaurant, but it’s sure to sate your hunger for both vittles and tradition. Like dance, food is an important aspect of any society, and one that is relatively easy to preserve: everybody’s gotta eat, right? Fry bread, a traditional food that’s been a part of a healthy Lenape diet for 100 years, was offered at the 2007 Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions event along with grape dumplings, which have been around for even longer. It’s not total immersion, but guests might get an inkling of what Lenape culture is like with the food and dancing at Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions.

To get a glimpse of life as it might have been when Central Indiana was still untamed forest and grassland, when settlers were just beginning to make their mark on the countryside and Native American populations were still relatively stable, visit the Conner Prairie Living History Museum on Saturday, October 9, 2010. for Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions. Lenape tribe members all the way from Oklahoma will be coming into town to perform a wealth of traditional social and Pow Wow dances for the public, dances that are an important part of Indiana culture and Indianapolis history. The Fishers event begins at 1:00, making it the perfect idea for a day trip from Indianapolis; you can get to Indy suburb and back in little more than an hour. Tickets are relatively cheap: $13 for adults, $12 for seniors (65 and up), $9 for kids (2 to 12), and free for members and Indianapolis children under 2. To see just one example of why Native American cultures need to be preserved, visit Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions at the Conner Prairie Living History Museum.

Dance! Lenape Indian Traditions at Conner Prairie
Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 1:00 p.m.
Tickets: $13/adult, $12/senior, $9/kids, FREE/members

Conner Prairie Living History Museum
13400 Allisonville Rd
Fishers, IN 46038

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