Nanticoke history revisited for Native American event
December 11, 2012
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Team APG hosted the annual Native American Heritage Month celebration, this year's final ethnic observance, Nov. 27 at the APG North (Aberdeen) recreation center.
Command Sgt. Maj. Lebert Beharie of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command welcomed the audience and introduced guest speaker
Sterling V. Street, a member of the Nanticoke Indian Tribe of Delaware and coordinator of the Nanticoke Indian Museum in Millsboro, the only Native American Museum in the state.
Beharie said Street would tell listeners how tribes along the Chesapeake survived by adapting to change and befriending other tribes.
"This speaks to the very heart of what it is to be a Soldier," he said. "We are proud of those who came before us, we appreciate tradition and we know how to adapt."
He introduced Street as a proud member of the Delaware Tribe noting that the Nanticoke Museum has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
Street talked about the Nanticoke tribes along the Chesapeake prior to Capt. John Smith's exploration of the area; the impact of European settlers; and the eventual assimilation of the Nanticoke tribes into their culture.
Street said his ancestors lived in wigwams and long houses along the Nanticoke River, not far from the Susquehanna which was controlled by the Iroquois. They grew their own food, fished and hunted. He said that every part of the deer was used by the tribes; what wasn't eaten was used to make clothing and tools. Their dugout canoes were made from trees and their heavier tools were made from stone.
"We took full use of all of the natural resources that we had," he said. "We were happy and had plenty of food like fish, wild turkey and geese."
Street said all of that changed with the Smith exploration in 1608. Later, European settlers came and disrupted their way of life.
"They brought chickens, pigs and cows and we had never seen any before," he said. "As they animals over ran the hunting areas, the Nanticoke complained. Eventually, reservations sprang up and those tribes that migrated inland from the Eastern Shore in the 1700s either took to the reservations or moved north where the Iroquois welcomed them.
"After that we started assimilating because we had no other choice," Street said.
Eventually the Nanticoke built schools that went up to the 8th grade. A dictionary of the Nanticoke language survives because President Thomas Jefferson send an emissary to live among the Nanticoke to make note of their dialect.
"We were the first to lose our language, " Street said.
He invited listeners to visit the area Dec. 7-8 for their 36th annual Pow Wow.
"This event draws 15 to 20,000 visitors," he said. "It's a testament to the fact that we are still here and we are still contributing."
A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Street is retired from the Delmarva Power & Light Company.
ATEC Commander Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco thanked Street on behalf of APG commanders. While presenting Street with an ATEC Coin of Excellence, Dellarocco revealed that he too grew up in the area and that he has "as sliver of Mohawk" in his ancestry.
Entertainment included dancing by members of the Nanticoke Indian Association led by Linda Wright, a traditional dancer.
Wright thanked Dellarocco and Beharie and said the group was "honored."
"We offer our thanks for the service men and women out there protecting us today," she said.
The program ended with a group dance led by Wright featuring Nanticoke Indian Association dancers and members of the audience including Dellarocco; Beharie; Maj. Gen. Leslie Smith, 20th Support Command (CBRNE); Installation and CECOM Command Sgt. Maj. Kennis Dent; and Sgt. Maj. David Puig, 20th Spt. Cmd.
Renesha Robinson of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command sang the national anthem and Chaplain (Maj.) Jonathan Morse closed with a prayer: "Let us be a blessing to every path we may cross and bring us back together when the time is right. Go forth in peace."
After the program, guests were served a sampling of buffalo burgers, Indian black bean soup, Indian fry bread with honey, Cherokee chicken and Indian pudding.
"It was outstanding," said Joan Beckett-Armstrong of CECOM, when asked about the event. "I really enjoyed the dancing. It made me think about the commonalities we have in many different ways with so many other cultures."
Bernard Guidos of the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, said he also "liked it a lot."
"The whole mood was relaxing. I'm not able to make a lot of the programs due to the mission but I liked the whole idea of bringing everybody together; the universal perspective."
View more photos on the APG Flickr site at www.flickr.com/photos/usagapg.