Friday, November 29, 2013

Beyond Thanksgiving

Now that the turkey has been digested, maybe you can chew on some information about that first Thanksgiving and consider visiting an exhibit in Paterson, NJ.

The Paterson Museum's permanent Delaware-Lenape exhibit, opens in early December. You can see tolls like axes, harpoons and fishing nets,plus murals and an 11-foot dugout canoe and a full-size eight-foot diameter wigwam. This is believed to be the only permanent Lenape exhibit in the mid-Atlantic states.

Sam Beeler, elder of the Sand Hill Delaware Indian tribe, was the technical adviser for the exhibit. He says that American Indians (not "Native Americans" which he dislikes) play a much wider role than the Thanksgiving story.

Beyond that historic meal is the idea that potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, chocolate, corn, and all the beans we use comes from this hemisphere and were passed on and exported by those colonists.

The Thanksgiving story has always been a little vague and is now full of popular cultural additions. We know that the first pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621 has lots of venison. We're not sure about turkey, although it makes sense that it might have been included.(A letter from a colonist tells us that the local Wampanoag Indians brought five deer.)

In the 392 years since, we have added a lot of information - much inaccurate and some offensive to the Indians.

In what we know of as northern New Jersey,  the people of the Munsee ("stony country") region of the Lenni-Lenape held a  regional autumn celebration that, Beeler says, that broght people to the Great Falls in Paterson for "The Rendezvous" or "The Pawwaw."

The Lenni Lenape Indians knew the Falls as a prime camping and fishing site and called it “Totowa” (to sink or be forced down beneath the waters by weight).

Passaic County's 5,000 or more Lenape celebrate on the Thursday before the federal holiday. A typical meal will include the "three sisters" (corn, beans and squash). Since the Indians were the original American locavores, the meal would include what was available here in the season, including seafood, venison, turkey, rabbit and squirrel.


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