PUL Co-hosts Third Annual Munsee Language and History Symposium

 Stephanie Stonefish Ryan

Attendees of the 2023 Munsee Language & History Symposium gather under a grandfather tree after the closing Talking Circle on Lunaape land, language, and culture, at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Photo: Stephanie Stonefish Ryan

On Friday, November 3, Princeton University Library (PUL) hosted more than 50 Munsee community members and history scholars at Firestone Library as part of the Third Annual Munsee Language and History Symposium. Co-sponsored by the Native American and Indigenous Studies Initiative at Princeton, Land, Language, and Art: A Humanities Council Global Initiative, the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), and PUL, the event continues and deepens ongoing relationships with Lunaapeewak (Lenape people) from the Munsee-speaking tribal nations, bringing them together with Princeton students, staff, and faculty.

Representatives from many Munsee-speaking tribal nations and communities, including Munsee-Delaware Nation, Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit (Delaware Nation at Moraviantown), Delaware of Six Nations, Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohican Indians, Nanticoke Indian Tribe, Ramapough Lunaape Nation, and Sand Hill / Navesink—as well as Kanyen’kehaka (Mohawk) and Anishinabe—participated as speakers and attendees throughout the two days. Event organizers included Suzanne Conklin Akbari, professor of medieval studies at IAS and Language Director for LLA, Anu Vedantham, assistant university librarian for teaching, research and social sciences, and Catalina Méndez Vallejo, senior lecturer in Spanish and Portuguese and associate director of Spanish Language Program.

The first day of the conference focused on Lunaape history, heritage, and culture. Taking place across the campuses of IAS and Princeton University, the symposium began with opening remarks on how Lunaapeew communities are related. 

Subsequent sessions included “Lunaapeewak in Public History: Indigenous Soldiers in the British, Canadian, and US Armed Forces,” presented by Jo Ann Gardner Schedler and Jacob Lenz (Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohican Indians) and John Moses (Delaware of Six Nations), and “Munsee Belongings,” featuring a presentation on traditional wampum belts by Ian McCallum (Munsee-Delaware Nation) and one on book history by Melissa Moreton and Suzanne Akbari. 

Munsee Language & History Symposium attendees looking at Munsee language books

Language keeper and teacher Kristin Jacobs (Eelunaapeewi Lahkeewiit) and artist and computer programmer Jamie Tucker (Munsee-Delaware Nation) read Munsee language books at the Princeton University Library’s Special Collections during the fall gathering. The majority of the books printed in the Munsee language were used by preachers as tools for conversion to Christianity.

This session also included a visit with books, 18th-century land deeds, early maps, and documents relating to Lunaape students who attended Princeton University in the 18th century from PUL’s Special Collections and Mudd Library, presented by Gabriel Swift, Librarian for Early American Collections. Early printed language books, such as catechisms, spelling books, and Bible narratives, were used by Christian missionaries to learn the Munsee language in order to convert Lunaapeewak to Christianity. Similar spelling books in the Mohawk and Anishinabe languages were shared with symposium attendees visiting from these communities. These books and others are digitized and available for viewing on the Digital PUL Indigenous Cultures site.

The final session of day one was both powerful and personal. Velma Noah-Nicholas (Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit/Delaware Nation) discussed her efforts to fundraise for a renovation of the Fairfield Museum. Fairfield was the original community of Delaware First Nation, now referred to as Eelünaapéewi Lahkéewiit. The museum had fallen into disrepair over the course of 70 years while held by the United Church of Canada, and is in need of restoration. Noah-Nicholas talked about her journey to become the cultural coordinator for the site and her current work to help the museum achieve its full potential as a place for learning the culture of the Lenape people.

The remainder of the conference took place at IAS. Day two centered around preservation and teaching of the Lunaape language, and how to represent Lunaape people and language in school curricula. The final lecture “Lunaape History, Colonial Archives, and Munsee Historical Methods,” was delivered by Mary Jane Logan McCallum, Professor of History and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous People, History and Archives, University of Winnipeg, and made possible by the Dr. S.T. Lee Fund for Historical Studies.

PUL has played an active role in all three of the previous symposiums. Following its participation in the inaugural Munsee Language and History Symposium in 2021, PUL’s Special Collections' Indigenous Collections working group decided to focus some of its initial reparative redescription efforts on Lenape-related land deeds, in particular the 1674 deed related to the Tinton Falls area of New Jersey that is in PUL’s Miscellaneous Manuscripts collection. The work was presented at the symposium the following year. PUL staff have since collaborated with local history organizations to continue inclusive and reparative description work that provides more complete contextual information for additional materials relevant to Indigenous communities in PUL’s archival and rare book collections. 

PUL’s Indigenous Studies Libguide has more information on available resources. The Indigenous Studies Collection can be found on the first floor of Firestone Library.

Published on November 28, 2023.

Media Contact: Stephanie Oster, Library Publicity Manager