PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. – Within the U.S. Army, this small installation is noted for its far-reaching role in armaments research and development, but its more obscure cultural history came into sharper focus during the recent Native American Heritage Month.
The collective observance activities at the Arsenal brought a surge of educational discovery, much like the flitting, revealing movements of an archeologist’s excavation brush.
The most salient physical feature on the installation is Picatinny Peak, located adjacent to a body of water. In the Native American Lenape language, the word “Piccatinny” has several interpretations, including “rugged peak by water,” “peak with broken rocks and cliffs,” and "water by the hills.”
Maj. Francis H. Parker, Picatinny’s first commander, headed a commission in 1880 that selected the current location of Picatinny Arsenal for an Army powder depot serving the entire Atlantic coast. To honor the Lenape people who inhabited the lands for generations, Parker selected the name Piccatinny. The second “c” in the Lenape spelling was officially dropped 1907, when the “Piccatinny Powder Depot” became “Picatinny Arsenal.”
The Native American Heritage Month observance at Picatinny featured presentations by Katelyn Lucas, an assistant at the Delaware Nation Tribal Historic Preservation Office, and Giacomo DeStefano, director of the Paterson Museum, which has a Lenape exhibit and thousands of artifacts in its collection.
“Picatinny Arsenal is privileged to maintain government-to-government relationships with five, federally-recognized tribes that could have called the Arsenal home,” said Garrison Commander Lt. Col. Alexander Burgos in his opening remarks.
“Today, I would like to acknowledge that Picatinny Arsenal was established on the ancestral homeland of early indigenous peoples, and as a result we consult with the following five federally-recognized tribes on projects of interest,” he added.
The five tribes are the Delaware Nation of Oklahoma, Delaware Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma, Stockbridge Munsee Community: Band of Mohican Indians of Wisconsin, Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.
Burgos also noted that Picatinny Arsenal is committed to ensuring reasonable access to sacred sites on the ancestral homeland under the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.
In her presentation, Lucas said Delaware and Lenape are interchangeable terms used to describe the same people. Early white settlers used the collective term Delaware because of the proximity of these Native Americans to the Delaware River.
According to the official website of the Delaware Nation, the aboriginal name of the Delaware is Lenape or Lenni-Lenape (also known as the Grandfathers), and were the first indigenous nation to sign a treaty with the United States (Sept. 17, 1778), enticed with promises of a Native American state that never came to be.
Further into her presentation, Lucas told the audience that the Lenape were forcibly removed from their homeland and are now located in several states and in Canada. During the question period, Lucas was asked why the Lenape removal was not as well-known as some other Native Americans in the later periods of American history.
“The Lenape were some of the first native tribes to encounter Europeans and as a result were some of the first to be really forced out of their homelands,” she said. “Meanwhile, it took years if not centuries for European expansion to reach other tribes.”
During his presentation segment, DeStefano of the Paterson Museum noted that the museum has an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 artifacts related to Lenape culture. The Lenape exhibit includes a Lenape village, a wigwam and examples of canoes and fish nets woven from hemp that were commonly used by the Lenape.
The presentations were followed by a bus tour of the Arsenal with an archeological emphasis, including samples of artifacts discovered on the installation. Information was provided by Jeff Ranu, historian from the DEVCOM Armaments Center; Rachael Winston, Cultural Resources Manager for the Picatinny Garrison, and Jason Huggan, Chief of the Garrison’s Environmental Affairs Division who previously served as Cultural Resources Manager.
The heritage month observance at Picatinny was sponsored and coordinated by the Munitions Engineering and Technology Center (METC), which is part of the larger U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Armaments Center, the largest organization at Picatinny Arsenal.
“The event could not have taken place without their selfless efforts and time invested into every phase from the planning to execution,” Edward B. McBroon Jr., the garrison Equal Employment Opportunity director, said of the METC role.
For more information about the Delaware Nation, follow the link to the official website: