4 – Summary & Conclusions


I have attempted to present plausible reasoning and evidence in support of the thesis that families in a modern corporation of Delaware descendants in Idaho share cultural elements at deep levels of social organization with ancestral Delawaran and Lenape families. I have suggested that the strong role played by family structure in their daily lives is greatly responsible for the survival of these ethnies, of which the family is a microcosm. I am of the admittedly speculative opinion that the process of ethnification observed in the Delawares of Idaho mirrors a process seen in historic contexts, and suspected, from linguistic evidence, prehistorically.

The metaphor, or ideology, of kinship is present in many of the relations between earlier Delaware groups and other groups, as well as the natural and supernatural universe. While this metaphor is not noted in utterances or other overt behavior by informants for this study, there are several aspects of their identity which reflect the importance of kin relations, and the perceptual salience of kinship. The most important of these is the descent based demarcation, or boundary they maintain by genealogical documentation, by incorporation, y powwow, and by participation as informants and subjects of ethnography.

Territoriality is the unifying principle around which is gathered aspirations of group, rather resembling a village cluster, of families in pursuit of a common goal. The goal is the recovery of lost allotment (s) in Oklahoma Indian Territory. This, and related legal history (see appendix) is part of the political buoyancy which both depresses by slow bureaucratic grind, and stimulates in the way that doing something after long inaction can accomplish.

The subsistence pattern of the Delawaran peoples from the time of contact with Europeans until Removal brought the decimated remnant into Kansas and Oklahoma reveals a generalist strategy with men hunting, trapping and breaking ground, while the women and children cultivated and gathered. The broad range of skills possessed within one Delawaran family was enough, in numerous instances, to enable them to break a small tract of undisturbed ground into a farmstead with fields, orchards, buildings, and livestock in the span of a generation or two. Despite their sharing the plight of Native Americans throughout the New World, it appears from the record of their numerous and complex relations with a variety of political, ethnic, commercial and national entities, they must have viewed themselves always at the center of their own universe.

It seems unlikely that the Delawares of Idaho would have become as highly organized as they are, politically, had it been solely the responsibility of individuals, acting alone, to bring it about.  Few individuals outside of a family group would possess the necessary time and resources, but more importantly, the lack of kin-based coercive power might as easily produce apathetic rejection of such an effort.

Groups such as families and lineages need do no more in mobilization than would be necessary for an individual, thus making the chance of a successful effort increase proportionate with the numbers of members involved. Task sharing and division of labor according to individual capacities, especially in pursuit of explicit goals such as ethnification and boundary maintenance lessens the amount of individual effort necessary for success.

The ethnicity of the Delawares of Idaho thus is a family based characteristic evident also in earlier Delawaran groups, especially in subsistence patterns. It accompanied small groups  of dispersing families  out of their original  (pre-contact)  homes  in  the  northeast  woodlands,  into  Ohio  and Indiana. It can be observed in the White River groups, in the groups settling in Missouri and Kansas, and is predicted for groups not as closely examined for this study, viz. the Ontario and Texas ethnies.

It is certainly true that the dialectical nature of the ethnic boundary would be less salient to members of an ethnic group if it were devoid of cultural content. In the final analysis, however, specific historically transmitted culture content is secondary to a sense of kinship in biologically related groups, or families. Cultural content may serve to make ethnicity a richer, more complex phenomenon, just as it does for any behavior which, like ethnicity, can be linked in some  degree  to  tradition;  e.g. alcoholism among Catholic clergy.

An interesting aspect of Delaware ethnicity, and one related to their dispersal and lack of homeland, is that one necessary condition of boundary maintenance is a marginal entourage, so to speak, of other Delawarans, other Indians, anthropologists, attorneys and publicists.  Each of these represents a pool of ascription upon which they can draw for legitimation, and to which they can point, from time to time as needed, to impress upon youthful or recalcitrant members the importance of solidarity within the boundary. Failure to do so would almost certainly result in boundary decay and failure of the ethny.

In conclusion, it can be said that the salience of kin relations and generalized subsistence strategies create the basis for ethnicity in the case of the Delawares of Idaho, and of all their Delawaran ethnies. The transactional we/they dichotomizations implicit in ethnic boundary maintenance can be seen as supporting a dialectical view of ethnicity rather than a positivistic view which would insist on the transmission of some cultural “essence” through time (i.e. specific practices or beliefs), as the necessary ingredient for a cultural survival.  While the Delawares of Idaho do have a sense of them as possessing a cultural “essence”, it lies not in specific Lenape practices transmitted through time, but rather in their sense of relatedness to each other, this is a family-centered identification that provides an anchor which secures the conduct of their lives and their “generalist” subsistence style. The sense of relatedness in turn may be based on the biological mechanism of kin-recognition alleged by van den Berghe to be at the heart of ethnicity and ethnificatior (1981). Elaborations of a cultural sort are far less readily found as putative survivals because, in their formation or advent, they follow upon the relations of kinship and material subsistence, rather than precede them. Being more recent phenomena, they can be expected to be more readily altered or eliminated from a particular ethnic configuration.