Where was CHIEF ROBERT MEXHALANIYAT RED HAWK RUTH born? Where was he educated?
“I was born in Lenapehoken, the traditional land of the Lenape. This land is also called the state of Pennsylvania. I am a Turtle Clan Lenape and I went to school about 20 miles from Philadelphia,” Chief Robert Mexhalanyiat Red Hawk Ruth responded.
When Chief Robert Mexhalaniyat Red Hawk Ruth was asked to talk about the role models he had as he made his journey from childhood to adulthood, he immediately pointed to his Father.
“My earliest role model was my father. The things I remember most was I learned to love and respect the natural world around me. I learned to trap and hunt at an early age. As I grew, I learned from my uncles and extended family. I also learned balance from my mother and aunts.”
And who or what helped to shape his perception of the world outside of his immediate environment?
“Over the years, sitting and listening to the stories of my people. I was blessed to be able to hear these stories from very wise wisdom keepers. These stories shaped my understanding of my place in the world.”
The Lenape Nation is one of a number of “First Nations” that are the original inhabitants of what is now known as the United States of America. With a history that spans at least 10,000 years, the Lenape Nation lived, worked, and raised families in a region of the United States now known as Central and Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Delaware. At one point, were there three major or distinctive groups within the Lenape Nation – a northern group, known as the Munsee (Minsi or “People of the Stone Country”), the Unami or Delaware (“People Who Live Downriver”), and the Unalachtigo (“People Who Live By The Ocean”) who resided in what is now known as southern New Jersey? Is the Lenape Nation the original tribe of all Algonquin-speaking peoples and viewed as the “Grandfathers” by Algonquins?
“The Lenape Nation has always been called the ‘Grandfather People’. Today, our Lenape/Delaware people are spread across Turtle Island, the United States, and Canada. I am a ‘Down River Person’ or Unami. Today, we are working with our relatives, the Munsee to work together to save our language and to come together to strengthen our traditional culture.”
The Lenape Nation holds in high regard and protects the two most vulnerable members of its community – children and the Elders. Why is it important to protect children and the Elders? Is there a direct connection between protecting children and the Elders and a community’s ability to create a nurturing and safe environment for everyone?
“Our Elders and children are part of the Great Circle of Life. Both are to be honored and protected. The Elders are the ones who teach the traditions and ways of our people to the children. Children are our future. It is from our children that our future leaders and Elders will come. From the time of birth, a child is brought to ceremony and to community events. A sense of belonging and being a part of a people – a major part is instilled in our children.”
What are the roles and responsibilities of Men in the Lenape Nation? What are the roles and responsibilities of Women in the Lenape Nation?
“Roles are very important. Both boys and girls are watched carefully by their parents and by the Elders, especially the Clan Mothers. They can tell a lot about a child by how a child interacts with others. They watch to see if a girl helps her mother and learns from her. Boys are watched to see if they do things for the family without being told. The Clan Mothers know who will be a Clan Mother or a Chief from this. Roles are often based on the special gift the child has.”
How does the Lenape Nation prepare its boys and girls for their future roles and responsibilities as spouses and parents? Is “Manhood Training” or a “Rites of Passage” provided for boys in the Lenape Nation?
“Preparation for future roles and responsibilities come from watching the parents and other adults in their life. The Elders say, ‘A eagle has two wings. If one wing is hurt or not as strong, the eagle can’t fly. If both wings are strong and equal, the eagle can soar’. In our Nation, people have medicine societies – both men and women. These societies make sure the children learn how to be a man or woman who know they are a vital part of our community. Both have different ‘Rites of Passage’. I can only speak from the Men’s Society. If a young man feels the pull he can go to his Elders and go on a Vision Quest or other ceremonies.”
Is information technology – iPods, FACEBOOK, YouTube, iPhones, MySpace, iPads, lap tops, blogs, and play stations – robbing our children of their imagination and helping to distort their sense of reality and understanding of socially responsible behavior? What action can and should be taken by parents, educators, business leaders, school administrators, academic and religious institutions, and concerned community members to ensure that our children positively utilize their imagination and have a healthy sense of reality and an undistorted understanding of socially responsible behavior?
“Modern technology is changing so fast that responsible and thoughtful use has not kept up. As with everything around us, there are two sides of the same coin – one negative and one positive. It is the responsibility of all of us to help our children to use technology and not be used by technology. There is a balance that needs to be instilled. A child needs to be in nature. They need to run and play and discover the world around them. A very wise chief told me, ‘We need to have one hand on the computer and one hand on the Mother Earth’.”
What valuable life lessons can the world learn from the Lenape Nation about the importance of valuing and protecting the most vulnerable members of our community -- our children and our elders?
“Our communities are only as strong as the most vulnerable members. We have a practice called ‘give away’. You take something that has meaning to you and look around and see someone else that could benefit from that gift and gift it to them. It teaches use and that it’s not possessions, but people who are important. The more importance a thing has, the better a gift it will be. What better gift than to protect our children and our Elders! How wonderful is it to see a young child bring a plate of food to an Elder? What a lesson that teaches us all!”
Chief Robert Mexhalaniyat Red Hawk Ruth, under your leadership as the Lenape Nation (USA) Regional Coordinator for 2011 International Men’s Day, the Lenape Nation participated in this event along with over 60 nations throughout our global village. Why did you decide to accept the invitation from the International Men’s Day Coordination Committee to assume a leadership role in 2011 and 2012 for International Men’s Day? Why is International Men’s Day important? Does International Men’s Day have the potential to bring healing to our families, our communities, and our world?
“Because of the effects of colonialism, our people withdrew for protection and survival. Yet we knew our original intent from the Creator was that we were caretakers of this land. Part of being a caretaker is helping our neighbors understand their connection to all their relations. We all are different leaves coming from the same root. Like the ‘give away’, how better to be a caretaker and help others with the special gifts each of us has been given! I am honored and humbled to be a small part of International Men’s Day. The fellowship of so many caretakers from around the world is a model we all can learn from. It is only through working together and from learning from each other that we will make history -- one boy at a time. Wow!”
On 13 September 2007, the United Nations General assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The principles of this Declaration have been embraced by members of the Lenape Nation. Why is this international recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples so important – particularly to the Lenape Nation?
“For years we looked outside of ourselves for recognition of who we are. The only problem with that is you give up who you truly are. By allowing some one to give you something like that, you also give them the right to take it away. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People was written by indigenous people. I think Article 3 says it all: ‘Indigenous people have the right to self determination.’ By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development.”
In 1653 an important treaty was negotiated between and signed by Delaware Chief Tamanend and William Penn. That treaty promised the establishment of “peaceful colonization and coexistence”. The Delaware and the Europeans enjoyed a peaceful coexistence until shortly after the death of William Penn in 1737. In 2010, the Lenape Nation launched the signing of the “Treaty of Renewed Friendship” at the Penn Museum. Is the 2010 Signing of the “Treaty of Renewed Friendship” a not so subtle reminder of the need for peaceful coexistence? What is the mission of the 2010 Signing of the “Treaty of Renewed Friendship”? How many individuals and organizations have signed the treaty?
“Actually, our first signing of the ‘Treaty of Renewed Friendship’ took place in 2002. We looked at the old broken treaties that often promised to be kept as long as the rivers flow. At that time, we felt the need to work with our neighbors to protect our sacred river, the Lenape Sipu, the Delaware River. For centuries we kept our part of the river. We did ceremonies, we kept it from being polluted. The only trouble was that our neighbors who live upstream dirtied the river and it flowed down to us. We needed to come together. We needed to become caretakers, not only us, but our neighbors had to be shown how to be caretakers, too. We knew from the past that promises have to be sustainable. We decided to have a peoples’ treaty that would be renewed every four years. That first treaty was signed by over 150 environmental organizations, churches, universities, and yes, even government agencies. From that seed so much has happened. It truly shows that when a group of people come together with respect and an open mind to learn from each other, great things can happen. I can see the same thing taking place with International Men’s Day.”
The Lenape Nation has endured unspeakable tragedies. Yet, the Lenape Nation has nurtured and raised families, extended its hands in friendship to individuals, communities, and institutions outside of its
immediate environment, and preserved its rich culture and history. The spirit of the Lenape Nation and its people remain unbroken. How has the Lenape Nation remained so resilient in the face of the most difficult set of circumstances?
“We saw first hand what colonialism does. We live it everyday. I don’t want to paint a picture that the devastation and tragedies has not had a devastating effect on Lenape culture and family. I can remember a time when during a time of hardship, when a family was being devastated by substance abuse, an Elder asked is there a way to go back and use the things that helped us survive and use traditional ways to bring things back to balance. The Lenape Nation’s greatest asset has been its ability to flow and be truly aware of our environment. To learn from it. One of the things I am so proud of is that our people lived on this land for 10,000 years and yet we left no track, no trace. The first Europeans who came up our river asked us the question: ‘How many people are in your tribe?’ We could not answer them. How could we count the birds of the air or the trees in the forest? Everything was our tribe. We are all part and parcel of the creation.”
A great cloud of change has enveloped Planet Earth. On the surface, this great cloud of change has manifested itself in a number of ways. A global economic recession is altering how we live, plan for the future, raise our children, and interact with and relate to one another. Peaceful civil unrest in the United States in the form of Occupy Wall Street has spread from city to city as it points out the needs of the nation’s “have nots”. We are witnessing public protests by citizens in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Jordan, Yemen, Greece, and Russia. Turmoil in its many distressing forms appears to be everywhere. Are we being moved by an invisible force to rethink how we live, work, nurture, and love and to rebuild our families, communities, and institutions? Has this great cloud of change that has enveloped Planet Earth created a shift in a source we call “energy”? As a result, has this source that we call “energy” become more intense? Is it making our thoughts and our words more powerful? What words of wisdom would you, Chief Robert Mexhalaniyat Red Hawk Ruth and the Lenape Nation, like to offer that will help us recognize the paradigm shift that Planet Earth has entered as an opportunity to bring about healing and positive transformation to our homes, communities, and our world through our words and our deeds?
“Lomewe, luwe na okwes xu laxakwihele xkwithakaika: A fox would be let loose upon the world. This is the first line of one of our ancient prophecies. It foretells a time of change. The Elders have a saying, ‘Everything begins and everything ends with the Creator.’ The source from where we came from and the source where we will return. There is a natural law, a way of flowing with the current. Our society has been paddling upstream. We try to control our environment. We have cut down all the trees. When we separate ourselves from each other and from nature we go against the laws of nature. The Elders say, ‘This is a time of change. It is the time to go back. Back to our original intent, our source.’ Each of us has been given a special gift. It is a time of awakening. A time to use this special gift. Just look at what people from all over the world have done with International Men’s Day. It is a shining example of what we can do when we become caretakers of each other. I have been truly honored and humbled to be a small part of it. Wanishi.”
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