Of all the illogical yet seemingly perpetual reasons human beings decide to classify, and usually then dislike, each other is the color of skin.
The population of the United States has probably the world’s greatest variety of complexions. It also may have the greatest variety of reasons, some subtle and many nastily proclaimed, for one group to dislike another.
Philadelphia’s population is roughly 40 percent white, 40 percent black, seven percent Asian (nobody says yellow) and the rest mixed or from here and there.
The white, black and yellow citizens of Philly give hardly a thought to another color: Red. In the 2010 Census, 13,000 residents of the city identified themselves as Native American.
Before Europeans butted in, Pennsylvania was inhabited by the Erie, Huron, Iroquois (including Seneca and Oneida), Munsee, Shawnee, Susquehannock, and probably a few others (using here their own names or names Europeans helpfully hung on them.)
In our area of William Penn’s Sylvania, it was the Leni Lenape who were amused to hear Mr. Penn show up and tell them that he owned the place.
Today, a few hardly noticed Lenape descendants, along with some from Cherokee, Navajo, Cree, Seminole and Creek tribes, call Philadelphia home.
There was an Indian organization in Philly from the Seventies to the Nineties, which once had 550 members from 30 different tribes.
It’s different out West. Take a look, for example, at the Navajo Nation, where nearly 157,000 Navajos live in a reservation of more than 27,000 square miles (approximately the size of West Virginia) that spreads over parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.
There are about 500 tribes in the U. S., and 1,318 reservations. The 6.8 million Native Americans are about two percent of the U. S. population.
The Lenni-Lenape people’s name means that they were the “original people.” They were minding their own business hereabouts for who knows how long until the 17th century.
Then the Swedes and Dutch and finally William Penn showed up. The Lenape sold them land. How they were eventually swindled out of all their land is another, sad, story.
Ancestors of local Indians went west long ago. But today, poverty is pervasive on reservations, likely due to prejudice.
And mining and fracking companies callously dig into Native American burial sites, though they wouldn’t dare do it in a typical cemetery.
Many Philadelphians are aware of Native American concerns. Arch Street Methodist Church has a Native American Awareness Group that meets regularly.
The American Philosophical Society has a Center for Native American and Indigenous Research at its library on Fifth St. behind Independence Hall.
I think that the University of Pennsylvania still has “Natives at Penn,” an indigenous Indian student organization on campus.
Starting Aug. 10, Pendle Hill, the Quaker conference center in Wallingford, is currently sponsoring a webinar series called “Working Toward Right Relationship with Indigenous Peoples.”
(A webinar is a live interactive event that attendees join on their desktop or mobile device over the internet. It is not the same as a webcast. Or smoke signals.)
On the second and fourth Monday evenings from August to October, people are connecting by internet with assorted experts on such topics as the “United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
I’m not up on what’s happening these days, though I know that currently, activists prefer to be called “indigenous peoples.” Do little kids now play “cowboys and indigenous people?”
Visit columnist Jim Smart’s web site at jamessmartsphiladelphia.com.
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